Posted by: orcaweb | June 25, 2013

Dolphins and Minke Whales!

This is Katrina reporting from the Pont Aven.

Portsmouth – Santander (19/06/2013)

Today started off well with a sea state of 3 and a swell of 2m. We were a little behind schedule which meant that we were still over the coastal area before the continental shelf. Even though we kept our eyes peeled we were not able to spot anything in the dawn watch. By the time I had finished the talk and gone back on deck, the sea had turned to a sea state 5 with a 3m swell. These conditions make spotting cetaceans difficult. The continuous rain also meant that visibility wasn’t great sometimes creating fog/rain cloud that sat <500m away. However, despite the bad weather we were in luck in the early afternoon, where we spotted a brown coloured whale only 200-300m away from the ship! All we saw of it was its head and a small blow before it disappeared into the large waves. I couldn’t say for definite what type of whale it was, but from its definite brown colour and medium size would have to say it might’ve been either a Cuvier’s Beaked whale or a Northern Bottlenose Whale. This was immediately followed by the presence of 6 Common Dolphins breaching near to the ship. Unfortunately this was all the sightings for today and I really hoped the weather would improve for tomorrow.

Santander – Plymouth (20/06/2013)

The weather once again did not make cetacean spotting easy today. We had dense fog throughout the day reducing visibility so much it felt as though we were floating on clouds rather than water. Around lunchtime the fog cleared to ~500m, so I ventured out on deck. The chances of seeing anything was greatly reduced compared to a clear day, but with a sea state of 1 I had to give it a go and I’m glad I did.  After waiting out on deck for a couple of hours I was greeted by the sight of a Minke Whale appearing through the fog, it was happily swimming along beside the ship and gave a blow. He stayed in view as we passed, allowing a few passengers to see it before it dived. This unfortunately was the only sighting on the way into Plymouth, but I was really happy to of seen something in the fog.

Plymouth – Santander (23/06/2013 – 24/06/2013)

The weather leaving Plymouth was rough. The chance of seeing anything was remote. However, Monday morning I arrived out on deck to a sea state 2 and a swell of 1-2m. I also arrived to a hello from one of our ORCA surveyors (Paul Burley) who frequents the Bay of Biscay many times throughout the year. He was also joined by Mary Hill who is another expert ORCA surveyor. We had a lovely morning as we went into Santander, with 7 sightings of Common Dolphin ranging in pod sizes from 5-30 individuals. Paul and Mary told me that whilst I was giving my talk I missed 2 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales right beside the ship, typical! All in all with the sun shining it was a lovely morning and made up for the weather we have had the previous few days.

Santander – Portsmouth (24/06/2013 – 25/06/2013)

This afternoon was really dolphin galore! Wow! After the last few trips with very few today certainly made up for it. It started around 4pm around ¾’s of an hour after leaving Santander. Here we encountered around 20 Striped Dolphins breaching out towards the horizon. This was quickly followed by a pod of 4 Common Dolphins coming in towards the bow of the ship. Between then and 6pm we had another 4 sightings of dolphins, 3 of which were striped and the other we couldn’t be sure. After a quick break and back out on deck we encountered another 4 sightings of Common Dolphins varying in size from 2-10 individuals as we headed up towards the northern continental shelf. All in all, it had been a really great day up on deck, with a beautiful sunset to end.

Paul Burley and Mary Hill had a fantastic morning today on deck; they saw half a dozen sightings of Harbour Porpoise appearing approximately every 20mins as we came up the channel near to the French coast. They had a few sightings of lone individuals but also a couple of sightings where the Harbour Porpoises were in pairs. With a couple of dolphin sightings too, reported both by the captain and a couple of passengers, this morning’s trip in the channel turned out to be a pretty successful one.


So that’s all for this week, stay tuned to see if weather conditions and sightings improve!

Katrina (WO Pont Aven)



  1. Will be on the 9th July ferry from Portsmouth to Santander and hope to see some sightings of dolphins and whales if the weather is kind to us!! (hope so as I am not a good sailor !) Mrs Janice Harrison

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