Posted by: orcaweb | May 9, 2013

First Harbour Porpoise Sighting!

Continuing from last week…

Portsmouth – Santander (1/5/2013)

Unfortunately the morning started off badly with no cetaceans seen over the northern shelf of the bay, visibility was poor with fog over the horizon and a swell of 2m. Come 11 o’clock we saw a small pod of four Common Dolphins. This was followed a couple of hours later by two more pods, a small one made up of three individuals and another larger pod made up of around 20-25 individuals all playing in the bow waves of the ship. Despite the few sightings the 20 people I had up on deck with me surveying the bay, all had a great time and seemed to really enjoy themselves!

Santander – Plymouth (2/5/2013)

This morning I awoke to beautiful calm seas and glorious sunshine. Unfortunately we saw no Harbour Porpoise. But, around an hour and a half before we reached the port of Plymouth, five beautifully sleek, large dolphins were swimming towards the port side of the ship. These were quickly identified as Bottlenose Dolphins, one seen to be with a calf. Fingers crossed the nice weather will continue over the next few days as we venture over to Roscoff and Cork.

Roscoff – Cork – Roscoff – Plymouth (3/5/2013 – 5/5/2013)

No cetaceans were seen on the journeys to Roscoff and Cork; we had sea state of 4-5 and around a 2-3m swell which made cetacean spotting difficult. Fingers crossed we shall see some on the way out of Plymouth on our journey to Santander.

Plymouth – Santander (5/5/2013 – 6/5/2013)

Leaving Plymouth at 3.45 with the sun out and having a sea state of 1, sightings were slow. However, I had luck on my side with one of my ORCA colleagues Elfyn Pugh joining me up on deck. After an hour and a half out of Plymouth Elfyn spotted three Bottlenose Dolphins swimming past the ship his was shortly followed by a sighting of three Harbour Porpoises swimming just behind a bird which was happily sat on the water. This was my very first sighting of a Harbour Porpoise so I was very happy to be able to see the smallest cetacean we have within the European Atlantic!

6am Monday morning brought with it a beautiful sunrise and a sea state 2. Elfyn and I were both out on deck, hoping this calm day would bring with it some excellent sightings. After only 45mins out on deck we encountered a pod of dolphins although we couldn’t make out what species they were. This was followed an hour later by a small pod of Common Dolphins made up of around 4 individuals. Ten minutes later a pod of Common Dolphins made up of around 50-60 individuals were heading towards the bow of the ship. Elfyn managed to get some great photos particularly one of a mother and young calf, shown in the picture below.


Common Dolphins – A mother & calf

Back out on deck after my talk we very quickly encountered five Bottlenose Dolphins heading past the port side of the ship only an hour outside of Santander.

A great way to end our journey to Santander.

Santander – Plymouth (6/5/2013 – 7/5/2013)

After leaving Santander at 2.30pm conditions weren’t great. We had a sea state of 3 but rain and fog meant that at times we couldn’t see very far from the ship. Nevertheless, we still managed to get some sightings of dolphins only an hour outside of port which I believe were Bottlenose Dolphins but I couldn’t be 100% sure. This was followed an hour later by a small pod of Common Dolphins attracted to the bow of the ship. Conditions started to improve by this point, with brighter skies and a sea state of 2. Around 5 o’clock we were greeted by a lovely sight of a large pod of Common Dolphins coming towards the ship and playing at the stern. This brought a lot of people out on deck in the hopes we would see more.

Sure enough, every ten minutes or so for the next half hour we saw small pods of Common Dolphins swim past or towards the ship. By this time we had a sea state of 0, perfect for seeing any form of cetacean, coloured black against the grey sea. However, the best part of my day was still yet to come. At 5.25pm I saw three black shapes a way beyond the bow of the ship, about half way out to the horizon on the starboard side of the ship. As we drew nearer I saw they were three very large whales swimming in the opposite direction to the ship. Excellent my first whale sighting in two weeks!! At first I couldn’t identify what specie of whale it was, but from photo identification I believe they were Fin Whales!


One of the 3 whales sighted

After my excitement of seeing these whales I was hoping we would be able to see a lot more as we travelled over the continental shelf and into the pelagic zone, an area that extends down to 4000m. I wasn’t wrong. Between 5.30pm and 7.40pm we saw seven separate sightings of Common Dolphins in pods ranging in size from 2 – 20 individuals. In one of the last sightings we saw a very unusual scene of 2 very small Common Dolphins swimming slowly on their own alongside the ship but also one dolphin on its own tail flapping the water, something I thought was rather odd for a dolphin to be doing, especially on its own.

All in all, today has been an absolutely fantastic day for sightings and goes down in my book as one of the best I’ve had since being a wildlife officer. The conditions couldn’t of been better and at last within these two weeks I finally managed to see some whales! What a great end to a fabulous two weeks on board the Pont Aven.

Katrina – Wildlife Officer


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