Posted by: orcaweb | September 18, 2015

A Breaching Minke Whale!

09.09 – 17.09 2015

Nearing the end of the 2015 season on the DFDS King Seaways, this is the North Sea Wildlife Officer’s penultimate blog! At this time of year, with children back to school, not only passenger numbers but sightings were becoming fewer and fewer, with only the odd harbour porpoise being spotted here and there. Having a survey team on board for the weekend (11th – 13th Sept) brought more elated spirits though, as one of the team was Ruth – not being able to stay off the ship for long it seems!

Two guillemots sitting on the water

Two guillemots sitting on the water

Leaving Newcastle with a less than ideal sea state 5-6, even with Wildlife Officers on the observation deck and surveyors on the bridge, we weren’t expecting to see much. Needless to say Beckie and I were disappointed at the lack of cetaceans – the conditions just weren’t in our favour. There was a different story to be told up in the Bridge however, as the survey team noticed an enormous splash out to the Port side of the ship, (unfortunately beyond the angle of view from the observation deck!). Ruth later reported that this splash had been created by a 9-10 metre long whale launching its whole body clear out of the water!! A breaching minke whale! Ecstatic to see this rare behaviour, the curious eyes of the Bridge crew were also lucky enough to see this sight. The whale apparently breached six times in total putting on quite a show for the team and bridge crew alike! Hearing this news Beckie and I were disappointed to have missed it, but happy that this was proof that minke whales were still around and that hopefully there would be more for us to see.

The splash created by a breaching minke whale

The splashes created by a breaching minke whale

BR MW splash (10)

Once the light had made it impossible to survey, the survey team joined the Wildlife Officers in the ORCA Wildlife Centre to discover the information inside and activities on offer.

Ruth (left), Beckie (middle) & Rachael (right) in the ORCA Centre

Ruth (left), Beckie (middle) & Rachael (right) in the ORCA Centre


Over the next few days only a few harbour porpoises came into sight, displaying their characteristic ‘wheel-rolling’ behaviour as they surfaced very briefly. Their surfacing behaviour is much more wheel-like than dolphins who instead tend to skim fast through the water or jump out in sequential rhythmical jumps – confusingly a behaviour known as ‘porpoising’, despite porpoises not normally displaying this behaviour.


A harbour porpoise surfacing

A harbour porpoise surfacing

Sadly, we were coming to the end of Beckie Lakin’s placement on board the DFDS King Seaways and Beckie was still hoping to catch the glimpse of a final minke whale before disembarking. Therefore, on her final departure out of Newcastle (Sunday evening), Beckie headed to the back of the ship just as the light was disappearing.  As luck would have it, the silhouette of a minke whale that beckie was hoping for appeared – only just visible with the fading light! Contented, Beckie completed her placement on Tuesday having seen four species of cetacean, most of these on numerous occasions: many harbour porpoises, some white-beaked dolphins, two minke whales and a couple of common dolphins.

Beckie Lakin looking out for minkes!

Beckie Lakin looking out for minkes!

It has been a pleasure working with you Beckie, thank you for all your help on board, you’ve been a star! Good luck with your future endeavours and keep looking out for more minkes!

The final week of the 2016 season has sadly arrived and we welcome back Ruth (once again) for the final week to join me, Rachael. This is the first time that Ruth and I with have officially worked on board at the same time (having alternated in two week stints), so we were both excited to journey together in the season’s final weeks. Let’s hope the season ends in style with some good final sightings!

The sun setting as we left Holland waters

The sun setting as we left Holland waters

If you would like to support our charity, you can donate, become a member , a FinFriend (available to our younger supporters), or train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor. Or for more general information please visit our website by clicking here.




  1. I sailed across the North Sea with DFDS every year as a kid from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark, and I had no idea there were so many cetaceans there! Do you expect to see them on every trip if the prevailing weather conditions are favourable, and where could I look to read about North Sea wildlife?

    It’s great work your doing.

    • Hi Finn, Thank you for your feedback! You can find more information about whales, dolphins and porpoises seen in the North Sea and adjoining waters around the UK via our website:

      Seeing wildlife is never guaranteed but if the weather conditions are favourable then the chances are much higher!

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