Posted by: orcaweb | July 24, 2017

Wonderful Wildlife Above and Below

They are certainly right when they say time flies when you’re having fun. I can’t believe I am about to head into my third week with ORCA and what a wonderful two weeks I’ve had in the North Sea already. Please let me introduce myself. My name is Beccy and I am one of the very lucky Wildlife Officer Placements who gets the chance to learn all about what it takes to be an ORCA Wildlife Officer.

As soon as I arrived on board the DFDS King Seaways, Lucy (Senior Wildlife Officer) made me feel right at home and I was quickly settled into my new room for the month, eager to get started. On my first few deck watches I noticed lots of seabird species that I had never seen before; gannets, guillemots, cormorants, terns, razorbills and fulmers. Luckily, Lucy was fantastic at identifying them and told me some really good features and flight patterns to look out for. Later that week she kindly gave me a sea bird presentation and quiz which was really fun and her enthusiasm for seabirds was infectious and certainly rubbed off. I never thought of myself as much of a bird watcher before but after learning so much about the different species and seeing so many every day it has definitely sparked a new interest in me and now I get almost as excited as Lucy when we spot these fantastic birds.


Gannet soaring the North Sea winds

Monday morning set us off on a very exciting start to the week when we spotted three white-beaked dolphins swimming near the ship as we approached North Shields. Then when departing later on that evening we had another brief encounter with a small pod of white-beaked dolphins as we headed over to Ijmuiden. As well as seeing an array of seabirds and some beautiful dolphins in my first week I was also very lucky in seeing many harbour porpoises and a magnificent minke whale.

Being July, you would be forgiven for thinking that the weather has been glorious with clear blue skies and peaceful, calm seas. However, the lovely Scottish weather has followed me to the North Sea and we have experienced choppy seas from Tuesday making it very difficult to spot any cetaceans. Nevertheless, this did give me plenty of opportunity to work on my new seabird identification skills.


Porpoises rolling in the deep

Leaving Ijmuiden on Saturday evening, Lucy and I were delighted when we went out for deck watch and saw that the sea had calmed. It wasn’t quite a mirror but after our week of choppy seas it was heaven. We saw a lot of gannets and juvenile guillemots learning how to swim with their fathers but still no sign of any cetaceans. Then I saw something floating straight ahead of the ship. I called to Lucy as I thought it was marine litter until I looked through my binoculars and was horrified to see that it was something much worse. It was sadly a dead dolphin floating on its side. It’s always upsetting to see something like this but it is a reminder of why it is so important that ORCA continues to do the work that it is doing in order to understand the threats that cetaceans are being faced with.


Male guillemot with his chick

As well as doing deck watches, we also give an evening talk on the wildlife of the North Sea to passengers on board. On Saturday I was ready to give my first public presentation. I was a little nervous at first as we had an audience of over forty people but as soon as I started speaking my nerves melted away and I really enjoyed it.

One of the things that I love most about being a Wildlife Officer with ORCA is that you can interact with the public. It is so inspiring when so many people of all ages and from all walks of life are interested and equally as passionate about our wonderful marine life, particularly children. We have had so many enthusiastic, inquisitive children this week coming to the ORCA centre every day that they are on board and eagerly joining us for deck watches. One 7 year old boy named Maxwell joined us out on deck on Saturday evening and Sunday morning and he told us that when he grows up he would love to be a Wildlife Officer, too.

Sunday was a particularly exciting day. After we docked in North Shields and the passengers disembarked, we welcomed a new group of guests that were all on board to set sail for the Sunderland Air Show. Once we set sail down the mouth of the Tyne we went outside to do a deck watch. Lucy and I were very excited as we normally are indoors giving a talk during this part of the journey and so have never surveyed inside the harbour before. To our delight, as soon as we went outside we were amazed at the bird life diving so close to shore. We saw arctic terns, guillemots and sandwich terns flying and swimming around the docked boats. Then, all of a sudden a passenger excitedly squealed and pointed at the water in front of us. She had spotted two harbour porpoises – inside the harbour walls! About 2 minutes later we then saw another two harbour porpoises swimming just outside the port. A brilliant marine show for the passengers just before the red arrows lit up the sky and amazed us all with their performance.


So after a very fun-filled and educational week I have to sadly say my farewells to Lucy. She is very excitingly embarking on a Norwegian Fjord cruise from Dover on Friday as an ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor during her two weeks off (dedicated to the job). I wish her all the best in her future adventures and I am incredibly grateful for all her support over the last two weeks – I am sure I will see her again soon.

I am very much looking forward to working with Julia over the next fortnight and can’t wait to report back with more stories of our maritime adventures. Until then.



Spectular double rainbow seen on our Monday morning deck watch




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