Posted by: orcaweb | May 14, 2015

The first Minke Whale of the season!

08/05 – 14/05 2015

Hello again, it’s Ruth now back on board the DFDS King Seaways for my second two week rotation. Following Rachael’s unfortunate luck regarding bad weather and limited sightings, I did not expect to see too much. Therefore, during the first few days that were much the same as Rachael had been experiencing, I was not surprised to hear that the Observation Deck was closed due to high winds. Surveying from the Bridge did allow me to experience some wildlife though as I observed some Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes braving the force 8 winds.

Juvenile Kittiwake

Juvenile Kittiwake

Fulmar about to take flight

Fulmar about to take flight

The following day presented the same wind issues, allowing only a 20-minute evening survey before the Observation Deck closed once again due to the winds picking up again to a gale force 7. This short time on the observation deck was enough for passengers to see the massive wingspan (1.8 metres) of the Gannet (Jan-van-gents in Dutch), before I was forced to retire to the bridge sheltered from the wind. Here, I saw Arctic Terns and a brief encounter with a Puffin before it dived below as well as an unexpected sighting of a Grey Heron – over 20 nautical miles from the coast! It was flying very high above the sea with its large wings outstretched and its long legs trailing behind; definitely not your normal sea bird encounter!

Grey Heron (20 nautical miles from Holland)

Grey Heron (20 nautical miles from Holland)

Delightfully, the next day I woke up to much better conditions with a sea state 2-4. Many Gannets, some Fulmars, Kittiwakes and both Arctic and Sandwich Terns were observed – some even with breakfast in their mouths! Other birds seen were Cormorants, a Puffin, many Guillemots and my first Shearwater of the season – which I believe to be a Manx Shearwater! Unfortunately, despite good viewing conditions, still, no dolphins, porpoises or seals!

Sandwich Tern

Sandwich Tern

A pair or Puffins

A pair or Puffins

Artic Tern with a sand eel

Artic Tern with a sand eel

Manx Shearwater

Manx Shearwater

Approaching Ijmuiden, Holland the next day though, I was able to see 2 Harbour Porpoises swimming together away from the ship – finally some cetaceans were beginning to show themselves following the bad weather! Also nearer port, a group of gulls were seen squabbling over a catch of the day – a rather big item of food, and unknown to me what it was! Does anyone have any idea what this unidentified food item may be?

Gulls squabbling over an unidentified item of food

Gulls squabbling over an unidentified item of food

bird with something in mouth

Gladly, I was starting to leave the bad weather and high winds behind as the evening deck watch brought two more Harbour Porpoises in view, swimming away from the ship, together on the Starboard side of the ship . A rainbow was also a welcome sight to the passengers, looking as if it dissolved into the sea right infront of the ship….no pot of gold or leprechauns though! Thank you to Arielle and Ally for this picture of me on the deck watch! These two American students were on their way to Amsterdam where they were beginning a week long trip around Europe.

Rainbow

Rainbow

Rainbow dissolving into the North Sea

Rainbow dissolving into the North Sea

Calmer waters with a sea state 3 on Wednesday meant that there were only a few white caps to mask any potential activity. With the better viewing conditions I managed to spot three separate Harbour Porpoises, one was beautifully highlighted by the sun’s rays, and I was still able to see it underwater after it surfaced a couple of times. I was also lucky to spot a seal, poking its head out of the water and looking at the ship as it sailed past.

The Thursday morning deck watch coming into Newcastle provided very calm seas meaning excellent viewing conditions! This meant I could easily see the guillemots sitting in groups or in pairs on the water – seeing hundreds over the course of the morning. A shearwater also swooped across in front of the ship, the second in a week! Despite the calm waters, no porpoises or dolphins appeared, however something more exciting did! A Minke Whale! The first to be seen by the Wildlife Officers on the DFDS King this season! I was buzzing as I shouted it out and we saw the clear silhouette of the whales back as it did a surface roll following its initial appearance. About nine passengers of mix nationalities were on the observation deck to witness this sight which gave them great joy as well as myself.

Guillemot

Guillemot

As North Shields approached, we saw a lonely Puffin on the waters surface just next to the ship before it dived. A German family who had joined me in the centre for some children’s activities the night before were especially excited to see the Puffin (or Papageientaucher in German/Papegaaiduiker in Dutch). The young girl Rebekka decided to call this Puffin Yuri after a children’s book about a young polar bear and his friends, one of which was a puffin called Yuri.

Lone Puffin (Yuri)

Lone Puffin (Yuri)

I am glad to say that the improved weather is definitely showing and as a consequence, the sightings are also improving. Fingers crossed or ‘thumbs pressed’ as you say in German (Daumen Drücken), that this trend continues. Finally, during the crew fire drill while docked in North Shields, I spotted a few Oystercatchers flying past the ship – their high pitched calls alerting me to their presence!

Keep a look out for more sightings on next week’s blog. Thank you to all that attended my presentations on board and joined me on the deck watches, it has been a pleasure helping you spot wildlife. Also thank you for the pronunciation lessons of birds and cetaceans in Dutch and German.

If you would like more information on ORCA, please visit the website.  You can also become a member or donate to help support our vital research.

Bye for now,

– Ruth

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