Posted by: orcaweb | August 18, 2012

Flying fish and a sea turtle!


Wednesday 8th August

We left a gloomy Portsmouth after bidding farewell to Rob, to be greeted by a heavy sea mist in the channel. The heavy mist was a shame because the sea was calm and the conditions would have been perfect for spotting cetaceans.

However by 5 we had seemed to have come through the mist and on deck I had reports from passengers who claimed to have seen a pod of dolphins, a possible whale sighting and what was described to me as a basking shark! So the passengers understandably had high expectations for a morning of cetacean spotting in the Bay.

Thursday 9th August

Within 15 minutes of being on deck the first 2 whales of the day were spotted and could easily be seen from the tall columns of blow they were producing. A couple of hours later around 9 am another whale was spotted. During this second whale encounter someone from the other side of the boat ran over to tell me they had just seen multiple whales (the boat must have been passing through a pod). Morale was high on deck as we were about to head over the canyons and beaked whale territory, unfortunately a heavy sea mist similar to the one we left Portsmouth in appeared and greatly restricted our visibility for the last couple of hours into Santander.

On the way out of Santander the sea mist was gone and conditions were excellent for seeing any wildlife that was about. The attendance at my talk wasn’t as high as it usually was as team GB were competing for another gold medal. However not long into my presentation a pod of common dolphins decided to show up out the back of the boat, these dolphins fully breaching the surface of the water in the wake of the boat grabbed the attention of the passengers in the room and switched some viewers from the Olympics to my talk.

Up on deck after about an hour I thought I saw a whale in the distance so I was using my binoculars  however as I was doing so a pod of common dolphins (pointed out by one of the passengers accompanying me who were just about to leave) appeared right at the bow of the boat. This was a great close encounter.

Within 15 minutes of the last encounter I noticed something continually splashing at the surface of the calm water which is uncharacteristic of a cetacean, so what was it? Once my eyes focused I knew immediately what I was looking at, a leatherback turtle! The largest of all the marine turtle species. I know I’m primarily supposed to be looking out for cetaceans but this sighting really made my day.

For the next hour the clear blue horizon was repeatedly interrupted from the blow of whales. August is reported to be one of the best months for spotting baleen whales in the Bay and it’s clear from the evidence today.

Although there were many whales about none of them came close enough to give me the opportunity to photograph them.


Friday 10th August

The sea was calmer than the last couple of days which hopefully continues into the bay tomorrow, as the only wildlife that I saw today was a few gannets bobbing on the surface.

Saturday 11th August

When I first set foot on the top deck and looked out to the Bay I could already see the dorsal fins of the common dolphin, it appeared I was late to the cetacean party. This first encounter of the morning lasted for around 10 minutes with a couple of individuals swimming underneath the boat.

After my talk today the whole upper deck was filled with passengers hoping to see some cetaceans and they weren’t disappointed. The first encounter was pointed out by one of the officers in the bridge, however I only got one view of what appeared to be a whale rolling at the surface and none of the passengers saw it. However within half hour of being on the lookout we were treated to a pod of dolphins around 200 metres from the boat, this was closely followed by another pod of roughly 20 striped dolphins which uncharacteristically came in very close to the boat.

There was only one more encounter after this which was a small pod, no more than 10 common dolphins.  And just as we were approaching the wind turbines at the entrance to Bilbao harbour I had a sunfish sighting reported to me. This was the end of the sightings on a sunny day on the Cap Finistere.

Sunday 12th August

The sun was out the sea was calm although no cetaceans in the morning. The good weather meant I had alot of help looking for the wildlife today and the calm sea conditions gave people hope that if there was something out there we would see it. Unfortunately there were no cetaceans to be seen in the channel today, although the gannets gave us something to look at.


Monday 13th August

Shortly after leaving Roscoff we saw out first sunfish which was actually swimming upright rather than its traditional pose of lying on its side at the surface. We didn’t have to wait long for our first cetacean encounter, which were 3 harbour porpoises just swimming under the surface, barely breaching but producing a small amount of spray as they exhaled. After a couple more sunfish sightings a huge flock of gannets had gathered in the distance and were performing their trademark dives from 40m high. I was extremely excited at the sight of this as this activity which is a good indication of fish in the area and usually cetaceans, then just as I expected the breaching arched bodies of a pod of common dolphins could be seen feeding.

After dinner, on deck I had reports of small pods of dolphins seen by passengers. The light was fading fast tonight due to the large amount of cloud cover however for those of us braving the strong winds we were rewarded with two encounters of single common dolphins, then just as the light was nearly gone we had a pod of around 10 dolphins greet us at the front of the boat breaching a couple of times but mainly swimming just under the surface so we could still see them and make out the yellow patch on their flanks.

Tuesday 14th August

Today was the last day of my trip and the best was saved for last. The weather in the bay as we left Bilbao was perfect for spotting cetaceans, the calmest sea state I had seen for the past 2 weeks. So it was easy to spot the 2 beaked whales logging at the surface about 300 metres from the boat. Then after catching a glimpse of some flying fish there was a striped dolphin encounter.

Once again the striped dolphins came in close to the boat so it was easy to see them adding 180 spins to the usual straight breaches.

After a quiet half hour we went into a period of 3 hours where we had a sighting at least once every 10 minutes. We got to see multiple pods of pilot whales which in some cases appeared to be accompanied by bottlenose dolphins, the tall columns of fin whale blow could also be seen in the distance.  It wasn’t until about half 4 when we got a close encounter with some individuals of the second largest animal on the planet, 3 fin whales could be seen rolling at the surface about 300m from the boat.

The day was capped off by a couple of common dolphin encounters (the first of the day) as we passed over the northern continental slope in the bay.

This day summed up what has been the best 2 weeks on board so far…





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