Posted by: orcaweb | April 25, 2013

The first Pilot Whale sighting

So picking up where I left off…

Monday 15th April 2013 Plymouth- Santander

After a quiet couple of days changing crew, sitting at sea for a day, and travelling between France and Ireland mostly at night, it was nice to get back to spotting cetaceans in the bay. We left Plymouth Sunday evening, with warnings of large swell. Just beginning my deck watch, I ran into the ORCA members doing the monthly survey onboard the Pont Aven. I didn’t spot anything that evening, but the survey team saw two Bottlenose Dolphins.

The next morning I awoke for the dawn watch to a large swell, but a beautiful sea state with not a splash in sight. Armed with a walkie-talkie linking me to the survey group, it wasn’t long before we spotted a pod of about 50 Common Dolphins heading towards the ship. This was an absolutely beautiful sight in the early morning sun.

Not far from arriving in Santander, an eagle eyed passenger spotted a very large Whale blow, which then turned into a group of two…three…four! After arriving in Santander I had a chat about them with the survey group, who had seen part of the whale, and thought it looked very blue in the sunlight…(!)

Santander- Portsmouth

After leaving Santander for the journey to Portsmouth we decided to keep an eye out for the same whales in case they were still around. We were rewarded by seeing four in a group. Again, two seemed very large, and two slightly smaller. After talking it over with the survey group, it seemed most likely that it was two adult Fin Whales with two calves following them (Apparently Fin whales can appear quite blue in the sunlight). Not quite what we got our hopes up for it to be, but still an amazing thing to see!

Wednesday 17th April 2013  Portsmouth- Santander

In the afternoon, back on deck 10, I was joined by a variety of different passengers, one who told me that during my presentation she saw a whale logging next to the ship! Judging from her description it sounds like it could’ve been a Sperm Whale. Throughout the afternoon we had many small groups of common dolphins approaching the ship.

An hour and a half before arriving in Santander, the moment I had been longing for happened. A whale surfaced right in front of me next to the ship, only a few hundred metres away. Judging by the size, shape of the body, the low indistinct blow, and the fact that the blow and dorsal fin appeared at the same time, it seems probable that it was a Sei whale. I only wish I could have got pictures of it so I could have a completely positive ID!

But that wasn’t all the sighting over for the day. Only 40 minutes out of Santander, and nearing the port, I put my binoculars up and spotted my first ever pod of Pilot Whales. All in all, a fantastic day for personal first sightings of things!

Monday 22nd April 2013 Plymouth – Santander

This morning’s very overcast dawn watch had several passengers turn up – two of them 45mins early! We were rewarded by several pods of common dolphins attracted to the ship, and one pod of Striped Dolphins travelling parallel to the ship.

Santander – Portsmouth

After a quick stop in Santander, it was back on deck to look out for beaked whales. After announcing it over the ships system, lots of passengers turned up, but after 20 minutes of no sightings and cold winds, they quickly disappeared – bar one intrepid family. We were rewarded by the close appearance of two whales – which I’m pretty certain were Northern Bottlenose Whales! After a couple of pods of dolphins passed, I noticed an unusual splash, which turned out to be a beaked whale breaching twice. It was very smooth and brown/grey with a long pointy nose, and only breached the upper half of its body. The rest of the day had many pods of common dolphins, and ended with an incredibly beautiful pink sunset over the bay – stunning!

Tuesday 23rd April 2013 Santander – Portsmouth

This morning’s dawn watch was a chilly uneventful journey through the English Channel. I did see several gannets, and a large bird that looked suspiciously like a pigeon struggling to keep up with the ship! After the presentation it was time to go back on deck in the sunshine and chat to lots of passengers, before arriving in Portsmouth – ending my first two weeks as wildlife officer.

Imogen (Pont Aven)

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