Posted by: orcaweb | April 10, 2017

ORCA Wildlife Officers ready for week 2

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.

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North Sea Wildlife Officers; Julia (left) and Lucy (right)

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!

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The ORCA Wildlife Centre, deck 9, DFDS King Seaways

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.

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Looking out for whales, dolphins and porpoises…

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!

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Gliding gannet

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.

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Gulls are a common sight when approaching Ijmuiden

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Juvenile gull eating plaice

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.

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The view of the North Sea from the Observation Deck

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!

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Engaging with interesting passengers out on deck

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The beautiful North Sea

Until next week,

Julia

Posted by: orcaweb | April 5, 2017

Back on board with ORCA & DFDS

Hello everyone and welcome to the new Wildlife Officer season here in the North Sea. On board the beautifully refurbished King Seaways this year you will find myself, Lucy the new Senior Wildlife Officer and Julia our new Junior Wildlife Officer. After an exciting launch event with Michalea Strachan on-board to celebrate our ten year anniversary with DFDS, I remained on the ship for the first official day of the 2017 season.

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2017 North Sea Wildlife Officers: Julia (left) & Lucy (right)

The first thing that struck me about the North Sea was how varied the bird life here is. On my first deck watch I was in awe of the species I was seeing. In just one hour of watching I saw Guillemots, Razorbills & even a couple of puffins! Auks are in my opinion some of the prettiest seabirds and so lovely to see. The sea was beautifully calm but despite wonderful surveying conditions, no cetaceans were seen.

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Guillemot

The next morning I awoke to the most brilliant sun rise and again a beautifully calm sea. Lots of gulls and a few Gannets soared through the sky as the sea came alive with light reflecting the suns rays. That evening the surface of the water had begun to show signs of increased winds with white horses dancing on top of the waves. This is not such great weather for spotting cetaceans as they can often be hidden behind the crests.

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Sunset at sea

The passengers on-board have been absolutely fantastic and a pleasure to meet. Presentations in the wildlife centre have been full to the brim most evenings and the deck watches too have proved very popular. There is a great diversity of nationalities on-board and I have been practising my Dutch with many of the passengers sailing over from the Netherlands to North Shields.

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Looking out for whales & dolphins

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Full attendance at the ‘Wildlife of the North Sea’ lecture

Once the weekend had passed I was overwhelmed on Monday morning when I arrived onto the observation deck to look out at a sea state zero. This is when the surface of the water looks as clear as glass with not a single ripple in sight. This is whale and dolphin spotting heaven and I got my binoculars ready straight away. It wasn’t long before I started spotting harbour porpoise rolling through the water. Harbour porpoises are the most common cetacean in the North Sea and the only porpoise seen in European waters. Being small and shy, calm seas are the best way to see these amazing creatures at their best.

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Harbour porpoise

A solo white-beaked dolphin was spotted in the distance and then seemingly out of nowhere a thick dense fog rolled in like a white wall blocking any chance of seeing further wildlife. Despite the conditions I remained on deck with some passengers who were amazed by the sudden change in conditions.

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Fog rolling in…

The following afternoon and morning brought with it the same idyllic sea state and thankfully without the fog, I was already starting to fall in love with the North Sea. With passengers in tow eager to marvel at the wildlife more harbour porpoises were spotted as well as many auk species including the occasional puffins which are most likely making their way towards the Farne Islands where they nest and breed.

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A fleeting glimpse of a puffin!

Gannets are a common sight in the North Sea, soaring above the ship with their huge two metre wing span and riding the thermals out to sea. By mid-week seals had started to appear, mostly grey seals bobbing at the surface. The seals can be seen at all points throughout the crossing and are more than capable of swimming the full distance between Ijmuiden and North Shields!

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Gannet

As the week progressed the weather started to deteriorate slightly with rain and choppy seas. It always amazes me that the birds who spend most of their time out at sea are un-phased by the weather that causes us to grimace and shiver. Many gull species including greater and lesser blacked back as well as herring gulls can be spotted sitting on the water or flying just inches above the surface in even the roughest seas. Kittiwakes have also been a highlight of this last week. I have seen more here in the North Sea that anywhere else I have previously ventured and I love the distinctive markings on the wings of the juveniles.

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Juvenile kittiwake

Coming to the end of my first weeks on-board we again we greeted by flat seas and rolling fog. Convinced the calm conditions would bring us porpoise sightings as we sailed towards the Netherlands I endured the fog and reduced visibility. As both myself and passengers watched patiently, fulmars, kittiwakes, gulls and gannets were all seen disappearing into the mist. We arrived in Holland with no cetacean sightings to speak of.

