Posted by: orcaweb | August 15, 2016

Little luck & little spotters

Unfortunately this week we have been struggling to get out on deck as often as we would like because of the consistent bad weather. During this week we have spent approximately 3 hours out on deck which does not make for good chances of sightings.


Rough seas

Considering that we are in the middle of August and should be seeing plenty of animals… we are having no such luck. On the days we have been surveying we have not been seeing anything…


Having little luck spotting whales & dolphins.

Even our bird numbers are lower than I would expect to be seeing at the moment. Just the odd gannet, gull and comorant.

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Fortunately for us though it is the summer holidays meaning plenty of passengers coming to visit us in the Wildlife Centre onboard.


Chaos in the ORCA centre after making lots of paper plate marine animals!


Make a small change to make a big difference.

We have had seen many ‘things’ that look like animals this week…but actually aren’t!

I like to call these shadow dolphins and rainbow dolphins! Never heard of them? Most people haven’t until you start surveying and standing on a bridge or out on deck trying to spot whales, dolphins and porpoises. What are these mysterious dolphins then I hear you ask. Well the first is quite dark in colour with no real discerning features, these I call shadow dolphins. The second, rainbow dolphins are identified by a bright shimmering patch in the water. Both ‘shadow dolphins’ and ‘rainbow dolphins’ are seen incredibly frequently as on quite a regular basis while surveying you will cry “dolphin!”… only a second later to realise you have seen a shadow or light patch in the water, as opposed to a ‘real’ dolphin species.  There is a saying that you think every wave is a porpoise until you spot an actual porpoise and then you know exactly what you have seen.

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A harbour porpoise surfacing (stock photograph)

We were promised that the weather would pick up by Saturday, though we had no sunshine the sea had definitely calmed and this meant we were able to spend a little bit more time out on deck before the end of this week.

As I got off the ship on Sunday morning the seas were flat and calm and there is promise of much better weather next week so I am keeping my fingers crossed for you Rebecca and Weng that the next week brings more sightings and sunshine for you to enjoy than we have had this week.

Last night however I heard from Rebecca that she and Weng had seen 28 animals… 3 seals and a mixture of harbour porpoise and white-beaked dolphins. This sounds like a great start to your week onboard! Let’s hope it continues for you.

If you like the sound of spotting whales, dolphins, porpoise & seals with us why not join one of our marine mammal surveyor courses this autumn and join us out on one of our many ferry and cruise ship survey routes!


Posted by: orcaweb | August 8, 2016

A Week Onboard the King!

Greetings, fellow whale and dolphin enthusiasts!  With the school holidays in full swing and the ship fully booked on a number of days, it certainly promises for a fantastic time onboard.  It has been a week since I started this placement onboard the King Seaways and what a whirlwind of a week it has been, full of excitement and (a little) frustration thrown in for good measure.

Having just joined the ship and the ORCA team, I found myself in an amazing place with so much to learn and to look forward to.  The possibilities seemed endless. During this time, I orientated myself with this maze of the ship, completed the safety tour and the lifeboat training.  Of course, it goes without saying, I also had lots of time to get out on deck to look out for these whales and dolphins.

After 4 days of not seeing signs of any marine mammals (even the sightings of sea birds were rather few and far between), I was starting to wonder where all the whales and dolphins are.  However, on Friday, the excitement ramped up a notch with a grey seal coming up to get a better look at the ship.  Was this going to be the end of the sightings drought?


Gannet in flight


Herring Gull


Gannet taking off

The next morning, on the way into Newcastle, the weather was pretty good for a deck watch, so we stayed out a little longer as the ship made her way towards the breakwater.  We were finally rewarded with the sight of a small pod of bottlenose dolphins breaching in the middle distance, along with a few more unidentified dolphins.

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Bottlenose dolphins

Later that day, still high from the excitement of the earlier sighting, I decided to head out early to start the deck watch.  Diving gannets were seen as we sailed south and although I remained hopeful that a cetacean would show up, nothing more was seen that day.

