Posted by: orcaweb | July 29, 2010

A week of near misses

Well even the best of wildlife observers can have a bad week! For one thing, someone has stolen all my dolphins! I come back after a 2 week break to find that the hoards of common dolphins that I am used to seeing have suddenly disappeared! I only saw 1 pod of common dolphin and a pod of striped dolphin on my way to Santander last Saturday. My only saving grace was a pod of 5 cuvier’s beaked whales at about 9am.

On the return journey, buoyed by a large pod of common dolphin at the start of my presentation (on cue, just behind me as I told the audience to look out for them), I was later to be sorely disappointed. The only sightings that evening were made by passengers fresh from my talk, who spotted a sperm whale and a large rorqual just minutes before I emerged from putting the presentation away. This journey ended on Sunday in thick fog throughout the English Channel.

Yesterday’s crossing of the bay had similar misfortunes. The morning saw 10 of us eagerly looking for cetaceans from 05:30. We were rewarded with a brief glimpse of 2 common dolphins emerging from beneath the boat at 06:00, then 10 more at 06:40. By 08:00 we had up to 30 passengers at a time crowding the top deck in the search for cetaceans. One girl cried ‘THERE’ and pointed to near the horizon, but nothing stirred. After a few seconds, I resumed scanning only to be thwarted by a huge splash out of the corner of my eye, exactly where the girl had been pointing. That ended the sightings of the morning.

My wows continued on our return in the afternoon. I just caught the tail end of a huge splash at around 16:00 and by 20:00 we had seen nothing but water. I had but 6 intrepid companions left as the sun began to set. By 20:45, the waters were looking very black and all the waves had turned to shadow. Finally, I saw a far larger black shape in the water than the surrounding waves. This object was about 3 miles away, so I quickly got my binoculars to it and clearly saw the characteristic broad hooked silhouettes of several pilot whale fins! I handed my binoculars to a Dutch boy so that he could see them, and we promptly lost sight of them. I scanned the horizon once more to relocate them and spotted a large rorqual role once and disappear. Now my companions really were wondering if my prolonged vigil had resulting in me hallucinating! As we discussed this, 5 pilot whales popped their heads up and swam towards us, just a few hundred metres from the boat. My sanity confirmed and with at least a few happy passengers, we finally descended for the night.

Richard – Wildlife Officer

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