With the first week of the season coming to an end I am very excited for what we will see and experience here in the North Sea. Next week Julia boards for her first 2 weeks running the programme and I have my fingers crossed that she will see some amazing wildlife and meet some fantastic passengers. Join her next week for the next blog instalment from the King Seaways.

Lucy

For more information about ORCA, please visit our website.

Posted by: orcaweb | September 19, 2016

Last Week on DFDS King Seaways 2016!!

The last week of the season on board the DFDS King Seaways got off to a wonderful start. On the evening of the 13th September as we were leaving Newcastle, we had beautifully calm seas and spotted 3 harbour porpoise and 2 white-beaked dolphins much to the delight of everyone who joined us for our deck watch. As well as this we had numerous passengers come into our ORCA Wildlife Centre throughout the evening to let us know that they had seen dolphins and porpoises from various places on the ship.

Left – harbour porpoise, Right – white-beaked dolphin

For us it doesn’t matter how many times we spot a whale, dolphin or porpoise, we still get an incredible jolt of happiness when we see the familiar shape of a fin breaking the surface of the water. You could’ve been standing out on a cold deck for hours but you forget all about that when you see such a magnificent animal. The only thing that can make it even better is when passengers have been out on deck with you and they get to see it too! Such a special moment particularly for those who have never spotted whales or dolphins before.

Unfortunately we didn’t have any further marine mammal sightings for the rest of the week, this was mainly due to the weather, as we had to cancel quite a few deck watches due to fog, delayed sailings and the sea state. However on the few other occasions we did manage to do surveys we did see a variety of sea birds including gannets, kittiwakes and razorbills.

Even if the sightings were few and far between for our final week of the season this week has been quite hectic in our ORCA Wildlife Centre as not only did we have many passengers joining us for various evening activities, but we also had two fantastic school groups that joined us in-between sailings whilst we were in Newcastle. This started with a group of 6 from Fellgate Primary School Autistic Unit who were ecstatic to be getting to visit a ship they have seen departing and arriving North Shields many a time to learn all about whales & dolphins. They were even treated with a trip to the bridge to see the captain.

Later in the week we had a wonderful group from West Newcastle Academy come aboard to investigate the wildlife of the North Sea. Although we weren’t sailing, a great time was had out on the observation deck trying spot birds.  After learning about all the threats to whales and dolphins all of the students decided to take part in our ‘Make a Small Change’ campaign.  All in all we hope you had a wonderful time West Newcastle Academy.

 

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Even though we haven’t had many sightings this week we have seen some wonderful wildlife in the North Sea since coming on board at the end of March. In total we have seen 7 different species of marine mammal, including 6 different species of cetacean: minke whales, white-beaked dolphin, harbour porpoise, common dolphin, Atlantic white-sided dolphin, bottlenose dolphin and the grey seal.

We have had a fantastic time on DFDS King Seaways this year and would like to thank staff from both ORCA and DFDS for having us on board and for supporting us throughout this. Hopefully we will see you all again in 2017!

Kerry and Rebecca

It’s our penultimate week on board the DFDS King Seaways for this season, we can’t believe how quickly it’s gone! Unfortunately the calm seas Kerry saw at the end of last week were not here to stay and both the weather and sea state were very temperamental throughout the week.

We had a great start to the week and left Newcastle on Monday we saw 2 white-beaked dolphins swimming right next to the boat making me very hopeful for sightings over the next few days. But the following deck watches of the week were unsuccessful in terms of marine mammal sightings, even on days where we had perfect conditions there were none to be seen. However we did see a wide array of sea birds including juvenile gannets, razorbills, cormorants and even a puffin!

Our luck seemed to change on Wednesday, that evening we saw 6 white beaked dolphins made up of a pair and then a group of 4, much to the delight of all the passengers who had joined me out on deck. Unfortunately we didn’t manage to spot anything else until the end of the week.

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White-beaked dolphin (stock photo)

On Friday the 9th we were very lucky to have an ORCA Marine Mammal Survey team join us for a few days, and the team included Ruth Coxon who was one of the Wildlife Officers on board the King Seaways last year. It was lovely to have her back on the ship, unfortunately they didn’t get perfect conditions but during their longer survey hours they did manage to see some marine wildlife on their trip. Especially on their return journey into Newcastle on Sunday when they say over 15 harbour porpoise, a Grey seal and a Minke Whale!!

