Posted by: orcaweb | August 5, 2010

Sooty and Sweep

As Richard has already explained, life as Wildlife Officer here in Biscay is one of ups and downs.
Having managed to forget that it is now August and thus the mornings are darker for that little bit longer, I was working on a hot tip-off from Mr. Bull himself.  According to my esteemed colleague, he had been seeing Long-finned Pilot Whales almost as soon as first light as we leave the edge of the continental shelf (see his post below for a stunning photo – especially given the low light conditions).  These are new additions to our ‘regulars’ and I was certainly hoping for my first (definite) Blackfish of the season.
Joined by an intrepid and dedicated passenger, we set up camp on deck 10, as per usual, and set our sights for the mid-distance.  Almost as soon as I’d lifted my bins, they were occupied by frame-filling views of my first Long-Finned Pilot Whales of the season.  Not to be ungrateful, but a quick thought of “well where are the others then?!” shot through my head, given that Richard had had 50 or so on previous crossings.  This was soon solved when one of the Bridge Crew came out for a chat and informed us they’d had 37 on the other side of the ship whilst we enjoyed our 10.

A handful more Pilot Whales drifted past over the next 15 minutes, when an unusually tall blow went up suddenly and unexpectedly about a mile off the Port side.  With only one blow, and no view of the creature in question, the ID is now and will remain a mystery.  Certainly a large Rorqual, the choices are narrowed to Fin and Sei in these waters.  With Sei being significantly less commonly encountered, reasonable assumption leads to Fin Whale.  Hopefully they’re back and ready to put on a show for passengers over the next couple of weeks.
Though with a dead Humpback reported from Biscay in the last week, perhaps another rarer Cetacean is on the cards…

Adding yet more diversity to an already good morning, a sighting of around 50 Common Dolphins excited the assembled 40 or so passengers, before a single mature Cuvier’s Beaked Whale made an appearance and drew an appropriate outburst.

Despite such a productive morning, the return journey was to prove entirely fruitless, with not a single cetacean seen.  A close Sooty Shearwater made for good viewing as we left the north of Spain, but sadly proved to be the only bird of note in Biscay.  Surely the Cory’s and Great Shearwaters will be back soon.

Lisle Gwynn – ORCA Wildlife Officer

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