A wildlife charity has announced a bumper year for sightings of marine animals in the North Sea.
ORCA teamed up with DFDS Seaways, which operates ferries out of North Shields, to record the number of whales, dolphins and porpoises seen from its passenger ferries.
The result was a massive increase in the number of all species spotted on the route between North Shields and Amsterdam, with the total number of animals spotted by ORCA officers 699 so far this year compared to 183 in 2012.
Porpoises were the biggest single species with 392 in the sighting season just finished compared to 136 last year. White-beaked dolphins were responsible for 267 sightings compared to 32 while there were 23 minke whale spotted compared to five previously.
The increase has been put down to the good weather and calm seas in spring and summer, with the information gathered being used to better understand the movements of marine wildlife.
Alison Lomax, head of ORCA’s North Sea Wildlife Officer Programme, said: “The data we collect through the Wildlife Officer Programme is incredibly important in helping us to monitor the presence of whales and dolphins in the North Sea.
“This has been an exciting year for our North Sea Wildlife Officers with so many more sightings than in previous years. The amazingly calm weather has had a huge impact on the number of animals we have seen. This summer we were treated to mirror-calm seas on lots of sailings, making the animals much easier to spot and giving us more time out on deck looking for them.
“This combination has led to some truly amazing wildlife moments for passengers.”
Max Foster, passenger director at DFDS, said wildlife-themed sailings had proved popular with passengers on the ferry King Seaways. A trial on the Princess Seaways had been successful and would be continued next year.
He said: “We have been able to see and monitor a fantastic amount of wildlife on the North Sea through our work with ORCA. We have received a phenomenal amount of positive feedback from passengers onboard King Seaways.
“The success from this year’s sightings has left thousands of passengers, of all ages, with a memorable wildlife experience. The popularity of our wildlife themed mini cruises has this year led us to trial ORCA activities onboard the other Newcastle-Amsterdam cruise ferry, Princess Seaways, which has also been very successful and will be continued next year.”
One sighting was of a humpback whale breaching in front of passengers while other species, including sharks and seals, were also monitored.
Wildlife officers from ORCA are on board to record the sightings and give educational talks to passengers.
DFDS say over 10,000 passengers have participated in ORCA activities between April and September this year.