01.06 – 09.06 2015
Following the frequent sightings of the bottlenose dolphins around the mouth of the Tyne since I first saw them two weeks ago, I was excited to be back on board again. However, the weather was unkind and heavy winds forced me to survey from bridge instead of the observation deck. Here I saw a lone puffin, many guillemots as usual, gannets, fulmars and even a spy hopping seal despite the high waves! For a sea state 6 this was quite exciting for me, and my first marine mammal spotted from the bridge of this ship too.
The following day was my birthday! I cannot say though, that Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) wished me a smooth day, as it was quite the opposite! It was very rough with a sea state 8-9 with gale force 8 winds – which meant it was not possible to survey at all. Very high swell and low visibly with rain and fog in the mixture meant that the view of the sea and anything in it was heavily masked by these poor conditions. Instead, the ORCA centre was opened for a morning craft session. German children Juliane, Anika and Christian joined me in the centre for a game of snakes and ladders and also made their own ORCA bookmarks, a new activity I was trialling! It seemed to go down well-
The evening was much the same with high winds and no surveying possible. I was joined by some very interested passengers in the ORCA centre though, eager to learn more about the North sea’s wildlife.
Due to the bad weather lingering the next day, meaning a slight delay, I was able to provide an extended morning deck watch. Gladly the weather had calmed down to a very reasonable sea state 3-4. Over three hours of surveying with good conditions, this left me hopeful, however I was disappointed to discover no cetaceans, just plentiful guillemots among other birds such as common terns and great black backed gulls.
The evening deck watch held much the same promise, starting off by seeing a couple puffins. These high hopes were escalated when over a period of 15 minutes, many gannets were seen individually torpedoing into the water. This is quite a sight as they fold their wings right back to dive deep into the water. I was expecting dolphins to appear, but time was running out and the diving gannets soon fizzled out. Perhaps there was something lurking under the water that did not shown itself until the ship had passed by?
Little luck was also had on the morning and evening of the 4th June during the scheduled deck watches. However, while in the ORCA centre on Thursday evening I saw two obvious splashes, signature of two harbour porpoises surfacing, they appeared twice more confirming my suspicions!
The following morning deck watch held promise with fairly good conditions coming into Newcastle. Many gannets started off the day, some younger ones as well and some occasionally diving. Further into the deck watch I pointed out two puffins sitting on the water, before they started to fly away frantically. On this deck watch I was joined by mini-cruise passengers Mel and Graham who had joined me on all possible deck watches on their trip in the hope of glimpsing some marine wildlife. Their patience paid off when a single harbour porpoise surfaced right in front of the ship, directly in front of where Mel and Graham were standing! This angle meant we could view the porpoise while it was under water, catching a quick photo before we sailed past it. As we were approaching North Shields, the mouth of the river Tyne, we also caught a glimpse of large grey seal, directly at the bow of the ship, casually milling at the surface. Its large size points towards this individual being a male bull.
The evening deck watch brought a delightful shearwater into sight, not always a common sight – a Manx Shearwater to be more specific. I was joined by people with very interesting stories to share, including those who had come from Germany to visit Scotland. Some had seen Bottlenose dolphins near Inverness, whereas others showed me pictures of bottlenose dolphins in Florida. However, none were seen on this particular deck watch despite all the talk about them.
The morning deck watch approaching the Netherlands brought on the 6th June suprisied us with a seal coming into view on the Port side of the ship, a brief encounter before sailing past.
The next morning arriving into Newcastle brought more shearwaters and puffins (including a young, first winter puffin with a less obvious beak) flapping fast away from the ship. Hoping to see the bottlenose due to high tide, passengers and myself alike eagerly awaited. However, the winds were high, the white water was abundant and instead of the sea state calming down on approach into Newcastle as it usually does, the sea worsened and only a brief glimpse of a grey dorsal was seen.
While docked in North Shields, I was invited to the Blue Reef Aquarium in Tynemouth to celebrate World Ocean’s Day. Staff here were very accommodating and were excited to learn about ORCA’s recent work and sightings. They too had seen the bottlenose dolphins from Tynemouth in recent weeks – apparently, they have been moving back and forth down the coasts, sometimes to the rocky shore of Whitley bay as well. Accompanied by ORCA volunteer Moira, we set up our stand and I did a presentation about the recent sightings in the area. Before leaving we were also given the opportunity to have a quick look at the species they had at the Aquarium.
On the departure out of the Tyne, it was clear to see that the wind had calmed and the sea was much flatter. Still no bottlenose dolphins however! A puffin was seen quickly before passing the ship. Another shearwater also became visible and a lovely view of a Common/Harbour seal!! This one was spy hopping with its head out the water directly in front of the ship. This was my first confirmed sighting of this seal species as previously most had been the grey seals! So it was lovely to experience a great encounter with this less commonly seen species.
Later within the hours of the deck watch a brief dorsal fin was spotted of a small individual, likely to have been a harbour porpoise but only surfaced once – even more typical of a porpoise! And most excitingly later a Minke Whale undoubtedly surfaced far out towards the horizon! The excellent flat conditions had meant perfect viewing for these animals, so I was able to see this from miles away. Due to the distance from the ship however, I was not able to catch this on camera! Maybe next time…
The morning of the 8th June provided no luck cetacean-wise coming into Holland, though I did spot an shelduck flying by! Coming into Ijmuiden a number of mute swans were also seen! I have not normally been encountering these here; perhaps we will see more of these majestic birds.
The evening deck watch proved quite difficult on the return journey with the winds picking up and only a few sea birds were seen soaring above the ship using the uplift created by the ships movement. These were a mixture of great black backed gulls and gannets. I suppose I couldn’t expect the perfect conditions from the evening before to continue.
The final morning however changed everything! The wind was non-existant and the sea was flat calm, starting at a sea state 2 and ending up as a 0 with beautiful glassy conditions meaning whale and dolphin spotting heaven!! I couldn’t have asked for a better display of sightings that morning! There was never long to wait. As well as being inundated with birds such as guillemots, gannets, puffins, more manx shearwaters, fulmars and terns, we were able to see a dolphin surface near the ship. This was clearly not a bottlenose and did not look like a white-beaked dolphin either. My suspicions pointed towatds an Atlantic white sided dolphin or a common dolphin – if only it had jumped out of the water instead of skimming the surface! Does anyone have any insight into which species it might be?
That was not the only excitement however as a harbour seal was seen poking his head out of the water spy hopping. Then to top it off two bottlenose dolphins were clearly seen bow riding at the front of the ship! Roef from the Netherlands was able to catch a better photo than the one seen below (taken by me) and having his permission, this will be showcased in next weeks blog.
The mirror calm conditions also presented more activity with another two seals and a harbour porpoise! What an exciting morning! We are well and truly into the summer now and so should expect to see more sightings especially if the sea is flat. I just hope the fantastic weather continues!
I am very excited to discover what will be seen next week! In conclusion though it has been a veary sealy week with one or two being seen most days!