Posted by: orcaweb | May 25, 2012

VI Return of the dolphin

Hello everyone! Great to be back aboard the Cap Finistere – well done to Tom for all the great sightings, hopefully I can do just as well!

Trip 22 – Portsmouth to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

Up on deck early Saturday morning, the sea was calm – almost as calm as when I stepped off the ship 2 weeks ago. The weather however was decidedly gloomy, and became increasingly so with more and more rain.

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All I managed to see in this was a single common dolphin – and I only had the briefest glimpse of it by the side of the ship before it disappeared. After an hour or so the rain finally let up, and I soon spied what looked very much like a lone pilot whale (although was probably at least 2) – unusual as they normally travel in family pods. Soon after a pod of dolphin passed us, being unusually undemonstrative, just rolling over at the surface. Judging by their size, I suspect they were bottlenose dolphin, but couldn’t get any good photos at that distance with the gloomy light conditions.

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Not long after, another pod of pilot whales appeared, this time definitely at least 2 individuals.

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After this I went to give our presentation and have a quick lunch, fingers crossed that the weather wouldn’t get any worse. Sadly, this didn’t work, not only did the rain return, but the odd white crest appeared in the waves too. To add insult to injury I also discovered that a Cuvier’s beaked whale had been breaching not far from the ship whilst I was below deck. The afternoon vigil yielded eerily quiet seas. Not really what I was expecting, but at least I had a few birds to keep me company – first a turtle dove, then a pair of the Hirundinidae family (a swallow, and a house martin darting around the ship).

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I began to notice that if I squinted long enough at the house martin, it started to resemble a winged whale. It was at this point, with Bilbao port in sight that I decided it would be best to go below to wait for Sunday morning.

Although we cleared the clouds early in the morning, all I saw before we left the Bay was gannets, gulls and shearwaters.

As we entered the channel, thick clouds rolled back in reducing the visibility – so just seabirds there too.

Trip 23 – Portsmouth to Roscoff to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

As we passed between the islands off Brittany, the sun was shining and not a breath of wind could be felt. To flat out contradict the weather, the sea was dotted with cresting waves – yet calm enough not to notice anything on the ship.

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Despite watching the bay till the sun set, I could only spot the odd bird among so many crests. Disappointing, but hopefully a full day in the bay tomorrow will reveal better results.

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I have woken up this morning to see banks of misty rain marching inland across Bilbao port. Hopefully the weather will improve when we enter the bay later…

So the wind has returned with a vengeance. It wasn’t until we finally cleared the clouds out into bright blue skies that I finally saw a whale, although hidden as it was by the swell, I wasn’t able to identify it (and the wind didn’t allow for any clear photos).

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I soon switched sides to avoid the sun’s glare – although very little to be seen at first with the exception of rubbish sadly 😦

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Eventually, with a gannet to keep me company, I caught a glimpse of a large shark (probably a blue shark but difficult to be sure). Unfortunately, whereas my sunglasses allowed me to see the fantastic creature, my camera wasn’t quite so lucky (I have tried to outline the head which is barely visible in the photo).

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Finally, just as I was about to go down for dinner a sunfish drifted past, lazily flapping its fins.

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Trip 24 – Portsmouth to Santander & Santander to Portsmouth

The sea just off the Brittany coast was great around sunset. Although the swell was quite large, the surface was glassy smooth. Sadly no cetaceans around despite the fantastic weather, but the odd gannet as usual and two loud bangs announced the presence of fighter jets breaking the sound barrier – soon after the bang they roared across the bow of the ship flying low.

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Up on deck early in the morning – after an unheard of absence – the common dolphin pods had finally returned (and I think the odd one or two striped dolphin too!). They could be seen leaping their way towards the ship, including one pod of at least a hundred individuals.

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Eventually we entered a thick bank of fog not too far from the coast of Spain. With the dolphins gone (or at least not able to see them) I headed below decks to wait until we got to Santander.

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Leaving Santander, we passed back through the fog, still not burned away by the late afternoon sun. Unfortunately on the other side the weather had deteriorated slightly, with several white cresting waves beginning to appear – although still calm waters. After a while I caught a glimpse of a shark on the right hand side of the ship, quickly turning away from us as we cruised past. Again, sadly my camera could not penetrate the water as well as my sunglasses.

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Speaking to some of the passengers there had obviously been a few common dolphin I had missed from the other side of the ship. I switched to this side for a while to warm up in the setting sun. Just as I was about to give up for the day, waving and pointing from the guys on the bridge sent me running back to the starboard side of the ship. It was clear enough where they were pointing to, but quite what it was I am a little unsure. Off towards the horizon a patch of water was teeming with splashes – including what looked like whale blows. After peering through my binoculars and studying the photos I took, my best guess is one or more likely two whales, surrounded by a pod of dolphin. Regardless of the difficulty in identification, a fantastic end to a great day.

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And that’s all from me till next week!

Zak

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