As I stand on the open observation deck of the Kings Seaways, I stare out onto the flat, glassy waters of the North Sea. A constant icy sea breeze makes my eyes stream and my frozen hands cling onto my binoculars. I’ve been standing out here every morning for the last two weeks searching for whales, dolphins and porpoise and so far have seen many birds, but nothing in the water.
A gannet catches my attention and instinctively I look into the sea below him in hope that he has found what I am after – and he has. Two porpoise silently break the still water as the gannet flies eagerly above them hoping to take advantage of the cornered fish. I glide by them too quickly to see them surface again but minutes later I see another pair 30 metres away gently kiss the sunny surface of the sea before disappearing beneath the water to continue their breakfast. Clearly I was sailing over a popular feeding area, as over the next half hour on my way to Amsterdam I had 7 different sightings of porpoise before arriving into Holland. I was absolutely thrilled!
An hour later, sitting in the port of Ijmuiden, Amsterdam, I am reflecting on my first two weeks on board DFDS Kings Seaways as Orca’s Senior Wildlife Officer. Starting at Easter was a great way to throw myself into the new season and into my new responsibilities with over 1,200 people on board some days. I have been doing daily presentations on North Sea wildlife, as well as numerous activities such as giant snakes and ladders, “pin the tail on the whale” and leading Deck Watches at the very front of the ship.
Wildlife wise the cetaceans had been eluding us until my sightings this morning. Before then the birds in the waters off Newcastle were showing regular activity with sightings of gannets, manx shearwaters, kittiwakes, guillemots and black backed gulls. However, my favourite bird sighting was the little auk, of which I caught a rare glimpse before he dived under water. The weather has been bitterly cold out on the water, even for this time of year, and sadly this has had a devastating effect on our puffins. Despite the fact that I saw four of them battling the winds last week, there should be more here this time of year as they return to the British Isles to breed after over wintering out on the open Atlantic. Many haven’t survived the cold and have washed up on North East beaches of the UK. It is a sad start to the puffin season, but hopefully those who have survived will benefit from having more food to eat for themselves and for their chicks.
As we left Amsterdam back for the UK, I saw at least 20 porpoise swimming by the setting sun in the same stretch of water as this morning. They graced me and my excited guests with their presence for almost an hour – what a great way to end my first shift.
Until next time! I will now be away for a week and Ben will take over looking out for our whales, dolphins and porpoise. Have a good one!