Posted by: orcaweb | May 2, 2012

Bad weather… Then whales!

Trip 12 – Portsmouth to Roscoff to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

Hello all! We left Roscoff in the morning (we crossed the channel overnight), under gloomy clouds. In the bay, the weather only got worse. I ventured up top into the howling wind and walls of spray with car alarms drifting up from the lower decks several times to see whether I could catch a glimpse of anything. Alas, all I got was photos of waves and spray on my camera lens.

Amazingly the odd gannet and this skua could be seen bravely soaring between the great crests, before disappearing behind the spray.


After our weather delayed entry into Bilbao this morning I am now waiting to see whether our departure will bring us a better journey back across the bay!

Disappointingly, although the sun broke through for most of our journey back across the bay, the sea did not let up much. With the outside decks closed, I peered out from spray spattered windows and the open back deck of the ship, but to no avail. Fingers crossed for next time!

Trip 13 – Portsmouth to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

Leaving Portsmouth late afternoon on Saturday, the weather was sunny and the sea almost flat. After spying the odd bird across the channel I went back to my cabin hoping the weather would hold for tomorrow’s journey across the bay.

I woke early and made my way up onto the top deck. To my delight the weather was still sunny (just) and only small glassy waves lapped against the ship. It was not long before I saw a number of white specks with splashes and dark shapes intermingled – just as one lucky person walked out onto the deck.

The white specks turned out to be gannets and the splashes a pod of common dolphin (I counted around 20) – both presumably feeding on a shoal of fish. For once I was able to get photos too!



And even a mother and calf!


As the day wore on, the clouds began to thicken above me. With increasing rain, all I could spy during the rest of the trip was the odd dolphin and a few birds (including the turtle dove and house martin below), even with the keen eyes of a bird researcher heading on to investigate non-native species in Portugal who braved the rain with me. With chatter about a storm headed for the bay for our journey back I hope that Sunday morning will bring better news than that.


So apparently nobody told the weather (or the whales) that it’s my birthday. I went up on deck early to watch the seas, but all I saw as the howling wind and rain shot along the ship was a single seagull. The sea is still calmer than it has been but plenty of white crests around to hide any well-wishing cetaceans.

Edit: The sea got worse. As did the rain 😦

Trip 14 – Portsmouth to Roscoff to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

After a rough night across the channel (or so I’m told – I slept right through it!) the weather seemed a lot better as we left Roscoff in the morning, with the sun sometimes breaking through the patchy clouds. However, what I didn’t account for was the wind. After the railings thankfully saved my hat from being lost to the big blue, I replaced it more carefully and returned to watching the seas – huddling behind the bridge to try to avoid the chilling wind. Despite spending every daylight hour that we were in the Bay up on deck, gannets, oystercatchers shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus!) and the odd skua were all I managed to see. Apparently even with the calmer weather there are still too many white crests out there distracting my attention from the real thing. As we forged on ahead into thick grey clouds around sunset (well what would have been sunset if we could see it…) I gave up and waited to see what Tuesday morning brought.


Sunshine! I woke to bright blue skies with streaks of thin white clouds flowing across the sky. Judging from the gulls soaring around Bilbao’s port the wind hasn’t died down – but certainly a more promising start for our journey across the best part of the Bay!


I spent as long as possible up on deck whilst leaving Bilbao. Even the wind died down a little as we got out into the Bay, although all I managed to see was an unidentified err… thing? My best guess would be a squid of sorts or perhaps a baby sunfish – unfortunately I only caught a brief glimpse of it before it was lost in the wake. I then forced myself below decks to give our presentation.

Wolfing down a quick lunch, I headed back up onto the starboard deck giddy with excitement about the fantastic weather. I was soon joined by two bikers who I am thankful to for many reasons – particularly their polarised sunglasses, sharp eyes and witty banter (I will try my very hardest to get your ‘spotter’ badges out to you…). My excitement was well placed: we soon saw at least three small pods of common dolphin interspersed with the occasional blue shark!




Despite the sun, the wind was still chilly, so one by one those of us on deck switched across to the port side to shelter from the wind. I was the last to do this and frustratingly it turned out I should have switched earlier as when I reached the other side they had already seen another pod of dolphin and a sunfish right next to the ship. Thankfully another sunfish soon appeared although it disappeared into the wake before I was able to get a photo.

Not too long after that (but after yet another dolphin pod if I remember rightly) I finally saw what I have spent two weeks trying to see past all the waves – whale spouts! Several strong tall plumes in the distance suggested one or two fin whales. Just a few minutes later more spouts appeared just a little behind the ship – we counted three individuals but not sure what species, certainly one of the baleen whales though, possibly minke.



I was then left on my own out on deck while people went off to find hot drinks. Soon, yet again, there were whales on the horizon. The same group (possibly 2-3 minke whales) popped up twice what I thought was fairly close to the ship. It turns out that another whale popped up even closer to the other side of the ship in front of those who had gone off to get hot drinks.

We then passed several cetacean groups in quick succession (I guess we must have been passing over the continental shelf around this time). First of which was a small pod of bottlenose dolphin who surfaced briefly before disappearing away from the ship. Next was a group of around 5-6 pilot whales (1st photo), followed shortly after by another group of 2-3 medium sized whales (2nd photo), although I didn’t get a good enough look to identify them.



Finally as we entered shallower waters (and the hot drink group returned), the last cetaceans we saw were a large pod of what I think were bottlenose dolphins, but the sun made identification difficult. Leaping about and probably corralling fish as we passed they move in a very different way to common dolphin (well done to one of the bikers for getting what looked like very good video/photos on his phone camera!).

After a quick dinner, I went back up on deck but only spotted the odd fish before sunset. Hopefully, with the weather set to remain good for my next and last trip before Tom takes over again, I will get better pictures. Between the wind, slight swell and excitement the pictures from today are rather more blurred than I’d expected!

That’s all from me for now, just one last update to come until Tom takes over again on Friday!



  1. Brilliant Photos,Thank You.Must have been very difficult in The Stormy Weather!

  2. Your un-id’d whales look like Cuvier’s to me mate – cracking beasts!

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