“There are porpoise outside! Would you like to come and look?” I said to a couple who were sitting by the window I was passing. It was 9pm and the sea was beautifully flat calm. I was heading back outside with some guests for the second time that evening on my never ending quest to find wildlife.
“Yes we’d like to come – oh! Is that a porpoise?” My guest said, pointing outside to a black shape gently sinking back down beneath the water.
“That was no porpoise…” I said, stepping outside for a better look. I was sure I knew what it was but I didn’t dare say until I was 100% sure. It surfaced again.
“THAT’S A WHALE!” I shrieked with delight. “Come on!” I grabbed my guests (and any random passers-by) by their coats and pulled them outside. After yelling “THERE’S A WHALE!” (to anybody within earshot down the corridor) I hurled myself outside in time to see the whale surfacing again about 50 metres away from us. The pronounced arching of its back indicated a deep dive, and off it went into the depths of the cool evening waters and out of sight.
“Woohoo!” I howled, high-fiving the strangers next to me, who were equally thrilled. There’s something about seeing a whale – it does something to you. It sends a shiver of electricity right from your core all the way through your body and out to a tingling in your fingertips. It was a stunning summer evening, and my first night back on board after two weeks shore leave. The water was silently calm, rippling with the red, yellow and blue colours of the sunset. Scanning my binoculars around, guests and I could see hundreds (really hundreds!) of sea birds dotted about on the water, both near and far. There were puffins, guillemots, gannets, fulmars and all sorts of gulls. Two grey seals bobbed about gently on the surface, wrinkling their noses at us as we went passed. I’ve never seen the North Sea looking so…alive and, well, inviting.
“There!” I shouted, as two small splashes broke the still surface. Porpoise perhaps? They appeared again. No, too big for porpoise…and what a big dorsal fin!
“White beaked dolphins!” I shouted – elated. These were the first I had ever seen in my life. Losing all decorum and dignity, I did a celebratory dance on the deck. Minke whales and white beaked dolphins?! Now all I need is…
“Porpoise!” I shouted, as three came up at once. Whirrs from cameras snapped away behind me as the porpoise surfaced twice and went down again. More white beaked dolphins appeared, both in the distance and near the ship. Startled sea birds gave disgruntled cries as the dolphins sprang out of the water next to them.
A movement caught my eye. YES! “Ok we’ve got two minkes at 2 o’clock, 60 metres away!” I said to the guests. What an evening! The two minkes, swimming very closely together, surfaced again several times as our ship moved away from them. As I looked through my binoculars I saw their silhouettes surface for a final time, their sprays of mist glistening against the sun setting behind them. We stayed out until it was getting dark at 10:30pm, a wide grin permanently cemented on my face. If I had had a tail, it would have been wagging furiously.
The next morning I got up early in the hope that the waters were still flat calm, but despite there being lots of sun, there was also plenty of wind, making the sea surface choppy and we didn’t see more than a few birds.
However, our luck held when we were back in the same waters after leaving Newcastle again the next day. I had proudly informed all of my guests about the previous sightings and invited them for a 3 hour deck watch that evening. My good news had travelled quickly and before I knew it I had a lot of expectant passengers on the observation deck with me hoping to see whales – no pressure! The sightings were slow at first, and after only having one sniff of a porpoise guests slowly started to retreat back inside to the restaurants for their evening meals.
“There!” I said to my two remaining guests after being out for an hour.
“Huh?” said my perplexed passengers.
“That black thing on the horizon is a whale – I know it!” A quick glimpse with my binoculars confirmed it, and as I scanned the water I saw another minke about 150 metres to the left of the first.
“Right! You’re in charge – don’t lose the whales!” I instructed the two guests. I took off my coat, ran along the deck and threw it up high, hitting the window of one of the sea-view cabins. This was a pre-arranged “I’ve seen a whale” signal I had with the guests inside, who had asked me to throw anything I could at their window (be it rocks, my binoculars or even myself) if I saw a whale. No time to waste – I sprinted to the Guest Service Centre to make a rather hurried announcement that two whales were at the front of the boat and for everyone to join me instantly, before leaping back onto the front deck.
“We lost them” the guest said apologetically.
“Lost them?! How can you LOSE a whale? It’s THIS BIG!” I laughed, holding my arms out wide. Guests started running onto the deck.
“Are we too late Sara?” a flustered Dutch couple who’d I’d been talking to earlier panted. “We left our meal in the restaurant as soon as we heard your announcement – we haven’t even paid yet!”
They certainly weren’t too late – we had two more minke whale sightings and a spectacular display from a group of white beaked dolphins. Their arrival was announced by a line of 6 sprays storming towards our ship at full speed. One leapt vertically out of the water and smacked itself back down into the sea. And up again in the air straight away…CRASH back down into the water. Three…four…five…six times it did it. I hate to be anthropomorphic about wildlife, but I’m sure as I watched through my binoculars, I saw that dolphin smiling.
Every crossing from Newcastle this week ecstatic passengers and I stayed out once again until 10:30pm watching more whales, dolphins and porpoise. A middle aged German lady came over to me late last night to give me a hug, tears in her eyes and told me she had just had the best day of her life. I can’t ask for any more than that!
I hope that next week is just as good – it seems summer may finally be here!
From a very happy, still smiling, Sara.