Posted by: orcaweb | June 5, 2012

Giants of the Deep

Trip 25 – Portsmouth to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

Waking up to a dreary morning with seas to match – certainly tricky for cetacean watching – I was unable to spy anything until the sun finally broke through later on.

With the morning’s rough seas rapidly calmed, the afternoon brought plenty of familiar splashes on the horizon, lots of Common dolphin (and I think a few Striped dolphin too) racing towards the boat. The striped dolphin in particular put on some fantastic acrobatic displays just a few hundred metres out from the ship – leaping well clear of the surface.

We passed many pods of varying sizes including a large pod (maybe 50 individuals) feeding not too far from the ship. I was also able to spy (if only briefly) a small blue shark. Frustratingly it seems I should have picked the starboard side of the ship, as a few whales had been seen from this side – from the descriptions I was given it sounded like fin whales early on, then not far from the coast a couple of probably beaked whales drifting just off the side of the ship. If the sea remains as it is at the moment (nice and flat) it should hopefully bring some good sightings early tomorrow morning – I will have to wait and see…

Despite only gentle wind (a nice respite for once) and calm seas no cetaceans were to be seen early on in the morning as we left the Bay. Lots of sunfish and seabirds though!

The channel was disappointingly empty again, even with incredibly flat seas. Plenty of Gannets to be seen as per usual, with their mighty 2 metre wingspan.

Trip 26 – Portsmouth to Roscoff to Bilbao & Bilbao to Portsmouth

As we entered the bay on Monday afternoon the sun was shining, the wind was relatively gentle and the see steadily became glassy and flat (although some slight swell). Despite the good weather the afternoon was quiet with several sunfish seen soon after our entry to the bay (also a tern seen resting on some driftwood).

At around 6pm, silhouetted by the setting sun, I glimpsed the dark hump of a small whale’s tailstock (probably a minke). It was so quiet we could even hear the blow as it surfaced again three or four times quite close to the ship. Unfortunately I failed to photograph more than the ripples it left at the surface…

The following morning leaving Bilbao brought perfect conditions for cetacean watching.

Whilst giving our presentations a few dorsal fins of common dolphin appeared in the wake behind the ship – and apparently someone saw a whale blow in the distance too! When I finally got up on deck after lunch, we soon came across a huge pod of common dolphin (what I originally thought were two medium sized pods turned out to be one large one of at least 80 individuals) working together to corral a school of (presumably) fish – so they were far too busy to approach the ship like they usually do.

Despite the fantastic conditions, the sea seemed unusually quiet. It was just as my thoughts were turning to dinner instead of what animal I might see next, that a pod of around 5-7 pilot whales surfaced right next to the boat! They proceeded to charge through our wake behind the boat giving us some great views of the creatures.

After waiting a little longer to make sure there were no other surprises in store for me I finally went below to find some dinner, leaving the sun to set over the glassy waters of the North Biscay.

Trip 27 – Portsmouth to Santander & Santander to Portsmouth

Between thick fog and cresting waves, it was very difficult to see anything in the channel or around the Brittany coast with the exception of gannets and a Shearwater (probably Manx).

Up early the next morning, the sea was flat – possibly the best I’ve seen it – with a few ripples from the cold wind. It wasn’t long before the usual suspects (Common Dolphin) were approaching the boat, leaping around and shooting out from underneath the ship.

Not long after this oddly angled whale blows were spotted out in front of the ship. It quickly became apparent that two sperm whales were drifting (a behaviour known as ‘logging’ or ‘rafting’) along at the surface – we could see pretty much the entire animals’ backs along with the angled blows so indicative of the species.

As we passed by in the opposite direction to them we came within maybe 100 metres of the giants, affording us some fantastic views…

…Before they changed direction away from the ship, casually swimming off into the distance (Apologies for all the fuzzy photos).

Unfortunately this sighting rather over-shadowed any other sightings we had before we reached Santander, although a large pod of around 40-50 dolphin tried their hardest to impress us, leaping toward the boat. There were also at one point large splashes on the horizon which may have been small whales breaching – but at that distance it was impossible to be sure.

Whilst waiting in sunny Santander for our return trip I spied the following Black Kite above the city, struggling to carry away its prey with the seagulls harrying it.

When we returned out into the Bay the wind had unfortunately increased significantly, making cetaceans very hard to spot among so many cresting waves.

Despite this I did manage to spy a few pods of common dolphin, including one large pod which was feeding off in the distance – with circling gannets plunging into the fray too. With the light fading I went below to find some dinner.

And that’s it from me again. Good luck to Tom (and Ben – our new wildlife officer) for the next week!


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