Posted by: orcaweb | July 17, 2013

A busy week across the Bay: Long Finned Pilot Whales, Sneaky Beakies, Minke Whale, Tuna Fish, Sharks, Jelly Fish and many Common Dolphins!

Greetings from the Cap Finistere!

Thursday 11th July Portsmouth – Bilbao

This morning’s deck watch was very well attended, and it didn’t take long for the first dolphins to appear – a pod of three Common Dolphins, followed a few minutes later by three more.


Some Common Dolphins attracted to the ship

A little later we spotted something breaching out of the water, quite far from the ship, which after much debate we decided was a Tuna Fish. We then saw a couple more small pods of Striped and Common Dolphins. Our first large pod appeared around 8am, about 40 Striped Dolphins swimming parallel to the ship in the same direction. They suddenly changed their mind and started swimming back the way they came from, breaching beautifully in sync! A really lovely sight that got many gasps from the passengers. We then spotted a shark under the water close to the ships wake, most likely an Oceanic White Tipped Shark. We continued to see many small pods of Striped and Common Dolphins throughout the morning as well as a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins as we came into Bilbao. A very dolphin filled morning!

Bilbao – Portsmouth

After leaving Bilbao, the sea state was less than ideal, making spotting a bit tricky! We did see one large pod of dolphins agitating the surface of the sea, but only caught flashes of dorsal fins and couldn’t positively identify the species. The only other sighting was of a single Common Dolphin attracted to the ship, and we got a lovely view of its markings as it approached us.

Saturday 13th July Portsmouth – Santander

Today’s deck watch started at the top end of the Bay of Biscay, and it wasn’t long before we spotted a pod of about 20 Common Dolphins that were attracted to the ship. We then had pods of Common Dolphins appearing every hour, coming towards the ship. After several quiet hours, we suddenly hit a busy patch of the Bay, with another pod of Common Dolphins.


Some more Common Dolphins

Just as we were lamenting the lack of whale sightings for this week, we spotted a large group of cetaceans milling around and moving into the distance. It turned out to be two medium sized whales travelling with five Bottlenose Dolphins. Due to the size, shape and colouration we think that it was a pair of Beaked Whales, but couldn’t get a clear enough look for a positive ID. It was amazing seeing these species travelling together! We then saw a group of four Striped Dolphins breaching spectacularly and giving a very acrobatic display of back-flips and jumps. Shortly after this a mixed pod of Common and Striped Dolphins approached us, swimming under the ship and giving everyone a fantastic view of their markings from above. Forty minutes later another mixed pod of Dolphins approached the ship, before we passed back over onto the continental shelf. Here we were met by the sight of two Long-Finned Pilot Whales swimming away and out to sea. A very busy afternoon after a slow start!

Sunday 14th July Santander – Portsmouth

This morning’s watch took place at the top end of the bay, having all ready gone over the continental shelf into the shallow waters. After a quiet hour of beautiful sea punctuated only by some marine litter, we started seeing a series of small splashes caused by fish. Shortly after this we spotted groups of gannets and some dolphins heading towards us. This turned out to be a large group of Common Dolphins, many heading towards the ship while others continued to feed further out. A lovely sight in the morning sun!

After the presentation we went back out on deck to discover a mirror calm English Channel! The water was so still we saw many jelly fish drifting past the ship under the surface; mostly Mauve Jelly Fish and Barrel Jelly Fish.


Barrel Jelly Fish

We then spotted a pod of ten dolphins milling around and feeding, one jumped out of the water and we were able to identify them as Common Dolphins – surprising to see them in the Channel! Not long afterwards an elderly couple suddenly spotted something black against the water, alerting everyone to the sight of a Minke Whale surfacing several times.

ImageMinke Whale

We then saw two more small groups of dolphins, feeding and swimming, but were unable to identify the species as they were distant and silhouetted against the sun. The last sighting of the watch was a Harbour Porpoise swimming and surfacing a few times far from the ship.

Sightings this afternoon have been incredible thanks to the amazing sea state! I doubt we would have seen as much if the sea hadn’t been perfectly calm – a really brilliant afternoon on deck.

Monday 15th July Portsmouth – Bilbao

The afternoon on deck was gloriously sunny and warm, and although the sea state wasn’t ideal we had lots of sightings. We saw a pod of Common Dolphins about every three minutes – it was dolphin crazy! Pod sizes ranged from one to twenty-eight, and we saw a total of 138 dolphins throughout the watch.

We also saw lots of Lesser Black-Backed Gulls and Juvenile Gannets.


Lesser Black Backed Gull

Tuesday 16th July Bilbao – Portsmouth

An early morning departure from Bilbao meant a full day of travelling through the bay. During the presentation a pod of about 50-60 dolphins put on a spectacular show, playing in the wake. Out on deck, it wasn’t long before we had a distant sighting of four dolphins swimming. We then saw a medium cetacean breaching multiple times far out towards the horizon. Following this we sighted two pods of Common Dolphins, one milling around feeding and another attracted to the ship, giving everyone a lovely view.


Common Dolphins approaching the ship

We then spotted a shark very close to the ships wake. Our first Pilot Whales of the day appeared – a pod of three swimming quite quickly parallel to the ship. An hour later another Pilot Whale breached once suddenly very close to the ship! We then spotted another medium cetacean breaching far in the distance, perhaps another Pilot Whale, but too far away to tell! A man then came round to let us know we missed four or five Fin Whale blows on the other side of the ship!

After a long gap, two Common Dolphins approached the ship jumping out in unison looking very lovely in the light. A Scottish family came rushing round the corner to tell us we’d missed a close encounter with a Fin Whale surfacing on the other side of the ship!

It wasn’t long before more Common Dolphins started appearing in pods ranging from 5 – 44, with a total of 130 sighted over the next hour!


Another Common Dolphin!

Just before the end of the watch the lady from the Scottish family came rushing around the corner to say she’d been sat in the bar reading and seen a really large Whale tail fluke coming up out of the water at the back of the ship. She described it as having a fairly deep notch and very pointy. We’re not sure it could have been and it didn’t match any pictures we had with us!

It’s been a lovely day of sightings, but we were disappointed to keep missing so many whale encounters – but it’s brilliant that someone got to see them!

What a wonderful week!

Imogen & Chantel



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