Posted by: orcaweb | July 8, 2010

First Trip of the Shift

Re-embarking on the Cap Finistere on a barmy July morning, those butterflies of excitement fluttered in my stomach once again.  Having spoken to Richard the previous night, I was jealous of tales of Green Turtle and rare sightings of Basking Shark in the Channel.  As an experienced and sea-worn natural historian, new species are few and far between for me, however Green Turtle (amongst many others) has a very noticeable vacant box next to its name in my checklists, so as I had hoped, the enthusiasm and passion for another stint at sea was well and truly back.

This enthusiasm was well rewarded on the first leg of the outward journey, as a few people joined me on deck to see a good sample of our more coastal species.  At around 4p.m. we encountered a pod of 3 or 4 probable Risso’s Dolphins off the coast of Devon, rolling through the waves amongst an area of diving Gannets, their enormous dorsal fins clearly visible at some distance.  Just moments after this event we were alerted to some small brown shapes in the water, which duly turned out to be a pod of 7 Harbour Porpoise rolling, puffing and panting along the side of the ship only around 30 metres away.  Such close views are rare from a ship of this size as they are usually very shy animals.  Given the already fantastic sightings, people were forgiven for ducking below deck for some rest at 4:30, though it was soon clear this was to be a mistake…   At around 4:40p.m. and at only 4 or 500 metres range, prolonged and repeated views of a Minke Whale surfacing, blowing and continuing on its way were enjoyed by just myself.  This served as an ample reminder that the waters around our coast are certainly very important for marine life.

Rising bright and early, the 7th July is set to go down in history as one of the best mornings of my life.  At 8:30a.m. we had an incredible sighting of a pod of 4 Killer Whales (Orca).  To avoid an epically long post, please see the above account of this incredible experience…

Not too long after the Killer Whale event, a passenger put up a holler of “What’s THAT?!”, stepping forth into the wind and cold I was able to ensure the assembled crowd all got prolonged views of one of the Bay’s most special creatures… the Cuvier’s Beaked Whale.  A successful morning!

The return journey unfortunately was not quite as exciting, though surely not a lot could compare to that morning.  However, adrenaline was pumping and voices were raised to make sure everybody got a look at the big female Cuvier’s Beaked Whale found by a very young gent and his dad, who quickly became mariner stalwarts, joining me on deck at any opportunity, and picking up on the hundreds of Common Dolphins almost always before me.  Absolutely amazing spotting skills those guys.

We’re deep in the English Channel as I write this, with visibility down to 20 metres or less due to thick fog, so I’m left to contemplate:  What will the next crossing bring?  Will we encounter the Orcas again?  Check back on Sunday to find out…

Lisle Gwynn – ORCA Wildlife Officer

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