Posted by: orcaweb | July 18, 2012

Porpoise-full Sea

Hello all,

Sorry that this post is a little late…

This week has been a little unusual as far as the animals which have been sighted. The regular spotting of harbour porpoises seemed to have temporally dried up most of the week but dolphins and a seal kept me entertained until a very exciting final trip.

Several white-beaked dolphins were spotted earlier in the week as we headed south along the Yorkshire coastline. Two of these beautiful creatures breached in front of the ship’s bow rolling away to the east and the heart of the North Sea. A few minutes later I saw what appeared to be an oddly shaped pointed buoy floating on the port side of the vessel. On closer inspection this object was clearly not a buoy but a slightly bemused looking grey seal with its characteristic pointed head. Although many people associate grey seals with the coast, these animals will actually travel long distances out at sea in search of food. Their close cousins, the slightly smaller harbour seals, tend not to be as adventurous but can sometimes be seen from ships at sea as well.

The status of the two British seal species appear to vary. Grey seals are very common on offshore islands and their populations appear to be growing where as harbour seal numbers in Europe are in decline. Harbour seals were hit by the phocine distemper virus outbreaks of 1988 and 2002 which lead to declines of over 50% in areas of England. Recover did start to occur and the future looked secure for these animals but recently further declines have been recorded. The cause of this current decline remains unknown but scientists have suggested that they make being struggling to live alongside an increasing population of grey seals.

On Saturday I spied three large dorsal fins in the distance though a port side window. Judging by the size of these dark fins these animals were likely to be either more white-beaked dolphins or possibly a pod of the larger bottlenose dolphins. Unfortunately the choppy seas prohibited me from getting a good enough view for a full identification.

As I left the Dutch coast yesterday the sun hung in the sky and the North Sea resembled a millpond. Perfect whale watching weather. The cetaceans did make me wait. After half an hour the first harbour porpoise appeared, followed by one more, then another, then two, then another so on for over an hour. Within the hour over 20 porpoises had been seen gently arcing though the water including some lively displays at the bow of the ship. The best evening’s wildlife watching I’ve had so far by miles. By this morning the flat sea had become a little more active with steady ripples on the surface but conditions were still good and four harbour porpoises were sighted about an hour before we entered the Tyne. This morning there was also a lot of guillemot activity as mothers with their jumplings started their swim across the North Sea.

I now hand you back to Nathan for a few weeks. Hopefully the beautiful conditions will continue. Remember you can join ORCA and try to find whales and dolphins in the North Sea with DFDS Ferries and in the Bay of Biscay as well. Check out

Please check the website at!

ORCA Wildlife Officer
DFDS Seaways King Seaways



  1. Hi Mike

    Lots of White-beaks to the north of the ferry route for the last couple of weeks 🙂 Harbour Porpoises on a transect survey off Northumberland this week as well (the benefit of a nice calm sea…).

    When you see a Guillemot jumpling with one parent, that’ll be it’s dad – mum stays at the nest site for a couple of weeks (up to a month) after the jumpling jumps.


    North East Cetacean Project Coordinator
    Northern Experience Wildlife Tours Senior Guide

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