I am Mike the second ORCA Wildlife Officer joining Nathan onboard DFDS’s King Seaways this year. I have been volunteering for the marine conservation charity ORCA (Organisation Cetacea) for over a year and I’m delighted to now team up with DFDS. I have just completed my first week out on the North Sea and have been lucky enough to spot plenty of dolphins and porpoises from the observation deck of the ship. To start with I thought I’d give you a quick guide to the wildlife Nathan and myself will be hoping to see, and show passengers, this season.
Many people are surprised to hear that the North Sea supports a huge range of life. In fact more marine life is found in temperate seas like those which surround North-western Europe then the warmer waters of the tropics. The nutrients in the North Sea feed large blooms of algae which support complex food-webs dominated by whales and dolphins (cetaceans), seals and seabirds.
About 10 species of cetacean are regularly seen in the North Sea. The smallest and most commonly seen is the harbour porpoise which wonders around the sea searching for its lunch while avoiding the more territorial dolphins. These dolphins include the striking short-beaked common dolphin, the energetic Atlantic white-sided dolphin, the rather robust and muscular white-beaked dolphin, the battle-scarred Risso’s dolphin and the familiar and playful bottlenose dolphin. Larger cetaceans include the unusually shaped silky black long-finned pilot whale and the mighty killer whale, or orca. Despite their names both of these animals are actually dolphins with the killer whale being largest dolphin species in the world. Two “true” whales are found in these waters. The toothed northern bottlenosed whale (like the one which swam up the Thames a few years ago) and the 10m minke whale which sieves out its food from the marine environment. Other rarer species include the huge fin whale and the equally impressive sperm whale although the North Sea is generally too shallow to support enough food for these larger animals.
Harbour seals and grey seals thrive around the North Sea. These bulky marine mammals breed in coastal waters and then head out away from land to forage for fish. Britain is a very important place for seals supporting over 75% of the world’s grey seal population in great colonies such as at the Farne Islands off the Northumberland Coast.
The North Sea is also rich in seabird life including cormorants and eider ducks often seen around Tynemouth and South Shields to the huge gannets that swoop across the water’s surface and the vibrant Atlantic puffins that search for sand-eels; their favourite prey. Other impressive marine life that could be spotted include leatherback and loggerhead turtles as well as large fish such as the giant ocean sunfish and basking and thresher sharks.
So far I have been lucky enough to see many harbour porpoises gently drifting though the sea and white-beaked dolphins bounding though the water. Both these animals are fantastic to watch playing around the ship and I’ve seen them playing in the sun around the Netherlands and off the industrial North-eastern coast around Hartlepool and Sunderland. The greatest number of sighting of cetaceans I have had was on the way into Holland on Saturday morning where passengers and myself were joined by no less than 16 harbour porpoises – a brilliant sight! Unfortunately as I speak now the ship is steady and flat but the winds and hail outside are making wildlife watching difficult. Hopefully the weather will once again calm down revealing more excellent wildlife.
Keeping checking our blogs for more information and please check out out website at ww.orcaweb.org.uk
ORCA Wildlife Officer
DFDS King Seaways
17th April 2012