Tuesday, 23 August 2016


WHILE working in the ultra-dry state of Arizona, former schoolteacher Dr Martin Kitching found he missed living on the coast.

Now that he's back in the UK, all that has changed -  many of his working hours are spent on the ocean wave off Northumberland where he and colleagues monitor wildlife for  Marine Life.

Originally, the organisation operated from a converted lifeboat which, by the nature of its design, rolled on the waves, sometimes making recording and observing a tricky challenge.

Difficulties were compounded by the suspicions harboured by both commercial fishermen and angling trip operators who are notoriously secretive about where fish are to be found in greatest abundance.

Martin Kitching - he swapped the classroom for the North Sea

But things have taken a decided turn for the better.

Marine Life has replaced the old lifeboat with a catamaran,which is far more stable,
and the other mariners have shed their caution and are now generous about sharing data - at least when it comes to bird, dolphin and whale species.

Martin said it was a matter of “concern” that,  during 2016, minke whales  have been either absent or inconspicuous from this stretch of coast - especially as this year the herrings on which they like to feed have been plentiful.

But generally whales seem to have been faring well, with humpbacks actually increasing - possibly because of international restrictions on whale-hunting, 

Dolphins, including his favourite - the white-beaked - also seem to be holding up well.

Martin sounded an upbeat note on the status  of seabirds including gannets, fulmars, shearwaters and four species of migrating skua.

Very occasionally, phalaropes - both grey and red-necked - are spotted on the water, perhaps in the company of black-headed gulls.

The Marine Life man revealed that his “obsession” with wildlife off the coast started with the storm petrel.

Storm petrels skimming the ocean wave
“They're very hard to see because they are nocturnal and only small - about the size of a blackbird.

“It is thought they spend the day roosting on the surface of the sea."

A feather to cap is his  sighting of a very rare Wilson’s petrel - apparently the first for the North Sea.

* More information at: www.marine-life.org.uk

* Photo of storm petrels: Richard Crossley/ WikimediaCommons

No comments:

Post a Comment