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Minke whale (stock photo)

Even though we haven’t seen many marine mammals we have still been having lots of passengers joining us for our deck watches and have been having a great time in our ORCA Wildlife Centre on the boat doing presentations and lots of childrens activities such as making paper plate and origami sea creatures!

The week ended on a great note with calm waters and sunny skies as we were leaving Ijmuiden on Monday evening, and we managed to spot 4 harbour porpoise swimming right in front of the boat.

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Harbour porpoise (stock photo)

Hopefully the perfect waters and the luck we had at the end of the week will continue for me and Kerry for our last week of the season!!

Rebecca

Posted by: orcaweb | September 6, 2016

Marvelous Minke Whales!

In Weng’s blog lats week he mentioned that we thought the minke whales had returned to the area… and it seems that he was right! I saw 3 minkes in 3 days following the two seen at the end of last week.

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Minke whale

 

On Monday I was joined by a Dutch volunteer, Karlijn, who spent a few days on-board the King Seaways with me. Monday evening departing IJmuiden, it was lovely and calm and we saw a few small harbour porpoises while sailing through the windfarms.

Due to a health issue on board overnight, unbeknownst to us at the time due to the condition of the passenger we had to turn around and head back to Ijmuiden (the nearest port to our position)! This I found out upon arriving on deck the next morning when I could not see a coastline in any direction. For those of you who don’t know the route the King Seaways takes means that we sail up the coast of the UK for quite a way as opposed to cutting straight across the North Sea. Ordinarily when I start my morning deck watch on the way in to Newcastle I can see the British coastline.

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Karlijn with passengers

Leaving Karlijn out on deck with passengers I visited the bridge to investigate further as to where we were! I found that we were still in the middle of the North Sea, with no arrival due until 6pm (Normal arrival time 10am). Although this was an inconvenience for those with onward plans, for us out on deck it meant we had a much longer period to survey, in areas that from this ship we are normally unable to survey due to the overnight sailing!

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2nd calander year Gannets

 

Throughout the day we were joined by many passengers taking advantage of the beautiful weather and sea conditions. Our first sighing of the day to the delight of the many passengers out on deck with us was a small pod of harbour porpoise.   We were also lucky enough to see a beautiful minke whale about 4km from the ship, however it seems that we were travelling in its direction because before long it was just a few hundred meters off the port side of the ship. The proximity of this minke whale to the ship was incredible as it gave a brilliant view to the passengers that were enjoying the sunshine. Many people still remain surprised that we have such large creatures living in the North Sea.

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Beautiful minke whale

 

These were not the end of our sightings for this day of extended surveying periods. Throughout the day we had a total of; 3 small cetaceans, 9 harbour porpoises, 10 white-beaked dolphins and 2 seals and of course the beautiful minke whale. Thanks to the early sightings we had many passengers out enjoying these animals throughout the day.

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2 of our many harbour porpoises this week

I had one more great day for sightings this week with lots of porpoise… and even a shark! Though I didn’t get a particularly great look at the shark to get any better identification than it was approximately a meter long. To be honest, I was not expecting to see the shark, and it took my brain a few minutes to process what it had just seen jumping out of the water.

Unfortunately the last few days of this week the weather has turned and we had a few slightly bumpy crossings during my last couple of days on-board.

Happy spotting!

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Kerry

Posted by: orcaweb | August 31, 2016

DFDS Princess Seaways

27th – 29th August 2016

Welcome on board the DFDS Princess Seaways, the King’s sister ship! We have had several sailings this summer where Wildlife Officers have embarked to deliver fun, exciting activities, presentations and deck watches over the North Sea route to the Netherlands. As the last sailing of the season with Wildlife Officers on this ship we were hoping to end in style and surely enough it was a fantastic crossing!

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Becky looking out for whales & dolphins

Rebecca and I (Ruth) were welcomed on board and got straight to work welcoming passengers as they boarded with a meet and greet, making people aware of our presence. After fun filled kids’ activities in the kids club, we ventured onto the port side of deck, hopeful. Unlike the King Seaways, there is no observation deck at the front of the ship, which means we have to choose a side of deck 9 in which to survey from.

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Harbour porpoise

Within the first half an hour, we were lucky to spot a lone harbour porpoise as it characteristically splashed on surfacing, a few hundred metres from the ship. Delighted to have seen something, we remained eager-eyed and were rewarded 20 minutes later when some more splashing up ahead was spotted – even closer to the ship! We believe these to have been dolphins which revealed very little of themselves. However, having an ORCA surveyor team on board, they confirmed later that evening that from their view in the Bridge, that they had seen 5 white-beaked dolphins on the opposite side to us, and that perhaps the ones we that we saw were also part of that group.