As though to make up for the lack of sightings, the evening presentations have all been very busy.  Almost everyday all the seats in the presentation area was filled with more people standing.  Deck watches were also busy with lots of enthusiastic passengers asking numerous questions on whales and dolphins.  Back in the Wildlife Centre there has been a constant trickle of children and adults throughout the evening on most days.  They all seem to leave the centre happy with their new found knowledge of marine mammals.


Wonderfully busy evening presentation in the Wildlife Centre


Arts and crafts anyone?


More arts and crafts

Also this week, Kerry delivered a presentation at Dove Marine Lab for Splashdown summer school, with Debris the marine litter porpoise and our ghost gear lobster pot in tow.  Kerry had a fab time, and she even stayed on, by invitation, to judge the marine mammal sand sculpture competition in the afternoon.

It has been an amazing first week and may this continue in the following 3 weeks.  Perhaps with a few more sightings of those amazing whales and dolphins.



Posted by: orcaweb | August 2, 2016

Princess Seaways Sailing & Sunderland Airshow

24th-26th July 2016

Ruth Coxon & Lucy McLeod

On Sunday 24th July two ORCA wildlife officers, Ruth and Lucy boarded the DFDS Princess Seaways to hopefully spot some amazing wildlife across the North Sea from the Port of Tyne to IJmuiden whilst also engaging with passengers about the wonderful whales and dolphins they so passionately care about.

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Lucy looking out for whales & dolphins

The first day started with a short day sail taking anchorage just outside Sunderland in order to watch the annual air show. During the sail out to the waters of Sunderland we undertook a short deck watch and whilst no cetaceans were see there was plenty of birds to be seen in the area.


A gannet sails through the sky


A beautiful Fulmar followed the ship

The air show got underway and whilst passengers (and ourselves) ooo’d and arrr’d over the amazing display taking place in the sky we decided to entertain a few families between flights by measuring out various cetacean species of the north sea along the outside decks. Being able to compare the animal’s size with the ship put a great perspective on things for our excited audience.

Once the air show was complete and we had sailed back to the Port of Tyne we then got ready for our mini cruise to the Netherlands. We assembled in the ships foyer to meet the new passengers and to let them know about our upcoming activities throughout the sailing.  Our first deck watch was not a disappointing one. Almost immediately after arriving out on deck we saw three harbour porpoises, surfing the waves around the ship. There were also a large amount of jellyfish seen too.

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Blue Jellyfish

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A magnificent Lions Mane Jellyfish


Following the pleasing sighting we then gave a presentation in the kids club for all the aspiring marine biologists on-board which we rounded up with some more games, quizzes and activities, testing their new found knowledge.

The following morning we undertook an early morning deck watch before arriving into Ijmuiden. This was a quiet morning with no cetaceans to report however it was a picturesque sail in with large wind turbine farms on both side of us. After a few hours spent sightseeing in Amsterdam we then returned to the ship to greet the next group of passenger boarding the princess. They were given a presentation in the kids club as well as some fun activities out on deck before we called in a day in anticipation for the mornings deck watch.

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Wind turbines on approach to the Netherlands

This was a heavily anticipated deck watch, our last chance for sightings before returning to land. I (Lucy) had been eager to see white-beaked dolphins, a species I had never seen before. I knew these animals did frequent the North Sea. 3 metres in length, a very stocky and robust dolphin, I was desperate to see them before I returned home. Ruth had advised me we had a 50/50 chance of seeing the white-beaked dolphins on our return to port but it was not looking hopeful. Hours past and I was starting to lose hope, the harbour walls were in sight. Then, the cry! Dolphins! There they were, literally just outside the harbour walls, four white beaked dolphins crashing through the water with their tall, dark dorsal fins, not like any other dolphin species I had seen before. We were grateful to have a full deck of passengers with us too who were lucky enough to witness this sighting as well.  It is fair to say both myself, Ruth and the passengers were over joyed at the last minute appearance made by these wonderful animals.

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A white-beaked dolphin crashes through the water

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The silhouette of a beautiful white-beaked dolphin

Both Ruth and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the crew of DFDS Seaways Princess for making us so welcome and helping us to deliver an enjoyable wildlife officer programme on-board their ship. We hope to see you all again in the future.


