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Searching at Sunrise

I’m not exactly a morning person, but there were rather special circumstances yesterday morning which led me to see the sun come up. Of course being late December it wasn’t that early.

I was there for a rather sad reason. We always keep an eye out for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) when we are at the beach or in our boat. We always report any sightings to add to the body of knowledge about their distribution. Over the last few days there had been a number of sightings of a pod of four sperm whales, quite close inshore. This was not good news. The sperm whale is a deep water species, feeding on squid, which again is only found in deep water. These were not where they should be. Our coastal waters are far too shallow and they would not be able to feed. They would be starving, probably dehydrated and sick. Local experts predicted that the whales would probably strand on the overnight tide and asked for volunteers to help locate them.

When whales strand, it is very very unlikely that they will be refloated and swim away. It seems that they come ashore to die. It was important to find them before the general public. After another stranding further south recently, someone turned up with tools to hack out a tooth as a souvenir. I feel they should be able to die with some dignity with bystanders kept at a distance. It is vital that as much data can be collected from the carcasses as possible to help us find out why whale strandings occur.

So that’s why we needed to be checking the beach at first light. I went to Alnmouth, but thankfully there was no sign of the whales. The sunrise was glorious though.

Volunteers searched the coastline and maintained a vigil all day, but the whales had disappeared without trace. It’s a longshot, but we all hope they’ve managed to get far enough north and east to be able to feed and survive.

Today was beautiful: sunny, calm and clear. so we headed for Sugar Sands for the dog walk. The beach is accessed via a gated farm track and there is an honesty box by the farm gate to pay your 50p car park fee (proceeds go to the local church). This allows you to park overlooking the bay.

Thankfully no sperm whales (I’ll post updates if hear anything more) but lots of birds, including cormorants, eider ducks and gulls on the water and a large flock of curlew and oystercatcher in the next field. I was checking out the eider ducks with the binoculars and saw a harbour porpoise. It surfaced three times, quite a long way into the bay before I lost track of it. Wonderful!

I did remember to bring my knitting, but didn’t do much – it’s a twiddle mitt, almost ready to cast off and embellish with buttons and beads. I’m wearing one of my Christmas presents: fingerless gloves from Turtle Doves. They are made from recycled cashmere sweaters: lovely and warm and perfect for alfresco knitting on a cold day.

Have you spotted any interesting wildlife near where you live?