Posted by: orcaweb | September 9, 2015

White-beaked dolphins dive into action!

02.09 – 09.09 2015

Welcome back to another week’s report of activity in the North Sea aboard the DFDS King Seaways! Being Beckie’s 3rd week on board and my final full two week stint before the end of the season, I was really hoping this past week was going to be as eventful as the last.

However…

Storms of lighting and thunder,

Brought us heavy rain and a high swell,

Littering the sea with thick white streaks asunder,

Making sea life difficult to tell.

High winds meant observation deck access was limited,

But often birds soared past braving the skies,

They sometimes highlighted the presence of porpoises

Rewarding our determined tries.

Porpoise surfacing during a high swell

Porpoise surfacing during a high swell

With five days of bad weather, not only sightings were becoming sparse, but passenger numbers as well, especially with schools commencing once again. It seemed that summer was officially over, much to our dismay. With this though, the ORCA centre became a hub for crafts and activities, often bringing the paints out to create our own imaginary marine life, which we were all dying to see once again.

The Tyne Walls in the rough weather

The Tyne Walls in the rough weather

Despite the high swell, occasionally harbour porpoises were seen very close to the ship. These popped up on both sides of the crossing around the north east coastline as well as around the shallower waters before Holland where the sea floor only reaches 20-30 metres deep. Sometimes these were seen almost as if surfing the waves as they surfaced to breathe, just visible as a dark silhouette before the breaking of a wave.

Although cetacean variety was lacking, bird diversity certainly wasn’t, as mixed in with the usual gannets, fulmars, cormorants and guillemots were juvenile kittiwakes displaying their bold ‘M’-shape on their wings, as well as manx shearwaters, great skuas and even the winter variations of sandwich turns. We also saw some dunlins on the rocks at the port of Ijmuiden before the ship moored up.

Juvenile kittiwake

Juvenile kittiwake

Cormorant

Cormorant

Manx shearwater

Manx shearwater

Sandwich tern in its winter plumage

Sandwich tern in its winter plumage

During the bout of bad weather, making origami marine animals became a popular activity in the ORCA centre, especially during the end of the summer. Of course, the whales and dolphins were popular, but crabs, turtles and squid were other creations occasionally attempted. The advanced origami book truly tested by abilities though, but despite the challenge I relished the opportunity and managed to produce some more impressive shapes, a humpback whale, a seahorse and a dolphin – however I cannot say that these were very quick creations!

Origami creations!

Origami creations!

With the sea state flattening each day, we were hopeful that the last crossing out of Newcastle would bring us some interesting sights to see. The flat sea gave us promise and it certainly delivered! Some large distant splashing was seen ahead on the port side, typical of a breaching animal. We believed there to be two animals engaging in this jumping behaviour where they powered their bodies clear out of the water to produce the large splashes that we were seeing. Upon closer inspection through our binoculars and re-watching our video footage, we deemed these to be a pair of white-beaked dolphins! This was very exciting for a lot of passengers who had joined us on the observation deck as the dark shapes of their bodies could still just be seen with the naked eye as they launched themselves above the waves.

White-beaked dolphins

White-beaked dolphins

White-beaked dolphins

White-beaked dolphins

The final morning again brought promise as the bridge crew told us we would be seeing lots of marine life in the morning. Miraculously, they were correct! The harbour porpoise sightings kept rolling in, left, right and centre, with a total of seventeen seen throughout the morning! Some of these were in groups of 2, 3, or 4, with one group having five individuals within the pod – even having a small calf in tow!

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Harbour Porpoises with a calf

Harbour Porpoises with a calf

The rest of the deck watch brought us more porpoise sightings, with six in total seen over the course of the evening before darkness set in. The following morning arriving into Holland, brought us even flatter seas, and two harbour porpoises creating subtle splashing as they disappeared past the ship, but none on the return journey.

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Harbour Porpoises

Harbour Porpoises

The grand finale was to come though as we saw some dark shapes emerging from the water between the ship and Souter lighthouse on the coastline approaching Newcastle. The tall dark dorsal fins became clearer as they surfaced closer and closer to the ship – a pod of five white beaked dolphins! These starting heading directly towards the ship, giving all those on the observation deck a fantastic view of their bodies as they jumped out the water. What a fantastic way to end the last two weeks and also my final full two weeks on board the DFDS King!

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White-beaked dolphins approaching the ship

White-beaked dolphins approaching the ship

Needless to say, the season has been incredible – not just the sightings but the passengers I have engaged with, from all walks of life and all nationalities, and of course the very welcoming crew who really make the ship feel like a home away from home. I am glad to report though that both Rachael and I will be ending the season together in the final week. Let us hope that the flat seas remain for the season to end on a high as these past two last weeks did.

With that, I’ll join you again in a weeks’ time! Stick around cetaceans!

If you would like more information about the charity, go to our website by clicking here. You can also support the charity by donating, becoming a member, or by training to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor.

– Ruth

A rainbow in the distance

A rainbow in the distance

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