North Sea

Whale Tales of the North Sea 25/03/17

by on Mar.27, 2017, under North Sea

Following an invitation from DFDS, I arrived at the Royal Quays passenger terminal on Saturday morning for the ‘Whale Tales of the North Sea’ event, celebrating 10 years of DFDS and the charity ORCA working together.

I spend part of my time working for MARINElife, but I’ve also been an ORCA member for nearly two decades and NEWT’s involvement with them goes back to 2010. when I led a familiarisation trip for the wildlife officers ahead of their season onboard.  Our own Whale and Dolphin trips during the summer usually pass by one of the Newcastle-IJmuiden ferries, either as we sail out of the Tyne, or return at the end of the day, and the NEWT team enjoyed a mini-cruise to Holland in 2010 as guests of DFDS.  We’d highly recommend it 🙂

Following a packed lunch, Michaela Strachan presented a series of short clips of some of her experiences with whales and dolphins around the world, which kept all of the younger members of the audience entertained.  With only ~90 different species, cetaceans are poorly represented compared to terrestrial mammals (~4200 species), birds (~10000 species) and insects (~1000000 species, with potentially another 5-29000000 million species still to be discovered!).  What they lack in numbers they make up for in sheer size, and some of the film clips demonstrated just how big they are.

Anna Bunney from ORCA gave a presentation about the cetaceans of the North Sea and there we have an even smaller range of species.  Harbour Porpoise, Bottlenose Dolphin, White-beaked Dolphin and Minke Whale are all relatively common, but there’s a range of rarer visitors to the waters of North East England; Risso’s Dolphin, White-sided Dolphin, Killer Whale, Sperm Whale, Pilot Whale and Humpback Whale have all appeared in recent years and historical records contain some real oddities.

Educating people about the wealth of marine wildlife in the North Sea is something that ORCA and DFDS are doing really well, and the data that surveyors are gathering onboard is a valuable resource, combined with the ferry data gathered by MARINElife on other North Sea routes and the small-boat survey data from the North East Cetacean Project in Northumberland.

Many thanks to DFDS for the invitation to join them for the celebration with ORCA 🙂

If you’re not already convinced that our marine wildlife is awesome, here are a few pictures that should speak for themselves 🙂

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Weather window; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 10/09/16

by on Sep.12, 2016, under North Sea

My obsession with the weather forecast tends to intensify whenever we’ve got a pelagic wildlife trip coming up, and even more so when it’s one of our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings.  In the far reaches of the Farne Deeps even a fairly benign wind direction like southwesterly (which isn’t a problem in nearshore waters) can produce ‘interesting’ conditions…

I’d been out on Friday carrying out survey work for the North East Cetacean Project, and the southerly wind had piled the sea up into a white-capped deep rolling swell.  Sunday’s forecast was for similar, but Saturday looked as though we’d have a nice weather window 🙂  Heading north from the Tyne we had the wind and the swell behind us, so it was a fairly smooth journey.  By the time we reached the edge of the Farne Deeps, having encountered our first group of White-beaked Dolphins along the way, that swell was up around 1.5-2m.  Then the dolphins started to appear – a group of 10 were joined by more and we’d soon got up to 25 White-beaked Dolphins around us 🙂  At one point we had 11 bow-riding between the hulls, packed together like sardines in a tin, and another ten alongside us.  Eventually they stopped playing and gradually peeled off to return to feeding, just before Anthony spotted a Minke Whale ahead of us…which proved to be two Minkes, an adult and a juvenile.  As we headed back south, with a Harbour Porpoise putting in a typically brief appearance in a flat, glassy calm, sea and odd Sooty Shearwaters added to the day total (which was around 50) Anthony asked me if I would scan the horizon out the east through my binoculars, as he’d seen what looked like very distant splashing.  Sure enough, there were the splashes, which eventually resolved into a group of at least 30 White-beaked Dolphins and a memorable end to a stunning day.

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Don’t stop believin’…; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 02/09/16

by on Sep.05, 2016, under Druridge Bay, North Sea

Friday was the latest of our 2016 pelagic trips from Royal Quays and, once we’d recovered the participant who’d inadvertently headed to the ferry terminal, we sailed north east from the Tyne.  A few Sooty Shearwaters passed by and one was rafting with Guillemots, Fulmars soared effortlessly in the stiffening breeze and an Arctic Skua (a worryingly infrequent find on our pelagic tours over the last couple of years) was harassing Kittiwakes.  A feeding flock of Gannets revealed the location of our first White-beaked Dolphins of the day, unidentified (but obviously very large) cetaceans were breaching on the edge of the Farne Deeps and another small group of White-beaked Dolphins came alongside as the breeze, and swell, started building.

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Heading inshore to calmer waters we decided to search the nearshore from Druridge Bay down to Souter Point.  Everything seemed quiet and I’d just taken my usual ‘end of pelagic’ shot of St Mary’s Island when Teri said she was sure that she’d just seen fins breaking the surface near a pot marker.  A couple of minutes of searching didn’t produce any more sightings…and then suddenly the sea erupted with Bottlenose Dolphins 🙂

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Whale(less) but definitely a dolphin cruise :-) NEWT’s North Sea pelagic 27/08/16

by on Aug.28, 2016, under North Sea

Yesterday was our annual Whale and Dolphin Cruise from Seahouses and, after Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Fulmar, Puffin and Guillemot, the marine mammals put in an appearance.  Harbour Porpoises were typically brief and shy, but the White-beaked Dolphins drew plenty of ooohs and ahhhs from everyone on the boat 🙂

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We’ve got very limited places available for our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic’ sailings on 2nd, 10th and 24th September, so give us a call on 01670 827465 to reserve your place before they’re all filled!

