Posted by: orcaweb | June 19, 2013

Breaching Bottlenose Dolphins, Pilot Whales and a Cuviers Beaked Whale!

Hello, this is Chantel with another week of exciting cetacean spotting from the Cap Finistere!

13/06/2013- Portsmouth- Bilbao

Despite seeing a small pod of Common Dolphins emerge beside the ship as soon as I got up on deck for the sunrise deck watch, and another small pod an hour later swimming by, no other cetaceans were seen during the whole morning as we went through the Bay of Biscay into Bilbao, and it was also non-stop rain and choppy seas, much to many passengers disappointment. However, me and the other passengers did notice a small number of collared and turtle doves flying by, some landing on the ship.


One of the Collared Doves paying a visit to the ship


A Common Dolphin close to the ship!

 Furthermore, one passenger, who was an experienced bird watcher, helped me spot a corys shearwater- a large seabird that is noticeably bigger than the manx shearwaters that I more often see. To top it off, we also noticed a few hummingbird hawk moths flying by too. These are an amazing species of moth that hovers between flowers, drinking nectar like a hummingbird, and they migrate all the way from Northern Africa to the UK and Southern Europe in the summer!

13/06/2013- Bilbao-Portsmouth

As we left Bilbao in the evening, the sea had become noticeably calmer, with perfect conditions for spotting cetaceans! Soon after beginning the deck watch, we spotted a small pod of Common Dolphins. However, a short while later, someone spotted a whale emerging alongside the front of the ship…we watched it travel alongside the ship in the opposite direction to where we were heading, surfacing about four times before it was out of sight! Judging by the area in which we saw it in (close to the canyons near Northern Spain), how passengers described it as a green/brown colour, the way it surfaced, and how angled its blow was, I think it was likely to have been a Cuvier’s Beaked whale, rather than the similar sized Minke Whale.


The Cuviers Beaked Whale!

Later on in the evening, I also noticed a sunfish drifting past the ship and yet another small pod of Common Dolphins.

15/06/2013- Portsmouth-Santander

This morning’s deck watch began just as we were heading into the exciting waters of the Bay of Biscay. As usual, a few small pods of Common Dolphin were seen, along with a sunfish floating alongside the ship. As the day went on, we began to travel into the pelagic waters where me and excited passengers saw yet more pods of Common Dolphin.

 But the best was yet to come when we were close to the coast of Spain, going over the underwater canyons…Me and a few passengers noticed a few large splashes near the ship, and suddenly out popped a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, breaching clear of the water and creating huge splashes! We watched their amazing performance of spectacular breaching for a few minutes before they were out of sight. This was an incredible sight, especially since the sea was beautifully calm too. It was also easy to tell these were part of the pelagic population that can reach nearly four metres in length, rather than the smaller coastal populations-these were big dolphins! I also received reports that passengers on the other side of the ship saw these dolphins too, which means the large group of dolphins I was watching (I managed to count at least ten) wasn’t even the whole pod!


The next couple of days brought us various sightings of different species of seabird (gannet, kittiwake, great skua, great black backed gull, lesser black backed gull, storm petrel, herring gull, shag) and some sunfish sightings but no cetacean sightings. However, the next day was a different story…


A young Gannet

18/06/2013- Bilbao- Portsmouth

The deck watch today began at lunch time as we were heading over the deep underwater canyons and trenches close to Spain, and I was joined by a fair few passengers, despite the blustery winds. From the early afternoon we began to see pod after pod of Common Dolphins. We even saw a pod of Striped Dolphins carrying out really spectacular breaching in the wake of the ship, leaping incredibly high into the air from the water!


A Common Dolphin


At one point, in the midst of a Common Dolphin pod, we noticed a few very large and slow group of dolphins; I then realised it was actually a small pod of Pilot Whales, which are known to associate with other species of dolphin!


Some of the Long-finned Pilot Whales!

More and more Common Dolphin pods were seen throughout the afternoon, and the deck watch ended by a lovely sighting of a large pod of Pilot Whales and a sooty shearwater skimming across the water.

That is all I have to report – this has been yet another fantastic week of cetacean spotting! 

Chantel Napier WO


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