Sunday morning brought an eerie looking sea with dark skies and heavy rain welcoming us on deck. Shortly after arriving outside, layered up, streaks of fork lightening appeared in a fleeting bright flash. The loud cracks of thunder followed seconds behind, deafening everyone on deck – making me jump to say the very least! With these conditions, we were unoptimistic about any marine mammals showing themselves.  However, we were pleasantly surprised to see a harbour porpoise despite the conditions. Farther, into the watch we saw something floating on the surface, guarded by two juvenile gulls. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a dead adult seal.

Despite unfavourable sea state conditions on the return journey from the Netherlands, we were ecstatic to witness an incredibly close harbour porpoise swim down the side of the ship, giving us a brilliant view of its flanks and its iconic triangular dorsal fin – despite an awful sea state 6!

Monday morning brought brighter better conditions and now being in more productive waters, we were feeling more positive. Little white water around meant that we could pick out movement in the water more easily and this was certainly the case with our first sighting. Becky called: ‘minke!’ and following where it might have gone, I saw it surface very discreetly, seeing the roll of its back and the arched dorsal fin, barely making a splash at all! It was certainly a sneaky minke! Watching eagerly, we also saw another minke whale a bit further from the ship, just briefly surfacing once again. These were both seen off the coast of near Whitby – what a fantastic start.

The next interesting sighting, was a long necked bird seen flying in our direction (faster than the ship), which looked like a diver species due to its pale belly contrasting its black top. Perhaps this was a red-throated diver or black throated diver.

Nearing the coast more, we sailed across what we think were some animals feeding. Some of these 9 individuals were definitely porpoises, 3 swimming closely together with some other individuals a bit more scattered. However, the rest of the group could have been either more porpoises or possibly dolphins, all swimming in a scrabble to get away from the ship as we potentially interrupted their breakfast time!

We saw numerous pairs of guillemots sitting on the water too, often paddling with their feet to move away from the ship, along with appearances from terns, fulmars, gannets and gulls, all seen on the approach into North Shields. One of these was a black headed-gull in its summer plumage (displaying its summer plumage with a black dot where you imagine their ears to be instead of a jet-black head)

Tall Ships Race Day Sail to Blyth

Joining the Princess Seaways for a Day sail up to Blyth for the tall ships race, we sauntered slowly up the Tyne once again, with only birds to be seen on the rock tips as the tide moved in, soon leaving the Tyne walls behind us.

A steady turn around the anchored ships offshore and a swivel to position ourselves parallel to the coast and we were soon seeing many jellyfish! Most if not all of these were lion’s mane jellyfish, displaying their red-orangey brown colours and long tentacles. Birds also gathered on our way out of the Tyne, such as herring gulls, black-headed gulls, guillemots and many kittiwakes.

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Lions mane jellyfish

As we arrived outside of Blyth, we watched as the tall ships departed the harbour one by one and sailed past. In the meantime, we took the opportunity to educate children on the decks about the species of whale dolphin and porpoise in the North Sea as they helped us measure them out, with Amber and Reece taking a particular interest in this activity. However, with a schedule to keep to, the Princess started its return to North Shields and started its pivot around. Whilst doing this, we noticed a familiar tall ship leaving the harbour, making its way towards us (just a tad too late leaving to give us a closer view). However, Becky certainly knew it as a familiar sight – ‘Lord Nelson’ one of the Jubilee Sailing Trust’s (JST) tall-ships that she had sailed with earlier this year. Even myself (Ruth) having sailed on JST’s other ship ‘Tenacious’ at the end of last year looking out for whales and dolphins had a chance to visit Lord Nelson while it was docked in Gran Canaria. Saying goodbye to the tall ships and the sea, we ventured inside on the return journey to deliver a well-received presentation about the wildlife of the North Sea.

Lord Nelson

Lord Nelson

 

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Tall ship

This was a perfect end to our mini cruise sailing on the Princess Seaways, and we just want to thank the Captain, Adele; Entertainments Manager, Lisa; DFDS, also  Kerry; ORCA/DFDS King Seaways Wildlife Officer and Lucy Babey; ORCA Surveyor and Conservation Manager  for helping to organise our voyages on board the Princess this summer.

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!