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Bow-riding beauties; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 13/08/16

by on Aug.16, 2016, under North Sea

Saturday was the first of our 10hr ‘Northumberland Ultimate Pelagic‘ trips this year, and I arrrived at Royal Quays to find eight, out of 12, clients already there and looking forward to the day out in Northumberland’s deep offshore waters.  With everyone on board we set sail out of the Tyne in a fairly stiff breeze and on choppy water.  An Arctic Skua was harrassing Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Gannets soared past on stiff outstretched wings, a flock of Knot flew by and, probably the most unexpected sighting of the day, a Common Swift was heading landwards from around 6 miles offshore.  Puffins and Guillemots were sitting quietly on the sea and, as we headed further out, the breeze died away and we were on calm water when we found the first White-beaked Dolphins of the day.  These 12 animals spent a little time bow-riding before peeling off and heading back to resume feeding.  A few minutes later and a distant dolphin was breaching ahead of us.  As we reached that spot, we suddenly had 10 White-beaked Dolphins bow-riding and at least another ten following close behind and alongside us 🙂

We’ve got a limited number of places still available on our 10hr sailings on Friday September 2nd, Saturday September 10th and Saturday September 24th.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 to book your place before they’re all filled!

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Sunset spectacular; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 29/07/16

by on Aug.02, 2016, under North Sea

If there’s anything that’s even less predictable than wildlife on our 4hr evening pelagics, it’s the weather/sky/sea state.  One minute it can be flat calm, the next there’s a rolling swell, one minute it’s overcast, the next the clouds disperse and the sun breaks through…

Our 9th evening pelagic for 2016 set sail on Friday and we started to notice the swell while we were still in the river.  Once we were out of the shelter of the piers there was a long rolling swell as we headed north.  The usual suspects passed by; Puffin, Guillemot, Gannet, Herring Gull, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Manx Shearwater and Fulmar.  As we headed closer inshore ready for the journey south, the swell subsided and the sea took on a glassy sheen as the sunset started to develop…

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“just over there”…;NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 27/07/16

by on Jul.28, 2016, under North Sea

Our 8th 4hr evening pelagic for 2016 was one of those spectacular evenings…

As we headed north there was very little swell, but the sea was quite choppy and dark which doesn’t make for the best observing conditions.  After a brief encounter on the northward journey, when Tim spotted a single dolphin, we headed towards the shore.  As we entered Newbiggin Bay I told our youngest participant (just 8 years old) that he would have the sharpest eyesight on the boat and the best chance of finding any dolphins that were around…just as his mum looked out of the wheelhouse and spotted White-beaked Dolphins less than 50m away from us 🙂  After an entertaining half hour with that group around the boat we headed south and it wasn’t long before I received a text message to let me know that were dolphins breaching off Seaton Sluice…just as we reached there! This time the group was bigger, at least 10 animals, and they entertained us against the backdrop of a spectacular sunset over St Mary’s Island 🙂

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Storming; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 22/07/16

by on Jul.25, 2016, under North Sea

After our successful search for White-beaked Dolphins on Wednesday, we sailed at 18:00 on Friday for our 7th 4hr evening pelagic this year.

As we sailed past North Shields the heavens opened and as we left the shelter of the piers, the surface of the sea looked to be boiling as the rain hammered down.  That was round about the point where I checked my mobile for any recent dolphin reports…and there was a text message to say that there had been 6-8 White-beaked Dolphins just off Seaton Sluice for the last hour and they were heading south, inshore of the yellow buoy off St Mary’s Island 🙂 I went across to that side of the boat, indicated the area we needed to be watching…and up they popped 🙂  For the next hour we watched up to 20 dolphins as they fed, breached, tail-slapped and did all the stuff that makes dolphins so fantastic to watch, then we left them behind and headed up to Blyth where we found another 4!  Gannets, Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots. Kittiwakes and Fulmars provided a supporting cast and a stunning sunset brought the curtain down on the evening 🙂

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Brief encounter; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 20/07/16

by on Jul.25, 2016, under North Sea

After a couple of cancelled sailings, with weather conditions that we felt would just be uncomfortable for everyone, we set sail on our 6th 4hr pelagic this year on Wednesday evening.

As we headed north, small rafts of Puffin were seen regularly, Razorbill, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Fulmar and Gannet provided a supporting cast and with a boat full of clients all scanning the sea, in good visibility, I was feeling confident…

The call from Tim “dolphins!” had everyone suddenly very animated…and there they were; 4 White-beaked Dolphins, including a very small calf 🙂  One of the adults came across us close to the bow, and then they quietly slipped away from view after five minutes or so.  Encounters with dolphins are always exciting, but your truly learnt a very painful lesson; even when you’ve photographed hundreds of dolphins and seabirds from moving boats, in everything from flat calm with glorious light, through to challenging swell and heavily overcast…it counts for nothing if you’ve managed to leave the house without any memory cards in your camera 🙁 After the dolphin encounter, one of our clients was kind enough to lend me a memory card so I’ve got lots of images from the second half of the evening!

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Whistling; NEWT’s North Sea Pelagic 11/07/16

by on Jul.13, 2016, under North Sea

Monday was our 5th evening pelagic and we boarded JFK Two at Royal Quays with Common Terns flying back to their nests and a chilly breeze stiffening the flags on the boats moored in the marina.

Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls soon formed a stalking party just behind us and Gannet, Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill, Puffin, Fulmar, Manx Shearwater and Common Scoter were all seen, as well as a couple of Curlew.  Away to the west of us the weather over Northumberland looked poor, and on the eastern horizon we could see rain.  The dark, brooding waves lapped against the side of the boat and, as we made our way back down the coast, breaks in the leaden grey cloud brought another spectacular sunset 🙂

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