Posted by: orcaweb | April 24, 2017

Taking Terns to Watch for Whales

As I boarded the King Seaways for my next fortnight at sea I was pleased that the crossing would be shared by my fellow Wildlife Officer Julia. It was really nice to be able to work together and catch up on all things North Sea. During our shared deck watch that evening Julia saw a seal but it was so quick that I missed it. I did however notice that the terns had arrived in my absence. Two weeks prior there had been a distinct absence of terns but now there were many chirping away in the sky which was lovely to see.  I really enjoy trying to identify the different species which is often tricky when out at sea. Both sandwich and common Terns have been spotted this week on board.

Tern stretching wings

A common tern preparing for take off

The following day after a very quiet deck watch albeit with terns chirping above the waves, Julia disembarked and I made my way into Holland with Dutch bird watchers and friends of ORCA, Delta Safari. What a great day it was! Marko and Ava of Delta Safari took myself and some members of the DFDS team to National Park Zuid Kennemerland and the Poelboerderij in Wormer en Jisperveld, two wonderful locations full of amazing bird life. Their knowledge of the bird species seen in the regions we visited was inspirational and I was able to swot up on my bird spotting skills and ID, as well as seeing some species I had never seen before including the black tailed godwit. Other species seen included green and greater spotted woodpeckers, a nesting mute swan, nest building coots, nightingales, great and blue tits, tree pipits, redstarts, oyster catchers, lapwings, barnacle geese, tufted ducks, shelducks, grey herons and even a marsh harrier! Thank you so much to both Marko and Ava for a fantastic day, the ORCA Wildlife Officers are looking forward to seeing you again this summer for some more wildlife watching!

On returning to the ship I had a really great audience for the afternoon’s presentation with bright kids and inquisitive adults alike. Followed by a deck watch this was one lucky group as within five minutes of being out on deck we saw a harbour porpoise swimming very quickly away from the ship. I couldn’t believe our luck – often when watching wildlife we have to wait hours before our first glimpse of hope.  This time no one was left waiting!

The bird numbers have definitely increased since I was last on board, and this is probably due to migrations, and we are also seeing a wider variety of species.  However, the whales, dolphins and porpoises are still being very illusive. Even if there are no cetacean sightings, the data that we collect out on deck is still extremely valuable. Understanding seasonal fluctuations of species is very important to gain further knowledge on the habits of different species seen here in the North Sea.


The sun shining down on the North Sea

When departing from Newcastle, I deliver the ‘Wine & Whales’ evening lecture. This focuses on some of the main threats faced by cetaceans including plastic pollution. This issue of plastic pollution is a subject that I am personally extremely passionate about. Our global dependence on single use plastics is having a devastating effect on the marine environment and all of the organisms which inhabit it. When delivering this particular aspect of the presentation I like to offer easy and affordable solutions for people to incorporate into their lives to reduce their plastic consumption, such as using a reusable water bottle or a reusable coffee cup. These small changes to our lifestyle can cause great changes in not only our effect on the environment but also on our economy. Unfortunately I had some very recent examples of the kinds of plastic pollution seen most frequently in the North Sea. The previous deck watch in which we saw no cetaceans, we instead saw a McDonalds “Happy Meal” balloon, not such a happy sight if you ask me, and an inflatable crocodile too, the kind people purchase on holiday and often dispose of before returning home, what a waste! Let’s all take the small steps that we can to help reduce plastic pollution in the oceans and say no to single use plastics!

The rest of the week was very quiet and no more cetaceans were seen. An increased sea state and heavy swell made spotting wildlife increasingly difficult. The bad weather did not stop the bird sightings though and as well as the noisy terns on the hunt for fish there were also plenty of gannets, fulmars, guillemots and razorbills spotted.

Black headed gulls

Black headed gulls

As I go into the second week of my time on-board I hope to teach more people about the devestation caused by plastic pollution whilst spotting the wonderful wildlife of the North Sea. If you have any ideas or suggestions on how we can all reduce our consumption of plastics please do comment below.

Happy Wildlife Watching!


If you would like to make a donation to help fund the fantastic work that ORCA do, or to become a member and train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor to help us collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!


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