Posted by: orcaweb | July 18, 2010

A Feast of Rare Whales

After last crossing’s dramatic show of force, and despite pre-warnings of similar weather this jaunt was much more pleasant, with Mother Nature behaving and allowing us perfect Whale watching weather throughout the journey.
A choppy English Channel meant no sightings for the first leg of the outward journey, but this was more than made up for by the following morning.  A continual stream of people joined me on deck having seen a bounty of Common Dolphins from their cabin windows, meaning that by the time the first real gem was encountered, there was a hefty crowd of 20+.  True to form, a large female Cuvier’s Beaked Whale decided to make a close-quarters appearance for those assembled at the railings as we entered the canyons once again.  This was quickly followed by another young male/female type animal giving fantastic close views as cries of “Wow!” went up from most.
Being my typical optimistic self, I assured the disappointed late-comers that “where there’s one – there can be more!” which was almost interrupted by my own cry of “Cuvier’s!” as a huge brute of a male surfaced several times just 50 metres from the boat.  Beaked Whales are notoriously difficult to photograph, so the following is something I am very pleased with, despite it not seeming much…

The official mark of “excellent trip” was awarded as this male was joined by a further 4 of these incredible animals, making the outward journey total an excellent 6, of which 5 were within 100 metres of the boat.

The return leg had a lot to live up to as far as sightings go, and luckily it did not disappoint.  Throughout the whole afternoon and evening there was a constant stream of Common and Striped Dolphins playing alongside the ship and in the wake, ensuring almost all of the 500+ passengers onboard got to enjoy these majestic creatures.

On top of this, as the onboard entertainment crew (Rod and Amy), Bridge crew (including the Captain himself) and quite a few passengers joined me on deck, we picked up on a blow at quite some distance.  Appearing small, bushy and low, but in deeper (4000+ metres) waters, the assumption was Minke.  However, as soon as the enormous tailstock and flukes were raised, we all realised we were in fact witnessing a Sperm Whale committing to a deep dive.
The small blow coupled with relatively small body leads me to the assumption this must have been a young animal.  We’ll never know for sure, but if it was then this is of course an excellent indicator of the state-of-play out here in Biscay right now.

In other news, decent numbers of Cory’s Shearwaters seem to be entering the Bay prior to the ‘usual’ kick-off date of 20th July, so sightings could certainly become even more exciting from now on.  Another sighting of the endangered Balearic Shearwater also got a few smiles out of the crowd, despite not being a mammal.

Lisle Gwynn – ORCA Wildlife Officer


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