Posted by: orcaweb | August 2, 2016

Spy-hopping Seals for ORCA OceanWatch

This week has been fairly hectic on the DFDS King Seaways; we had volunteer Becca Reed join us on board for 5 days to help us continue the ORCA OceanWatch project.  On Wednesday, after 4 weeks with us we said goodbye to Will on Friday and then welcomed our new ORCA Wildlife Officer placement Weng on Sunday!!


Wildlife Officer Will


We were hoping to have lots of sightings for Wills last week and Wengs first few days but despite the calm waters and sunny skies the second week of ORCA OceanWatch in the North Sea has given us a few less sightings than the first. As we left Newcastle on the 27th (Wednesday) we spotted two white-beaked dolphins right next to the ship, and on Thursday, both as we came into and left Ijmuiden, we managed to see 3 harbour porpoise swimming within the nearby windfarm and 1 Grey Seal.


This nice weather didn’t continue into Friday morning though and as we came into Newcastle it was very foggy so we were unable to see any marine mammals, however our luck changed as we were leaving Newcastle that afternoon and we managed to see one grey seal, three harbour porpoise and 3 white-beaked dolphins.

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This has been a big week for Grey Seals as we also saw two on Saturday (30th) one when we were coming into Newcastle and one when we were leaving later that afternoon.  The grey seals were spy hopping right next to the boat, this takes our total number of Grey seal sightings to 18 so far this year.

As we left Newcastle on the 30th we once again had mirror flat water so also managed to see four harbour porpoise.

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Grey seals spy-hopping!

Even though we haven’t had as many sightings as last week our total number of animals seen over the 9 days of ORCA OceanWatch 2016 is higher than last year which is fantastic, in total we have seen over 130 different marine mammals – roughly three times the amount we saw in the North Sea during ORCA OceanWatch 2015. This year on the boat passengers have gotten really involved in ORCA OceanWatch and trying to help us spot marine mammals with many staying out with us for 2-3 hours each evening.


Since Sunday there has been a little bit of a lull in sightings and despite the lovely weather we only saw 1 dolphin on Sunday as we were leaving Newcastle, unfortunately it was only a fleeting glimpse so we couldn’t identify what species it was.  This week we have been having loads of fun in our ORCA Wildlife centre playing games and doing lots of arts and crafts. Some of our main activities has been making posters about whales and dolphins and creating paper plate marine animals!


Hopefully the lovely weather will continue and Kerry and Weng will have lots of exciting sightings next week!


Sightings for the week got off to a slow start with only 3 white-beaked dolphins seen over the 21st and 22nd, however with the beginning of ‘ORCA OceanWatch’ (Saturday 23rd) this didn’t last long. ORCA OceanWatch is a 9 day period during which we survey for all of the daylight hours that we are sailing and although this has meant some early starts we have been rewarded for this extra time on deck with some impressive numbers. The first morning alone produced 24 white-beaked dolphins, 3 harbour porpoise and one common dolphin, our third sighting of this species this year!


Common dolphin

For the first couple of days of OceanWatch we were also joined by an ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor team, who were with us from the evening of the 23rd until the morning of the 25th. Although little was seen on our way out of Newcastle in the evening we woke up the next morning to perfect sea conditions on the way into Ijmuiden. With the survey team on board I only spent an hour and a half out on deck, but still managed to see 29 harbour porpoise; at one point they were appearing so frequently I was struggling to keep up with all the sightings! That morning the survey team finished with a grand total of 47 harbour porpoises and 2 grey seals.

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Harbour porpoise

The 23rd proved to be a particularly busy day, not only did we start OceanWatch and welcome a survey team on board, we also had 848 passengers on for a day sail for the Sunderland Airshow. Rebecca and I spent the day out on deck with passengers enjoying the lovely weather. Whilst we didn’t manage to spot any whales or dolphins, we were treated to some impressive fly-bys and an amphibious beach assault by the navy.

