Posted by: orcaweb | June 1, 2011

Hello everyone,

It’s been a busy week and a half for ORCA and there’s been plenty of media interest in whales and dolphins as well. I have also been lucky enough to see some rare whale species as well as the largest bony fish in the world!

I returned to the Cap Finistere last Friday (20th of May) when there as a large amount of media interest in a large pod of long-finned pilot whales that were threatening to strand off the coasts of South Uist in Scotland (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-13488302). These animals had entered waters much shallower then we would expect and remained dangerously close to the coast for a few days. The injuries sustained by these cetaceans were clear to see as they appeared to be slicing their skin on the sea floor. Mass strandings of pilot whales are not uncommon events. They occur almost annually on the Cape Verde islands off the Atlantic coast of North Africa and we’re still not entirely sure why. It is clear that pilot whale pods, or groups, have significant social ties and remain close together so this may explain the size of these stranding events but their cause remains unknown with theories ranging from changes in the magnetic field of the ocean floor to interference from human such as sonar and other forms of marine noise. The numbers of pilot whales around South Units meant that we were braced for the largest mass stranding of cetaceans onUK shores. In the end the majority of the whales left the coast with two unfortunately dying. Although sad for those individuals pilot whale populations are not believed to be endanger of collapse, for now, so it appears that these events are not a significant conservation issue but are still very interesting.

ORCA then got a mention on the BBC website explaining some of our survey techniques (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-hampshire-13539837). If you are interested in becoming a cetacean surveyor for ORCA we will be running a workshop from Southampton on the 12th of June which is open to people with any level experience, including newbies, and I will be there. Check out http://www.orcaweb.org.uk for further details.

Yesterday reports were circulating about an adult male sperm whale that had washed up on the shores of Redcarin Teesside during the night (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1392744/Stranded-44ft-sperm-whale-dies-washed-Cleveland-beach.html). Despite attempts to rescue this creature it died early yesterday morning. Although rescue attempts were made even if the animal had been returned to the seas it was almost certainly doomed. This is because this sperm whale was lost. It had found itself it the relatively shallow North Sea which is void of its food, large species of squid. These occurrences of lost whales and dolphins are not epically rare. Examples include another sperm whale that stranded in Kent earlier this year (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-12646375), a sub-adult humpback whales which was found in the River Thames in 2009 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/8255538.stm) and a northern bottlenosed whale that swam into the heart of London in 2006 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/london/4631396.stm). We don’t really understand the cause of these stranding events but they usually occur when animals are in alien waters or have some form of illness.

On the Cap Finistere I was lucky enough to help launch ORCA’s Whale and Dolphin Spotting Project with the help of TV’s Chris Packham (of The Really Wild Show and Springwatch fame) and pupils from College Park Infant SchoolinPortsmouth(http://www.orcaweb.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/25-May-2011-Chris-Packham-launches-whale-watching-project.pdf). I welcomed our guests on the Cap Finistere while we were in port and chatted about all things whale and dolphin and showed the children around the ship and on to the bridge. It was great to meet Chris Packham and hear some of his amazing encounters with wildlife as well as the experiences of the pupils ofCollege ParkInfant School. So thank you to both Chris and the kids for a great morning.

As for my time at sea, I’ve seen some fantastic sightings including pods of common and striped dolphins and quite a few beaked whales, most likely Cuvier’s beaked whales, on the northern coast of Spain. On the 23rd of May I saw the largest bony fish in the world which is the oceanic sunfish, also known as the mola fish. These are strange looking animals that represent a dustbin lid with a face and a few fins. They can reach over 3m in diameter and I was luckily enough to see three. On Monday evening while travelling around the north east coast ofFrance I saw two pods of medium sized cetaceans. Their colour suggested that these animals were blackfish, a group of darker coloured whales, and their fin shape suggested that they may have been false killer whales. These animals would have been at the north extreme of their range and are a very rare sight north of Spain.

Hopefully I will have some more news on sightings on Friday when I return from Santander. Until then keep whale watching and if you are interested please do consider attending one of our whale and dolphin survey workshops while places are still available (the next workshop is in Southampton on the 12th of June).

Hope you’re enjoying the blogs and please do check out ORCA’s website at http://www.orcaweb.org.uk.

Mike
Voluntary Wildlife Officer
Cap Finistere

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