Posted by: orcaweb | July 13, 2012

Late night sightings and dolphins, dolphins, dolphins!


Saturday 7th July

Waking up early to rain and black clouds above, but by 10:30 the rain had stopped. No cetaceans were spotted that morning until I got downstairs and was about to present my talk when a passenger spotted some dolphins out the back window (This got the crowd excited).

After my talk I went up on deck and I had missed the pod of striped dolphins that had appeared 5 minutes after my talk as I was packing up. A couple hours passed and the conditions got better closer to Spain. The sun was out the sea was calm so the numerous jelly fish could be spotted easily although still no cetaceans.

A passenger that had been on the other side of the boat reported to me that he had seen a pod of 15 dolphins! (Why am I always on the wrong side!?).

However while this passenger was on my side and I was feeling like it was going to be another one of those days, then one of the many passengers that were out on deck that day said they could see something up ahead. There were shouts of dolphins but when I got a view through my binoculars I noticed these cetaceans were a lot bigger, closer to 10m! Their dorsal fins situated on the back third of their body, these were whales!!!! They were spotted in front of the ship and they passed on the starboard side just rolling at the surface, it was a pod of of beaked whales.

These whales appeared to have bulbous melons at the front of their heads, making them northern bottlenose whales. I counted 5 and they stayed at the surface for the whole time they were in view of the ship, this was an excellent sighting, my most exciting to date just because of their size and how they didn’t seem to be bothered by our presence. Because of the calmness of the sea I could see them for ages.

After this encounter I switched sides and a soon as I did I spotted common dolphins porpoising in the distance, sadly they did not stay at the surface for very long and were gone soon after appearing. For the next 20 minutes individual dolphins kept popping up for a couple gulps of air and then diving again, they appeared to be feeding over a widespread area as some would breach close to the ship and some far away.

The last 2 hours of the trip made it very rewarding, and on the whole a very good day spotting.

Sunday 8th July

Waking up early trying to spot any cetaceans as we leave the Bay of Biscay for the Channel, sadly none were about. On the route past the Brittany coast between the main land and a small picturesque island (Lle D’Ouessant) the ship was greeted by a variety of sea bird most noticeably the gannets, circling us with their bright yellow heads and 2m wingspans.

This was the high point on the wildlife front today as the channel failed to serve up any cetaceans and the visibility grew worse as we got further from the Bay.


Monday 9th July

Departing from roscoff at 10am it wouldn’t be until the evening when we reached the Bay of Biscay.

So after my talk I went up on deck from 3 onwards, the next few hours were uneventful although a passenger claimed to have spotted a single dolphin around 5. As the day went on the sea became calmer and we ended up with perfect cetacean spotting conditions in the evening, we would see anything if it was out there.

I was hoping for some sightings as we passed over the northern continental shelf edge of the bay, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Just as some passengers on deck with me were losing hope discussing how ‘nothing is out there’ I kept a keen eye out and I was rewarded with a pod of 8 pilot whales (which are actually a species of dolphin), this pleased the others on deck with me and they rushed to grab their travelling companions. This put me in a good mood and the night wasn’t over. Within 15 minutes a pod of cuviers beaked whales appeared close to the ship. Not long after there appeared a small pod of cetaceans, however as the light was failing I couldn’t gain a positive ID (from what I could see my best guess would be bottlenose dolphins), they were dolphin like in shape and appeared bigger than common and striped.

The night was capped off with a single dolphin breaching close to the ship (as if to say goodnight), after this I called it a night at 09:45 when all light had diminished.

Tuesday 10th July

After leaving Bilbao about 10, I was optimistic about leaving the northern coast of spain as last time it served up some good sightings. However the morning before my talk failed in providing any excitement although the weather was sunny which was nice.

Whilst I was packing up after my talk, the dolphins (A pod of about 30) decided to make an appearance out the back window (They seem to be doing this quite frequently, do they know when im talking about them?).

The next and final encounter of the day was with the reliable common dolphins, appearing at the bow of the boat as if from nowhere. They rarely breached but were swimming so close to the surface of the water, blazes of yellow and streams of bubbles were disappearing and reappearing from under the ship.

This turned out to be a long encounter, a couple of times I thought they had disappeared for good then they showed up again. Sadly this was the last encounter of the day.


Wednesday 11th July

Joao has joined me today, bringing with him photographic expertise. Leaving Portsmouth the channel was by no means rough but the conditions were not good for spotting cetaceans. One lonely sunfish was spotted as we rounded the coast of Brittany.

Thursday 12th July

On the morning into Santander we had 7 encounters with both striped and common dolphins. As well as one common dolphin lacking its yellow patch on its flank (as seen in the image).

When leaving Santander the dolphins decided to show up as I was doing my talk (again) and stole the spot light. However despite the good conditions these were the only cetaceans we saw on the way out of Santander.

The Bay of Biscay has continued to impress, giving me some of my first sightings of certain cetacean species. I now seen at least 6 of different species the Bay has to offer, roll on next week.

P.S the photos don’t seem to want to upload, so they will be added to the next post.




Saturday 14th July

The journey into Bilbao was the best morning I have experienced for common dolphins, a total of 8 different encounters including a pod of more than 100 individuals! It seemed like within the dolphin population the word had got out that there was a fast boat travelling through the Bay, producing some big bow waves. The dolphins appeared to be coming from all over to ride the bow waves and play in the wake of the boat. The conditions weren’t great, but got better as we got closer to Spain. By the time we left Spain the sea had really calmed down, however it appeared the dolphins had got bored of our boat and didn’t come to see us off.

Sunday 15th July

We got up early to try and catch any cetaceans as we left the Bay for the channel, sadly none were about and the conditions were not ideal for spotting with too many white caps to the waves. We did however have a pair of adult gannets keeping us company for the majority of the afternoon.


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