After an exciting start to our 2017 Wildlife Officer programme here in the North Sea, I took over from Lucy who had spent the first official week of this season on board the DFDS King Seaways. After having had a fantastic training week I was very eager and excited to get on the ship myself to run our Wildlife Officer programme on board, to meet a lot of nice passengers and to see some fantastic wildlife.
I had a wonderful start to the season during my first couple of days on board. On my first evening (4th of April) I was approached by a teacher asking whether I was able to give a talk to a group of Polish students about wildlife of the North Sea. The teacher had experienced such a talk by another Wildlife Officer once before and had been absolutely amazed by it. That is of course wonderful to hear and I was more than happy to invite them into our lovely ORCA Wildlife Centre!
Besides the various activities in the centre, such as presentations, children’s activities, evening lectures and whale and dolphin documentaries I was of course very keen on doing our daily deck watches out on the observation deck to spot whales, dolphins and other wildlife. As Lucy had seen about 20 harbour porpoises and 1 white-beaked dolphin the week before, I couldn’t wait to see these amazing animals too and was very hopeful to have some sightings as well.
Unfortunately my patience and that of the passengers who joined me on the observation deck wasn’t rewarded with sightings of whales, dolphins or porpoises. This was mainly due to the weather and sea state, as we often had a relatively rough sea with many choppy waves and more than once fog decreasing visibility. These conditions make it difficult to spot any cetaceans, especially the harbour porpoises, as they are so small and will just appear quickly on the surface to breath and then disappear again. Luckily however you can (almost) always count on the wonderful seabirds to make an appearance. My favourite encounter of this week was a huge gannet gliding right above our heads and accompanying us for at least half an hour!
Next to all the fantastic bird species you can encounter when out at sea, such as gannets, razorbills, guillemots and terns, it is definitely also worth looking out for them when approaching port. At the Dutch side of our crossing you can see hundreds of gulls, including lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls and you will likely be greeted by the distinctive high-pitched calls of some oystercatchers. On the 7th of April, when we were approaching our landing spot in the port of Ijmuiden I observed a particular interesting interaction between a gull, a cormorant and a fish. A cormorant had just caught its breakfast – a yummy plaice – , when a sneaky gull arrived on the scene and snatched the plaice right out of the cormorant’s bill! The latter was left behind watching the agile gull disappear with its meal.
With my first week coming to an end, I was really hoping to spot some whales, dolphins or porpoises over the weekend. When leaving Ijmuiden on Sunday evening to go back to Newcastle, I was happily surprised to find a really calm sea state. Having such great conditions I couldn’t help myself getting really excited and optimistic about possible sightings! It turned out that this sea state didn’t last for long and soon the passengers and I found ourselves looking at a familiar wavy North Sea! So unfortunately we weren’t blessed with any marine mammal sightings, but at least we could enjoy a wonderful view with the sun on our faces.
My first official week on board the DFDS King Seaways came quickly to an end. Although I wasn’t lucky enough to see any whales and dolphins (yet!), I thoroughly enjoyed my time on board. I am absolutely amazed by all the fantastic passengers that I’ve met. It’s just great to have the opportunity to talk to so many different people from different countries who shared their wonderful wildlife and/or holiday stories with me and who were fascinated by the wildlife you can find here in the North Sea. So I’m very much looking forward to my next week on board as this is an amazing place to be!
Until next week,