ORCA Ocean Conservationist, Nina

June 13, 2022

Please introduce yourself?

Hello everybody! I’m Nina, one of your North Sea Ocean Conservationists for the 2022 season, on board the DFDS King Seaways.

I have been an Ocean Conservationist for ORCA since February 2022, where my first role was on an expedition cruise up to northern Norway, where I spent six weeks travelling up and down the west coast in search of wonderful whales, dolphins and porpoises!

Prior to becoming an OC, I was a Wildlife Officer on board the Pont-Aven with Brittany Ferries in September last year, where I surveyed the Bay of Biscay on my route down from Plymouth to Santander. During my two weeks on board, I was lucky enough to spot countless common dolphins, striped dolphins, four fin whales and a mystery, unidentified breaching beaked whale!

Why and how did you become an ocean conservationist? 

I’ve always loved being by the coast and my happy place is near the sea. Having always had a fascination with nature and the environment, I chose to study Physical Geography at the University of Leeds. After graduating, I moved down to New Quay, west Wales for a short time and volunteered as a research intern with a charity called Sea Watch Foundation, who collect data on the semi-resident population of bottlenose dolphins in Cardigan Bay. During my time in Wales, I contributed to the charity’s photo identification database of individual dolphin dorsal fins and collected environmental and behavioural data on a number of dedicated boat surveys around the area.

After my time with Sea Watch, I applied for a Wildlife Officer role with ORCA at the end of 2019, in which I was successful, however unfortunately the pandemic hit during the time I was meant to fulfil my role. I completed my training on board the King in 2020, so I was familiar with the vessel already. Fast-forward two years, and here I am!

What marine life is possible to see on the Amsterdam – Newcastle route?

The Newcastle – Amsterdam route on board DFDS King Seaways offers a myriad of marine wildlife. You can see harbour porpoises, which are Europe’s smallest and most abundant cetacean, bottlenose dolphins and also white-beaked dolphins. Between May and September, you can also spot minke whales, the smallest of the baleen whales, with sightings generally peaking between July and September. We can also see grey and harbour seals from time to time, both out in open sea and near the coastal regions.

There is also potential to spot Atlantic white-sided dolphins, pilot whales, orca, humpbacks and Risso’s dolphins, but these are considered rarer. Often, we don’t generally see our larger cetaceans on this route because it is quite shallow. The deepest region is approximately 80m and isn’t suitable for the larger whales and deep-diving cetaceans.

It’s not just cetaceans we can spot on this route! We are almost always guaranteed to see a range of seabirds, from gannets with their striking orange heads, to northern fulmars, kittiwakes, skuas, common terns, guillemots, gulls and even Atlantic puffins! Gannets and kittiwakes in particular love to put on a show and soar close over the waves in order to catch fish. Closer to the coast, we can see oystercatchers, cormorants, and shags.

Please describe your day-to-day life whilst onboard the ship?

A typical day for an Ocean Conservationist on board the King starts at around 6:30 to 7am (depending on sunrise time!). We rise early to make the most of our morning deck watches, covering as much sea as possible before entering port. We run our OceanWatchers app during our observations, so environmental and sightings data is logged and recorded throughout the journey. This is a great opportunity to share with guests our sightings and tell them a little bit about ORCA and the role we play in safeguarding cetaceans and their habitats. After the guests have disembarked, we have some time to catch up on admin, write our blog posts and create new activities for the Orca lounge. We also take this time to rest and recuperate as we have some really early mornings and late evenings, especially in the height of summer.

In the afternoon, when guests embark, it is time for our meet and greet. We chat to guests about our role as ORCA Ocean Conservationists on board and explain what we might be able to see during our voyage. It’s also a good opportunity to describe where the lounge is located, as sometimes it is difficult to find! After dinner, we open the Orca lounge and sometimes run presentations about cetaceans and seabirds of the North Sea. We also have a number of activities children can take part in, from colouring and word search activity sheets to interactive games such as ‘Guess the Length?’ where we use a tape measure and guests measure out how long they think a certain species is. During the evening, we go outside onto the observation deck and complete our evening survey. This usually starts 30 minutes or so after leaving port but is heavily dependent on the weather conditions. Usually, we stay out until just after sunset, or whenever it gets too dark to see!

Why is it important to have ocean conservationists onboard King Seaways?

Having Ocean Conservationists on board King Seaways is important as many of our cetacean species are considered data deficient. This means there is not enough data to be able to categorise them properly on the IUCN red list and monitor them effectively. ORCA use platforms of opportunity like King Seaways to gather much needed behavioural and distribution data in order to effectively inform government policy and help create marine protected areas and special areas of conservation for cetaceans. It is also incredibly important for us to raise awareness about threats to cetaceans, particularly overfishing, bycatch and ship strike which are prevalent in the North Sea. On board we can educate both guests and crew about these topics and how we can reduce the likelihood of these occurring and reduce the impact should an event like ship strike occur. Ferries in particular account for 52% of worldwide ship strike cases, so it is vital that we spread the word and reduce the risk of ship strike. 

What is your favourite thing about being onboard King?

My favourite thing about being on board the King is the camaraderie between crew members. Everyone is so friendly and always says hello to one another, and you can have a laugh with everyone – it is a welcoming environment. Travelling and exploring new places is a bonus, but it is the sense of community which is the best thing.

How long will you be onboard King Seaways?

The North Sea Ocean Conservationist season on board the King runs from March to September. Mathilde and I will rotate every two weeks, and I’m sure we’ll encounter all the different types of weather conditions the North Sea has to offer! Generally, the North Sea doesn’t have much seasonality in terms of cetacean species, it is more about the environmental conditions such as the sea state, swell and visibility, which plays a large role in being able to spot cetaceans and record data efficiently.

Nina hopes you will come and join her or Mathilde on watch and help protect the whales, dolphins and porpoises of the North Sea. When you’re onboard come to the wildlife lounge to find out more about these wonderful creatures! Book your crossing to Amsterdam here or go on the Wildlife mini cruise and meet Nina on board.

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