Posted by: orcaweb | May 2, 2017

Riding the Waves of Life at Sea!

Week 6 of the Wildlife Officer season on board the DFDS King Seaways started with less than favourable weather. A heavy swell and a high sea state meant that spotting cetaceans (whales, dolphins & porpoises) was seemingly impossible. The terns were still out in force however despite the strong winds and it was becoming apparent now that our three most seen species were the Arctic, common and sandwich tern.

The heavy swell and terrible sea state continued and the observation deck was closed on Wednesday morning meaning that the early deck watch had to be cancelled. This meant however that I was able to open the wildlife centre and engage with passengers who hadn’t had a chance to see our amazing facilities the night before.


The pilot boat battling the waves to guide us into the harbour at Ijmuiden

By Friday afternoon I was overjoyed to see that the stormy seas had left us and the surface of the sea was beautifully flat and calm once more. Excited to get started with that evenings deck watch, lucky passengers saw harbour porpoise within minutes of being out on deck!


The scenic arrival into North Shields

Saturday morning I awoke to a beautifully flat sea once more and I couldn’t believe my luck. After a quick breakfast in the crew mess I headed out to the observation deck at the front of the ship and it wasn’t long before I spotted my first harbour porpoise. I saw one more before we approached the wind farms outside of Ijmuiden and as we got closer to shore and shipping activity increased no more cetaceans were spotted. It is always a real treat to see the harbour porpoise as due to their small size they can be hard to spot in anything other than perfect conditions.


A calm flat sea, perfect for cetacean spotting

I chose to stay out on deck whilst the ship was coming into port that day, the sun was beautifully warm and it seemed like a waste to go back inside prematurely. This gave me an opportunity to view and photograph the masses of birds that live around the mouth of the port at Ijmuiden. Mostly gulls, greater and lesser black backed as well as herring gulls, there was also the occasional cormorant or Egyptian goose. The most surprising sight was in fact a of flock of mute swans flying past with their long necks stretched right out in front of them.


A flock of mute swans fly by

That afternoon as we left the port of Ijmuiden and after I had delivered my presentation on wildlife of the North Sea, I took passengers to the observation deck hopeful for another flat sea.  Whilst the sea was not as wild as it had been, conditions had definitely worsened and the appearance of white caps meant that no cetaceans were seen that evening.

On Sunday afternoon I headed out for the usual deck watch greated once again by enourmous waves and a heavy swell. This did not prevent passengers from joining me and there was a great feeling of excitement amongst my companions. We spotted serveral birds including gannets, fulmars and guillemots but we all knew spotting any cetaceans was going to be tricky in these conditions. As the waves came crashing in the whole deck was alive with the sheer power coming from the ocean. I truly love seeing the ocean in its wildest states, it is a constant reminder of how small we really are on this blue planet. With every roll there was a cheer from the crowd and then suddenly a wave so large that we all were showered in sea spray. Again this caused an uproar of excitement from everyone on deck, it was fun despite the lack of whales or dolphins. Unfortunately, as I had suspected, the deck was then closed off as the captain and bridge crew made the decision to close the observation deck for the rest of the evening, what an exhilarating half an our at sea it was though!


Excited passengers enjoying the ocean at its wildest

This week has really been a good opportunity to practise my bird spotting skills and it really does amaze me, how many bird species we see in all manner of weather. Whilst we are blown around the observation deck, gannets sore gracefully, gulls glide past and terns flutter by noisily. Even the auks, small and almost awkward looking in flight seem unscathed by the harsh winds.


The gull colony as we sail into Ijmuiden


A juvenille gull takes a rest on the ships bow



A cormorant in flight


A northern gannet soars above the waves

On Monday Julia embarked in Ijmuiden and this gave both of us the chance to work together and catch up on the previous two weeks activities. With her, Julia brought great weather conditions. The evenings watch could not have been any more different from the recent weather if it tried. The sea was flat and calm and within minutes we saw our first harbour porpoise. By the end of the evening we had seen 20 harbour porpoise, almost as many as had been seen in total over the last month. The best sighting was when 4 harbour porpoise surfaced directly ahead of the ship. This gave us a great opportunity to watch them for a greater period of time and even grab some quick pictures before they eventually disappeared beneath the surface. A truly lovely end to my fortnight on-board.


A harbour porpoise surfaces ahead of the ship

I leave Julia now to hopefully keep hold of those lovely calm seas and keep spotting lovely cetaceans throughout the next two weeks. Who knows what the month of May might bring for both wildlife officers and passengers onboard the King Seaways.

Lucy – ORCA North Sea Wildlife Officer

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!



  1. Great you saw so mny porpoises. And really super bird pictures! I like best the one of the gannet in flight, I find it terribly hard to get a good picture of a bird in flight, well done to get that one.

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