Unfortunately the next couple of days weren’t quite as successful for our survey team, but it wasn’t the end of the big sightings for the week as on the 26th we were again treated to perfect conditions on our way out of Ijmuiden. I was joined on deck by large group passengers making the most of the good weather and in a couple of hours we saw 29 harbour porpoises, including a calf and 2 unidentified dolphins.

I am now coming to the end of my Wildlife Officer placement, with only one full day remaining. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on the ship and it has been fun meeting and talking to all the different people who visit the ORCA Centre. It’s great to see people of all ages get excited about the natural world, with many of them leaving the Centre with a new resolve to do their bit to help conserve and protect the marine environment by making a pledge to ‘Make a Small Change‘ project.

The only thing left for me now it to see a minke whale and with a few hours of deck watch left there’s always a chance!


Posted by: orcaweb | July 19, 2016

Breaching white-beaks & beautiful weather

This week has definitely been better for sightings than last week.  We started with 2 breaching white-beaked dolphins as we departed Newcastle at the start of this week. That had followed three breaching white-beaked dolphins as we had arrived in Newcastle that morning!

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white-beaked dolphins

The next few days were quite quiet with just a couple of harbour porpoise and an unidentified seal. We also had a slightly more unusual sighting as we departed Ijmuiden one evening… a white-beaked dolphin… Not unusual for the North Sea, but we tend to see white-beaked dolphins on the Newcastle side of the crossing!

We have however over the course of this week had one animal in the thousands and that animal is jellyfish, specifically compass jellyfish. I have been attempting to get photographs of them but due to the deck we survey from, and the angle to the water it has proved impossible (someone with better photography skills than me would have, no doubt, managed it).

We have this week seen a variety of the usual suspects when it comes to bird life; cormorants, razorbills, gannets and puffins to name a few. Many of our gannets sighted this week have been juveniles of varying stages.



To cap off the lovely sightings this week, it’s also the start of the summer holidays and we’ve had beautiful weather.  We have had many more people not only visiting the ORCA centre but also joining us out on deck… and not disappearing after just a few minutes because of the wind and the rain! Many of whom this morning joined us in spotting harbour porpoises and unidentified dolphins in very almost a sea state 0!


I am handing over to Rebecca this week and I wish her and Will many more sightings over the next couple of weeks with the hope that when I return there will still be lots of marine mammals out there for me to see too.

We are just past the half way point of our 6 month Wildlife Officer season with two and a half months left so below is a total of all of our sightings so far this year!

Harbour Porpoise: 183

White-beaked dolphins: 147

Minke Whales: 8

Bottlenose dolphins: 17

Atlantic white-sided dolphins: 4

Common dolphins: 2

Unidentified small cetaceans: 45

Seals: 14

Jellyfish: Thousands


Posted by: orcaweb | July 13, 2016

When will the whales be back?

Hi everyone!

This is Will the wildlife officer placement for July. I’m now into the second week of my placement and have settled into life on-board DFDS King Seaways. My first week of deck watches proved to be successful with sightings of 13 harbour porpoises, 2 unidentified cetaceans, diving gannets and puffins. Following this I had high hopes for the week to come and was looking forward to spending more time on deck.

The second week started promisingly with sightings of 2 harbour porpoises and 4 white-beaked dolphins (9th July) however as the week continued the cetaceans and most of the birds disappeared. I was hoping this was just a combination of poor conditions and bad luck!

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A pair of harbour porpoises

Luckily things were going better back in the centre where I gave my first presentations about the wildlife of the North Sea and spent time talking to passengers about ORCA and the work we do. Adults and children alike continue to be interested in Deb our marine litter porpoise and several of them made a pledge as part of our ‘make a small change’ campaign to do their bit to help the environment.



Monday of this week (11th July) also saw the official launch of the DFDS Beano comic. This involved 37 children and Dennis the Menace coming on-board the ship whilst we were docked in Newcastle. Rachael and Kerry took them out for a short deck watch and then onto the ORCA centre where they gave a quick presentation about whales and dolphins.

