Minke Whales and Porpoises in North Sea Survey

4th Aug 2014

ORCA Survey Team: Marion Smith (Team Leader), Bethany Butler, Camilla Cassidy, Jennie Symondson

Summary of Sightings

Species Number Sighted
Harbour Porpoise 16
Minke Whale 1

As we left Newcastle in glorious sunshine and little wind the team was full of anticipation when we began our survey once out of the river.  Survey conditions were good with a sea state 1 and it was particularly exciting for Camilla as it was her first survey.  The excitement was heightened about 25 minutes later with an incidental sighting of splashes that indicated that a Harbour Porpoise was swimming fast sub surface.

Fortunately the evening haze was not too much of a problem for after another 25 minutes Marion called a sighting as the water about 600m ahead became disturbed by a Minke Whale, which rolled once and disappeared.  Lucky for Camilla who was on her half hour break – her first whale at sea.
Things got even better for Camilla when she spotted two Harbour Porpoise, her first survey sighting an hour later, followed by Jennie’s sighting of two more at about 9:30pm ship’s time.  Poor light stopped play just before 10pm, but it was a good start, the team performing well having been through the protocol before we set off.

Following on from the previous evening the team was keen to resume the survey at 6:20.  With a sea state of 2, we didn’t have to wait long before Camilla chalked up her second sighting and put 3 more Harbour Porpoise on the scoreboard.  After 20 minutes Bethany called an incidental sighting of another Harbour Porpoise quickly followed by Marion spotting another Harbour Porpoise breaking the surface.  We then waited about an hour before more or less simultaneous Harbour Porpoise sightings occurred; Jennie spotting two on the port side only about 250m away, and Marion spotting one on the starboard side as we were approaching the wind farms off the Dutch coast.  Needless to say this made sure Camilla got plenty of recording experience on her first survey and was well supported by a more experienced Bethany who was enjoying the sightings during her break.

From previous reports this area seems to yield numerous Harbour Porpoise sightings.  Is it my imagination or do Harbour Porpoise sightings seem to come in clusters?  There were no more sightings after this and surveying ended as we approached Ijmuiden.  We returned to our cabins to prepare for a day in Amsterdam.
The morning was hot and sultry in the city, but we enjoyed the canal boat tour even though we were all struggling to keep awake.  Back on the quayside we were keen to find the Noordmarkt to do some shopping, but not before we had lunch.  As we emerged from the café by the market it started to rain and within minutes we were in a monsoon, but it did nothing to dampen (understatement!) our desire to shop and replenish our stocks for cabin dining later that evening.  At this point I would like to nominate Jennie as the ORCA Dutch bread and cheese queen.

We boarded the early bus back to the ferry so that we could relax and find some dry clothes before the next transect.  Sadly the sea state had risen to 4, but after a while it had dropped to a 2.  However, mist was becoming an increasing problem rendering reticle readings impossible.  Just before 21:30pm, visibility was reduced to less than 200m.  So on the second evening fog stopped play.

Having left a sea state of 2 the previous night and not being aware of any undue motion we were keen to make an early start as we approached Newcastle.  There had been numerous sightings of White-beaked Dolphins in this area and Bethany, who lives quite near the area, had told us that there had also been several land based sightings.  Imagine our dismay when we arrived on the bridge and were confronted with a sea state 5, and at times close to 6, although there was hardly any swell.  Interestingly enough, although the wind speed registered force 5, the captain described the sea state as a 3 on account of little swell. However, from the survey point of view it was the amount of white water that was significant sadly.  The sea state dropped as we approached Newcastle and you could have heard a pin drop as the team concentrated so hard, especially when diving gannets were spotted.  But alas to no avail as no cetaceans were recorded.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable survey made so by unstinting enthusiasm and hard work from a team that was a pleasure to lead.  We declared ourselves to be a dream team and hoped to survey together again in the future.

I would also like to thank Captain Jasper Bern, his crew and DFDS for their warm welcome and support without which we would not be able to carry out these vital surveys.


Lion’s mane jellyfish

Birds at sea:
Common tern
Black-headed gull
Herring gull
Lesser black-backed gull
Sandwich tern
Common scoter

Birds in Holland:
Small waders on rocks – possible turnstone
Great crested grebe
Grey heron