Posted by: orcaweb | August 8, 2010

Moby Dick

After such a dire return journey on the last crossing, surely there was a lot for Mother Nature to make up for.  Luckily, she didn’t disappoint!

With a sea state of 5 pushing for a 6 in the Channel, hopes were dim for the Bay itself, but upon surfacing at 5:30am, we were met by an extraordinarily flat ocean, the likes of which are rarely seen out here.
Having informed the gathered 50 or so observers that ‘something’ usually puts in an appearance at 6am, we weren’t disappointed by the 50+ Long-finned Pilot Whales, 30+ Common Dolphin and 20+ Striped Dolphin all feeding in the same area, indicating an abundance of food just south of the continental shelf.
Having got up bright and early for the early-bird show, I informed the crowd that 8 o’clock onwards would be the next ‘most reliable’ area, prompting half to leave and return later on.

Not long after their return, the now extremely excitable 50+ men, women and children were treated to fleeting glimpses of two Beaked Whale sp.  Without good binocular views I couldn’t confidently say they weren’t Northern Bottlenose Whales, appearing quite large there’s a good chance they were in fact this species.

Shortly after, not wanting to disappoint, an adult female and calf Cuvier’s Beaked Whale put in a stunning shipside performance, rolling and surfacing sharply just 100 metres from the ship, allowing everyone superb prolonged views.

Having seen most of the ‘expected’ species I thought that would be our fill of excitement for the outward journey.  I was sadly mistaken as several passengers spotted a Turtle sp. feeding on trawler-discarded by-catch well within sight of Santander.  By the time I got to the side of the ship ‘all’ there was to view, were 3 Blue Shark – a rare sighting and one of the highlights of this crossing!

With this calibre of excitement and a previously lacking duo of return journeys, I didn’t expect a lot from the afternoon of 7th August.  As is quite often the case here in the Bay of Biscay, I was delightfully mistaken.
Having just finished a particularly enjoyable ‘lecture’ in the Planets Bar on deck 8, the 40 assembled were treated to a pod of 30+ Common Dolphin playing in the wake as I packed up my gear.  A brief call of “BLOW!” was sadly erroneous, but reunited me with a one of the finest things in life as I borrowed one kind lady’s binoculars… the smell of old leather binocular straps.  What a scent!
Much like Richard, I surfaced to deck 10 to be told “You should’ve been here 5 minutes ago mate!” – blast.  A reported blow had all the characteristics of Sperm Whale, and I was a tad disappointed to say the least.  Luckily enough, my keen well-trained eyes soon found consolation in an adult and calf duo of Sperm Whales blowing on the horizon.  Given the incredibly calm conditions, the 45° angled blow was absolutely typical, leaving no confusion.  Having declared them “probably too far away for the naked eye” I expected a swarm of disappointed passengers.  Luckily, this was not to be.  At just 500 metres distance, an additional adult Sperm Whale drifted past blowing 7 or 8 times at the typical 45° angle allowing everyone to see both blow and body.  By far the highlight of the week, Sperm Whale will always hold an almost mythical status amongst mariner and land-lubber alike.

A poor photo, but the best I could manage, clearly showing the angled blow and log-like body of one of the Bay’s most incredible creatures.

A comparatively sparse passage through the English Channel meant the 20(ish) late-comers saw plenty of Gannets but sadly no Cetaceans.

If you’re travelling upon the Cap Finistere in the coming weeks then please keep an eye out for myself or Richard, and join us for some deck watches for your chance to see some of these sights.

Lisle Gwynn  –  ORCA Wildlife Officer


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