Posted by: orcaweb | April 22, 2013

Sea monsters and parrot-nosed divers

“Jan-van-gent!” someone shouted from over my shoulder.
“Where?” I asked, squinting into the sunlight, my eyes watering in the sea breeze as I scanned over the bright white waves with my binoculars. My guest pointed, and indeed there was a jan-vent-gent. Two jan-van-gents in fact. Of all of the wildlife names I’ve been learning in Dutch, jan-van-gent is the most fun to say so far. Pronounced “YON – VON *inelegant spitting noise* HENT” It means gannet – my favourite sea bird. My other favourite is the papegaaiduiker (“papa – hi – dowker”) which I have seen a handful of this week and translates to the “parrot-nosed diver”. Three guesses as to which bird it is?
DSCF7605

I watched the two gannets circle eagerly over the still water in the distance, and my heart leaped as one tucked its wings back and dive bombed beak-first into the sea. I could almost feel the salt water rushing up my nose just watching it. Looking about in keen anticipation, I was bouncing on the balls of my feet waiting for the show to start. Everything else was in our favour: the water was flat calm, it was sunny and I had seen numerous birds in the last 10 minutes all indicating that we would see some cetaceans. The fact that the gannets had started diving was a promising bonus.

 
Sure enough, just in front of us, a porpoise reached out of the water and almost stopped stationary for several seconds to catch its breath – clearly there was a lot of fast swimming about going on down there. “Bruinvis!” I shouted to my Dutch guests, who caught a glimpse of it before it swam back down out of sight. Within minutes the sea became alive with porpoise and birds popping up and down, in and out of the water. It reminded me of the arcade game “whack a mole” – I was frantically scanning the whole sea trying to guess where the next porpoise would pop up, and then several would surface at once and you wouldn’t know which ones to lay your binoculars on. By this point I had about 50 guests who had joined me out on the observation deck, and we were spotting porpoise all the way into the harbour at Amsterdam this morning, with whoops and cheers from the youngsters.

 
I breathed a silent thank you to the porpoise for (again) making my last day of a shift a spectacular one. The week had generally been a little slow to start up. Not only did one passenger believe I had minke whales and white-beaked dolphins housed on board the ferry for public viewing, but every day so far I had only seen birds. I was slightly worried that this week’s blog was going to be a very sea gull based affair – but alas, you were spared a blog of feathery facts about herring gulls!

 
It hasn’t only been the birds and porpoise that have shown themselves – yesterday upon leaving Newcastle I saw something very bizarre. A small group of kittiwakes were sitting on the water just in front of the ship and seemed very intrigued by something going on beneath them (one of them actually had its head sticking into the water for a better look). Suddenly, they gave disgruntled squawks as they leaped into the air. A large, shiny head of an animal rose out of the water where they had been sitting, and flapped about in battle with something large and pink before diving back underneath the surface and out of sight. Blinking in amazement for several seconds, I concluded that it was a seal that had caught a large pink fish (who was not very willing to be eaten). The way they thrashed about made it appear as if they both the same animal; a seal’s body and a pink fish monster for a head. I can see why fishermen in the olden days believed in sea monsters and mermaids!DSCF7607
I’m now on shore leave for 2 weeks so I will hand you over to Ben – hopefully his sightings will include more of the minke whales and white-beaked dolphins that they saw last week!
Have a good one!
Sara

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