This was the last crossing of 2016 for Wildlife Officers on the Princess Seaways, which was hugely successful with many passengers interested – we hope to be on board again next summer! Thank you to everyone that joined us on deck and took part in our activities.

Ruth and Becky

Posted by: orcaweb | August 31, 2016

Return of the minke!

It has been 4 weeks since first arriving onboard the King Seaways, which means I have now come to the end of my placement. This final week has undoubtedly finished on a high.  The seas have mainly remained calm through the week, resulting in sightings on almost every deck watch. The conditions also made it easier to point out these amazing animals to passengers that were out on deck with us.

We were greeted at the start of the week with sightings of white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises.  As the week progressed, I was joined out on deck with a family returning home that was determined to stay out as they did not manage to see anything on their outward journey due to the rough weather. Their commitment was rewarded with the appearance of a common dolphin.  The family were overjoyed to learn that they saw a species that is not normally seen from this ship.

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As the week drew to a close, an ORCA survey team came onboard to join me on my final crossing to IJmuiden and we all hoped that the calm seas that prevailed throughout the week would remain.  That was certainly true for the evening of the departure from Newcastle and I was out on deck as normal. I was joined by 2 German families and about half way into that deck watch, after a 2 month absence, a minke whale surfaced about 300 metres ahead of the ship. That was a truly amazing sight and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to see that. There was also a report the next morning, from a very excited passenger, about possibly seeing a minke whale in the area around sunset. Have these whales returned to the area?

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First minke whale in 2 months!

Unfortunately for the survey team, the good weather and calm seas has finally come to an end on the departure from Ijmuiden. They had to finish surveying earlier than planned in the evening out though, on the bright side, they were able to spend some time in the ORCA Centre and was rewarded with a presentation from Kerry.

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Survey team increasing their cetacean knowledge

My last deck watch only lasted about 20 minutes as the weather got the better of us.  The rain grew increasingly heavier and the visibility was down to about 1km. Instead Kerry and I went up to the bridge to get the survey team to sign up for the make a small change initiative.

I have had an amazing time onboard the King Seaways and will definitely miss the routines, the wonderful opportunities and most of all the people.  Everyone has been immensely welcoming and it was a privilege to be a part of the crew during that intense but short period. Perhaps someday I will have the opportunity to return to the King.

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Weng

Posted by: orcaweb | August 22, 2016

Changeable Weather, Seabirds and Cetaceans

This week the sightings on DFDS King Seaways started quite slowly. Despite lots of passengers taking part in all of our deck watches providing many more pairs of eyes we didn’t see anything on Tuesday (16th), and on Wednesday (17th) we only spotted one small cetacean as we left Ijmuiden, unfortunately it was such a fleeting glimpse and was so far away we were unable to identify it.

However, over the following days our luck started to change, as we sailed into Newcastle on Thursday morning Weng spotted a group of 4 white-beaked dolphins, and that evening as we sailed out of Newcastle we saw 2 harbour porpoises and another 2 white-beaked dolphins right next to the boat!! The next morning we managed to spot a spy-hopping grey seal.

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white-beaked dolphin surfacing

On Friday evening as we were leaving Ijmuiden, the water was almost mirror flat, and even though the fog meant poor visibility, we managed to see 7 harbour porpoise and 1 grey seal during our deck watch. Just proving how calm the water was, during the rest of the evening we also spotted another 6 harbour porpoise and another grey seal from the window of the ORCA centre!!

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Female grey seal

Unfortunately for the remainder of the week the sea was very rough so we didn’t have any other sightings of cetaceans but we did spot lots of seabirds including fulmars, guillemots, kittiwakes and lots of diving gannets as well as a little stowaway catching a ride across the choppy seas.

As some days we couldn’t do our deck watches because of the weather conditions it meant we spent a lot of time in the ORCA centre doing loads of activities, arts and crafts and presentations with passengers on board. This week, along with painting and poster making, our chalk board has been very popular with everyone drawing what they would most like to see in the North Sea.

And to end the week a few lucky passengers managed to succeed at our lemon challenge winning themselves a whale and dolphin poster.

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Hopefully next week will bring calm seas and lots of  sightings for us and everyone on board DFDS King Seaways.

Rebecca

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.

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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…

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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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Cormorant

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

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

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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!

Kerry

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?

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Gannet in flight

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Herring Gull

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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.

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Wonderfully busy evening presentation in the Wildlife Centre

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Arts and crafts anyone?

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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.

Weng

 

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