I’m now coming to the end of my second week and this morning (13th July) I woke up early so we could do a two hour deck watch on our way into Newcastle. After the last few days I wasn’t feeling very hopeful and I completed my hour without seeing anything. Kerry even went to the bridge just to double check if they had seen anything. On the one hand I was relieved to find out they hadn’t seen anything either, at least it wasn’t just me, but we were starting to become a bit concerned, where had everything gone?

Having swapped with Kerry as she took over the watch, I went and made us a cup of tea and then returned back to the deck. I was supposed to be inside starting this blog however my decision to hang around outside was rewarded when a passenger pointed towards a patch of white water off our starboard side. Kerry quickly snapped a few photos and we were able to identify 3 White-beaked Dolphins leaping clear of the water.

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Hopefully this sighting is a good omen for the week to come!


Hello everyone,

This is actually my final blog with ORCA. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time on board DFDS King Seaways, inspiring the younger generation to look out for whales and dolphins in the North Sea, as well as make changes to their daily lives to help save our marine environment.

This week ORCA were joined by Belsay First School from Morpeth, a lovely group of 13 students who have been involved with the Your Seas project here in the North East since 2014 and recently completed a shore watch at Souter lighthouse also. The students were keen to get out on deck, and loved looking through the waves for porpoises – however the sea state was simply too high to spot anything other than diving gannets!

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rach and belsayOut on deck with Belsay First School, putting all the practice into action!

belsay girlsThe Belsay girls, looking out for whales and dolphins – despite a high sea state

At the weekend, the third North Sea wildlife officer for 2016 season joined ORCA. William Matthews is with ORCA during the busiest cetacean period so best get spotting!


Deck watch looking out with passengers


Passengers participating in ORCA lectures as they depart North Shields

Bill Drinkald attended all 4 deck watches that passengers can get involved with during a mini crossing and out on deck on Sunday morning we saw some splashes on the horizon, which could of been potentially white beaked dolphins.

We have have many passengers in the centre, listening to our recent sightings information and finding out more about how to get involved with the charity ORCA.

Here we have Emmeline, looking at the minke whale that was spotted just off Flamborough head.


Emmeline is a keen swimmer and is going on holiday to Denmark.  She was fascinated to learn that a dolphin’s blow hole is actually an aquatic nose! Hope you and your family are enjoying yourselves 🙂

Jessie and Rowan.

Jessie and Rowan saving the animals from a lobster pot in the ORCA Wildlife Centre on deck 9.

My final mini cruise on board King Seaways brought about Harbour Porpoises! 13 of them in fact, and puffins also!

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A puffin pair

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The most common cetacean in the North Sea and UK waters, the Harbour Porpoise. There are an estimated 335,000 in the North Sea and unfortunately over 3000 die each year as a result of by catch and entanglement.


Unfortunate sighting of a abandoned fridge. This is recorded as marine litter, and was spotted as we approached North Shields on Sunday 3rd July 😦

From the opening of the new Wildlife Centre in 2015 to seeing many wonderful minke whale sightings, dolphins and porpoises to the 2016 marine litter porpoise – I have truly had a whale of a time.

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Best wishes to all ORCA wildlife officers and staff. Happy spotting!

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Many thanks to DFDS and all crew on board and in the office

Rachael 🙂

Posted by: orcaweb | June 29, 2016

A wealth of whales and white-beaked dolphins!

This week has been a fantastic week to end my wildlife guide placement with ORCA and apart from a few days when the weather wasn’t good enough to survey it was full of exciting sightings.

During my first evening deck watch since the last blog we saw a small group of white-beaked dolphins jumping and playing in the distance and a grey seal bottling next to the boat, after which a group of passengers and myself were lucky enough to see three minke whales, all within half an hour of being outside! This was a really lovely way to start the week and is the first time I have seen minke whales since being on board, this means that since being on the ship I have now seen 6 different species of marine mammals.

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Minke whale surfacing


This has taken out total sightings of minke whales up to 8 since March this year (first sighting 20th May), on top of which we have had a few passengers telling us they have also seen minke whales from the ship.

