Posted by: orcaweb | September 23, 2015

A final minke whale waves us goodbye and bottlenose bid us farewell!

17.09 – 23.09 2015

Welcome back for the final week of the Wildlife Officer Season on board the DFDS King Seaways. What a season it has been! For this final week, both Rachael and Ruth sailed the North Sea – a new experience for both of us! We have been alternating in 2 week stints over the 6 month wildlife officer period and decided to close the season down together.

Ruth (left) & Rachael (right) during one of our last deck watches of the season!

Ruth (left) & Rachael (right) during one of our last deck watches of the season!

Our first departure out of North Shields brought us a brief view of some dolphins as they swam away from the ship, too subtle for us to accurately identify them. Later in the evening though something surfaced that was much more obvious – a minke whale! Surfacing a few times, displaying its long back and small arched dorsal fin, it was fantastic to see that the minke’s were still about despite the season coming to a close, bringing with it the start of Autumn.

Throughout the next few days in and out of Holland, a few harbour porpoises swam close by to the ship, reminding us of the sheer numbers of porpoises found in the North Sea – an estimated 335,000, and that most porpoises stay here all year round!

Harbour porpoise

Harbour porpoise

Almost halfway through our final week we were hoping for one last memorable sighting and this certainly was the case! A minke whale surfaced clear as day for everyone to see. In our favour, it surfaced four times – enough for us to capture some fantastic photos!

Minke whale

Minke whale

minke whale

minke whale close-up

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Fantastic minke whale shots – taken by Rachael

After the excitement of the Minke that evening, we weren’t expecting any more sightings to blow us away over the following days, only expecting porpoises to pop up. We both felt very content with the sights we had been lucky enough to witness over the 6 month season and no doubt will miss the North Sea’s marine life. As anticipated, harbour porpoises seemed to be the most prevalent thing to present itself over the following days – some appearing alone or in pairs, on both sides of the crossing.

A harbour porpoise surfacing

A harbour porpoise surfacing

During our penultimate approach to the Tyne walls, we noticed waves crashing against them with very few rocks on show meaning that it was high tide! Surfacing discreetly, we noticed two animals on the right hand side of the Tyne Walls. We were first unsure of the identify of these species, until they swam closer down the starboard side to reveal that they were bottlenose dolphins! Back in June we had seen a pod of these numerous times coinciding with an upsurge of mackerel, so once again the mackerel it seems has brought them back to bid us farewell! Unfortunately the excitement of seeing these again, meant that we only captured the tip of a dorsal fin of one of these iconic creatures.

Bottlenose dolphin dorsal fin

Bottlenose dolphin dorsal fin

With the autumn winds wafting various birds on their migration routes, we were also spotting some more unusual birds out to sea. A flurry of flocking passerine first fluttered over the bow earlier in the week with many more to follow. These were suspected to be meadow pipits. One was caught on camera resting for a time on the bow.

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Meadow pipit resting on the bow

Some other birds made a brief appearance, with a an artic skua swooping past quickly, as well as a great skua seen chasing a juvenile kittiwake! The razorbills seem to have reappeared as well with many being seen flying close to the water in large flocks.

Arctic skua

Arctic skua

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Two great skuas

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A great skua chasing a kittiwake

A flock of razorbills

A flock of razorbills

The final crossing back into Newcastle, being our last deck watch of the season was a slightly sad affair. However, a final pod of three harbour porpoises remained our last sighting of the year, during the last 20 minutes of our deck watch.

Final harbour porpoise sighting

Final harbour porpoise sighting

Coming off the ship for the final time knowing that neither of us would be on it was an emotional thought. However, we can safely say that the 2015 wildlife officer season has been extremely successful – not only with the construction of the new ORCA Wildlife Centre on board, inviting an array of passengers, totalling an incredible 10,000 passengers that we engaged with in the ORCA centre and on deck watches, but with the number of sightings as well. We have recorded an amazing 869 marine animals over the 2015 season, with the numbers of each species displayed below:

The rest of these 869 individuals consisted of 40 unidentified dolphins, 22 unidentified  small cetaceans and 1 unidentified medium cetacean. All of this wouldn’t have been possible though without the continued support from DFDS Seaways inclusive of those in the DFDS office, especially North Sea Campaigns Manager Stephen House, Commercial Heads, René and Jørn, Captains Lars, Karsten and Neil’s and Chief Officers Ingimar Tør Thomsen and Martin Lyager. Of course a big thanks also goes to all crew on board in particular Entertainments Managers Julie and Mark 🙂 Thank you also to the three interns who joined us this summer, Jake Taylor-Bruce, Sasha Taylor and Beckie Lakin, for contributing to the collection of this data and maintaining the smooth running of activities in the ORCA Centre. Thank you as well to ORCA head office, Sally, Catherine, Lucy and Anna for the opportunity to survey in the North Sea and your continued support.

A final thank you goes to all of the lovely passengers who we have engaged with this year, each person who joined us on a deck watch or spoke to us in the ORCA Centre – you make the running of this programme truly worthwhile, and hopefully we will have raised some awareness about the abundance of life in the North Sea and inspired some of you to look out for it!

  • A final farewell from Ruth and Rachael!

If you would like to support the charity, you can donate, become a member, become a FinFriend (for our youngest members), or train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor. Or for more information about the charity go on our website by clicking here.

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