Posted by: orcaweb | July 9, 2013

A cetacean packed final week on the Pont Aven: Sneaky Beakies, Fin Whales, Striped & Common Dolphins, many Gannets and one very large Tuna.

So here we are, my final week on the Pont Aven… and it’s been a lovely one.

Wednesday 3rd July Portsmouth- Santander

This morning’s watch was very damp, with lots of sea spray and a less than ideal sea state. Visibility varied greatly as we travelled in and out of patches of fog. Before we reached the continental shelf, we saw three individual Ocean Sun Fish travelling past close to the ship. The first cetaceans appeared just before eight o’clock – two Common Dolphins leaping acrobatically in sync out of the water towards the ship, delighting the passengers that saw them. Over the next forty minutes small pods of Common Dolphins continued to approach the ships, with one or two Striped Dolphins joining them. The watch ended on a high, with a large blow seen, followed by a large expanse of back quite far from the ship – a beautiful Fin Whale!

After such an exciting morning, we were hopeful of a sighting filled afternoon… but despite many interested passengers joining me on deck and keeping their eyes peeled, no cetaceans were sighted. We did see many juvenile gannets circling the water and diving to catch fish.

Thursday 4th July Santander- Plymouth

Today the first sighting was a pod of 8 Common Dolphins, followed an hour later by another pod of 15. At midday two individual dolphins were spotted jumping out of the water quite close to the ship from the window as we were having our lunch. Unfortunately the afternoon was very quiet with no cetacean sightings. Shortly before arriving in Plymouth we did see a large flock of gannets circling the water and plummeting down into it to catch fish.

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Some Common Dolphins approaching the ship

Sunday 7th July Plymouth – Santander

Leaving Plymouth this afternoon we had an absolutely beautiful sea state with very little swell. I was joined on deck by a lovely group of Dutch and Belgian keen spotters, who told me that they had all ready seen three Harbour Porpoises! It wasn’t long before we spotted another one quite far from the ship. We then spotted some splashes in the distance, which one of the men through might be dolphins, but I was certain was a whale… we then realised we were looking in different places! I got my binoculars up in time to get a really good look at the Minke Whale’s back glistening blue-grey in the sunlight as it slipped below the waves. About half an hour later we saw a group of five Bottlenose Dolphins porpoising, again quite far from the ship. I then had to go do my evening announcement, and on returning was told I missed seeing another group of Bottlenose Dolphins feeding under a large group of Gannets. That was all the sightings today, but there was another stunning sunset to end the day!

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Monday 8th July Plymouth – Santander cont.

This morning’s sea state started out an incredibly beautiful 1, but changed gradually to a state 3. The first sighting appeared an hour after I went up on deck, at first I thought it was a dolphin jumping unusually out of the water, but quickly realised its tail was the wrong shape and it didn’t have an obvious dorsal fin. After some contemplation and discussion we decided it must have been a very large Tuna fish! Ten minutes later I caught a glimpse of something brown slipping under the water, but by the time I looked properly it had gone… perhaps a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale?

After my presentation I arrived back on a packed deck to beautiful warm sunshine and immediately spotted a group of ten dolphins swimming normally and breaching. Unfortunately they were silhouetted against the sun, so it was too difficult to identify the species.

Santander- Portsmouth

Departing a very hot Santander, the weather and sea state were beautiful! It wasn’t long before an eagle eyed young lady shouted ‘Dolphins… no whales!’ Two whales surfaced close to the ship, swimming parallel to us in the opposite direction, surfacing four or five times. From their size and shape we were certain they were a species of Beaked Whales, probably Cuvier’s, but they were an unusual grey colour in the sunlight. However a member of the Dutch/Belgian group managed to get some very good photos with his long lens camera, which showed some brown patches and the shape of the head clearly – confirming that they were Cuvier’s. It was lovely to have such a great sighting of whales close to the ship with so many passengers out on deck who all got a great view!

Not long after this, a large mixed pod of Common and Striped Dolphins could be seen swimming and breaching half way towards the horizon. About forty minutes later a single Striped Dolphin was spotted breaching spectacularly, crashing down with huge splashes several times. We then had a few more small pods of common dolphins approaching the ship and breaching throughout the evening. As the sun began to sink, we had an unusual sighting of what looked the right size and shape to be some sort of cetacean, breaching twice very quickly on the edge of the ships wake. It was a very light brown/white colour but moved so quickly I was completely unable to identify what it was! The light brown colour suggests it may have been a Cuvier’s, but it appeared a little small for one. The evening watch ended with a close group of Striped Dolphins milling around feeding and breaching spectacularly in the dusk light.

It’s been an absolutely wonderful last day as a Wildlife Officer onboard the Pont Aven, with some spectacular sightings. The crew have been absolutely fantastic, very welcoming and a pleasure to work with, and I’m sad to be leaving. However, I’m looking forwards to joining Chantel on the Cap Finistere tomorrow and I’m sure we’ll be reporting lots more amazing sightings from there together!

Imogen (WO Pont Aven)

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