This week Delta Safari joined us again, meaning that for a few deck watches there were plenty of eyes watching for whales and dolphins! Once again they proved to be a bit of a lucky charm when it came to sightings. On Friday morning (24th June) we saw 2 harbour porpoises and white-beaked dolphins as we came into Newcastle. Firstly we saw a group of 20 white beaked dolphins feeding, followed by multiple smaller groups bringing us up to a grand total of 53!! This is the first time ever that our total number of white beaked dolphins sightings for the season has been higher than our total number of harbour porpoises. We have now seen 129 harbour porpoises and 130 white beaked dolphins since March.


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White-beaked dolphin

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A busy observation deck!


In the few days the weather wasn’t as nice as it had been which led to us spending lots of time in the ORCA Wildlife Centre, and one of our main activities this week has been arts and crafts. We have made lots of paper plate marine wildlife and were given the fantastic drawing below from Kai after he and his family spent the evening learning about the wildlife of the North Sea with Kerry.



Later in the week once the weather had cleared we were able to go back outside and get surveying again. We didn’t have quite as many sightings as we did early on in the week but we did see a few white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises. We have also seen a lot of sea birds this week including a small group of puffins, some juvenile gannets and black tailed Godwit.

When Delta Safari returned with us we saw another 5 white beaked dolphins, 2 harbour porpoises and 2 grey seals, then in a lovely end the week we saw 19 harbour porpoises as we left Amsterdam on Tuesday night (28th June).

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Posted by: orcaweb | June 21, 2016

Summer Solstice Sightings!

When you have a gut feeling, I have learnt I should go with it. When I got on the King Seaways at the start of this week Delta Safari were returning from a trip to the Farne Islands, it was wonderful to have them on-board again. Rebecca had done an hour deck watch during which she had seen a solitary white-beaked dolphin, and with the fog rolling in she joined me back in the Wildlife Centre for the rest of the evening. Around 9:15 though the fog cleared and I remember thinking I should go outside and survey for another hour with daylight hours being so good at his time of year. We had quite a few interested people in the centre at this time though so I never made it outside. I thought nothing else of it until just gone 10pm when two of the Delta Safari guides visited us in the wildlife centre to inform us of the sightings they had seen between 21:15 and 21:30! They had seen 2 white beaked dolphins, 5 harbour porpoise and 1 minke whale about 100m in front of the ship! So lesson learnt… when your gut tells you to get back outside and survey, you should go back outside and survey!

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Minke whale (Michael Deryckere – Delta Safari)

The next evening as we departed Ijmuiden was also a lovely evening for sightings with a steady stream of small pods of harbour porpoise, cumulating in a total of 13 individuals; 2 bottlenose dolphins and a lovely bobbing head of a grey seal.

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Rebecca also this week spotted a harbour porpoise through a window from inside a wildlife centre which the passengers talking to her at the time were also very pleased to see!

Sunday, Rebecca and I headed to Souter Lighthouse Bioblitz with Deb our Marine Litter Porpoise (in preparedness for an ORCA Your Seas shore watch the following day) where we conducted a shore watch for a couple of hours around lunchtime. Unfortunately we didn’t see any cetaceans during our shore watch but we did see a 6 cute and fluffy herring gull chicks on the rocks out in front of us.

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Deb was met by some very interested members of the public, she makes quite a statement when people realise what she is made from!

To round up this week on-board we have seen another 4 unidentified dolphins. Unfortunately, our last crossing to Ijmuiden and back gave us some quite rough seas, which meant that the observation deck was closed.  I am not convinced we would have seen much with the waves and the rain, though! With the deck being closed due to bad weather on our last trip out of Ijmuiden this week, I thought I would pop up to the bridge and see if there was any chance of surveying from inside. Struggling to see anything, I was chatting to the deck officer and it turns out that on Wednesday evening around 23:30 he saw a minke whale from the bridge while on watch. He has told me he will keep me updated with any more sightings he has over night.

Today being the summer solstice I decided that although the observation deck wouldn’t be open until 7:30/8ish I would do an earlier survey from the bridge! This turned out to very productive we had 5 harbour porpoise and nearing 8am I saw my first minke whale of this year, they have been in the area for a few weeks now but I have either been inside or not on the ship when they have been seen! This made a very lovely end to this week!


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