We were invited on board the DFDS Ferry King Seaways to have our lunch and listen to a talk by the wildlife expert Michaela Strachan. There were some highs and lows to the actual event, but I think that the wildlife spotting focus of travel time while onboard the DFDS Seaways will be really exciting. Did you know that you could spot whales and dolphins, as well as many seabirds from the deck of the ferry to Amsterdam?
DFDS Whale Tales
First off, I'm really sorry but I'm going to have a whinge about the event itself. Seeing as how you won't be going to that, you might want to skip down a bit. You will want to hang around and read about the tales Michaela Strachan recounted to us during the event on the DFDS Seaways King ferry on 25th March 2017 - she's seen some amazing sights!
A whale of a time on the North Sea! Michaela Strachan joins DFDS to launch the Orca season 2017
I don’t live too far from the ferry terminal in North Shields and so we walked to and from the ferry. I needed the buggy only to get there and back – I really didn’t need it inside the boat, and I really regretted having it. The pushchair was a real pain, right from the beginning; a member of staff advised that we were to wait at the bottom of the stairs and someone would guide us where we needed to go. All the other passengers went straight up the steps, and I think we may have missed some kind of briefing as to the running of the morning at that point. We were (with about five other guests) left hanging around at the bottom of the stairs, and no one came to guide us. Eventually a member of staff who was also a guest at the event came along to show us where the nearest lift was, but she wasn’t sure which floor we needed and so she guessed (correctly, as it turned out), but otherwise we could still be waiting there…
If they had said at that point “you can leave your buggies here” I would have welcomed it – I didn’t need to wait for the 15 minutes for no-one to come. I also didn’t need to have to wait for the lift every time we changed floor – the lifts are really slow, and I also didn’t really know where I was going. I had to ask other guests each time, and consequently I am sure we missed things we would have liked to see. I especially find this annoying because I had been sure to arrive on time for the event. We were waiting for the doors to open, right next to them, and we were some of the first passengers to enter the ship.
The whole event could have been much less stressful for me if DFDS:
Maybe these things were available but we’d missed them? We were really left to our own devices and it felt like without the other passengers knowing or guessing where we needed to be, we’d not have managed to do very much at all.
Lunch on the DFDS Seaways Ferry
Our lunch came in a brown paper bag. Inside was a sandwich (chicken for the boys and a cold veggie burger for me), a muffin, fun sized chocolate bars and a piece of fruit. Also available were cans of Coca-Cola (no diet versions I could see) or iced water in jugs, crisps, and sliced melon. Because we’d had to wait at the bottom of the stairs for a while and then taken the slow-moving lift to the 7th floor, by the time we arrived for lunch we hadn’t been eating for long when there was an announcement over the public address system that the play area was open. Oh. My. God. Have these people never heard of discretion! Haha! So, to try and get my boys to sit still and eat while there was a soft play area open… I couldn’t do it.
So, after about two mouthfuls of lunch we ran to the lift to go to the floor with the children’s play area.
Play area on the DFDS Ferry KING
This looks fun for under-5s with a few LEGO tables, ball pit, and a bit of a toddler-sized climbing frame. There are arcade machines in the same area. It is also next to a bar, so could be handy while you’re at sea. But we were in a rush, to get to the talk and get a decent seat, so we couldn't play for long.
Wildlife Centre on the DFDS Ferry
After a quick stop in the whale-themed Wildlife Centre activity room on deck 9, we went along to listen to Michaela Strachan. I used to enjoy the Really Wild Show when I was younger, and occasionally I watch Spring Watch, but my children didn’t know who Michaela was. I’d told James that she knew everything there is to know about creatures under the sea, and so he came up with a million questions for her before we went to the DFDS Seaways event.
The talk by Michaela was very interesting, with a quick talk by her before we watched a short video clip of an old show she’d been in, then another chat from Michaela before another clip, and so on. First off, we watched Michaela execute some very lovely dancing on a boat before going dancing with dolphins. Then we saw a pregnant Michaela jump in the water for a check-up with Dr Dolphin, as apparently they show awareness of pregnancy. I went snorkelling with whale sharks when I was pregnant with Noah, so it was nice to have a little something in common (almost).
While Michaela enjoys swimming with dolphins, she doesn't support swimming with captive dolphins, although she does encourage disabled children to swim with dolphins as she believes they get a lot out of the experience.
Michaela told us about the real story of Winter the dolphin, the star of the Dolphin’s Tail movie. In the Clearwater marine aquarium, this dolphin got her tail entangled in angler’s equipment, and it couldn't be saved. Amazingly, she has been able to use a prosthetic tail. Although Winter will never be released into the wild, she recovered a new swim pattern and was able to learn how to catch fish again.
Michaela wasn’t just there to tell us about the wonderful time she’d had with dolphins – she reminded us about not using plastic bags for anything, even packed lunch. The plastic can be dangerous to wildlife, and it’s much better to use cloth or paper to wrap sandwiches.
We also learned about the Southern right whale. They get their name because they were the ‘right’ whale to catch: they were slow-swimming, floated when dead, and provided large amounts of valuable products – particularly oil for illumination and lubrication.
Southern right whales can be found in very shallow water including estuaries and bays. They are seen regularly off the coast in Cape Town, South Africa where Michaela has been living for the past 15 years.
James was most taken by the next part of Michaela’s talk, which focussed on Ecuador, where, at the same time every year, whales meet for a romantic rendezvous. I’m certain James doesn’t know why the Humpback whales travel 16,000 mile journey to the tropics from Antarctica, but he was amazed that they could swim so far when I showed him on a map later. The humpbacks stay in Ecuador for shelter, as it provides a good place for giving birth to their young. I think he also really liked listening to the whale song! Michaela also did a little rap at this point too!
Look for wildlife on DFDS two daily sailings between Newcastle and Amsterdam
If you are travelling on the DFDS ferry to Amsterdam, there is a good chance you will see whales and dolphins from the decks of the ship. For the past 10 years, DFDS have partnered with the charity Orca, and there has been an extensive amount of data collection from onboard the ferries. You can learn more in the Orca room on the King DFDS ferry.
What kind of wildlife can you spot from the DFDS ferry?
In the North Sea there are regular spots of White beaked dolphin, minke whales, humpback whales, and porpoises. It is a the most surveyed shipping route in the world. Over the last 10 years, ORCA have conducted 52 marine life surveys on DFDS’ North Sea service from Newcastle to Amsterdam, recording the highest diversity of species on the North Sea during that time. 105 Bottlenose dolphins, 87 White-Beaked dolphins and an abundance of Minke whales have been spotted over the ten years as well as one-off sightings of the Striped dolphin and Fin whale.
To learn more about the charity visit their webpage - Orcaweb.org.uk. The wildlife watching experience is free of charge and is available onboard KING Seaways from April until September. Simply visit the Wildlife Centre to find out more or book on one of the special Marine Wildlife mini cruises.
It sounds really exciting and a nice way to spend the time on the ferry to Amsterdam from Newcastle!