Posted by: orcaweb | July 31, 2013

ORCA’s!! Fin Whales!! Cuvier’s!! Pilots!! and many dolphins!!

Hi it’s Katrina & Ana reporting form the Cap Finistere for our 2nd week on board!

Portsmouth – Bilbao (25/07/2013)


Striped Dolphins

The week started off fairly quiet in comparison to last week. When we awoke this morning we found ourselves over the deep pelagic zone (an area that extends down to 4000m). It wasn’t long after we arrived on deck that we had our first sighting. It was a small pod of Common Dolphins, consisting of 6 individuals which were breaching as they came into the bow of the ship. Our next sighting didn’t occur until an hour and a half later when we had a small pod of Striped Dolphins jumping along the side of the ship giving us a great view of the grey stripe down their side.  By the time we had our next sighting (almost 2hrs later) we had a good crowd up on deck keen to see some of the cetaceans within this area. The sighting we had was of 2 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales swimming not too far from the ship. It gave the passengers a great view of these pale headed, brown bodied whales. A short time later there was a shout of a whale. We managed to see it very quickly blow before it dived and disappeared out of view. The blow was low and bushy indicating it might possibly have been a beaked whale, but we cannot say for sure. The morning watch ended with us sighting 3 pods of dolphins seen out towards the horizon, we couldn’t make out the species, but there was a lot of splashing suggesting it was a very large pod!

The evening watch started off with 2 small pods of Common Dolphins attracted to the bow of the ship, looking very athletic and sleek as they jumped between the waves. A short time later and our final sighting of the evening was that of a 2 possibly 3 blows, out by the horizon. They were very characteristic of Fin Whale blows and being seen that far out made it probable that they were from Fin Whales.

Portsmouth – Santander (27/07/2013)


Pilot Whale

Oh wow! What a morning!! We hadn’t even made it outside before we saw a large pod of Pilot Whales surfacing right beside the ship! The pod consisted of around 15 individuals and a couple a lot smaller than the others suggesting they were calves.It was a beautiful scene; sunrise, mirror calm sea and these sleek black beauties swimming past. It was the perfect start! This was followed shortly after by a pod of around 10 Common Dolphins happily breaching and swimming past the ship in the opposite direction. The next sighting, only some 5mins after the Common Dolphins, was probably the best Ana and I have ever had! We had a lovely gentleman out on deck with us, he’d just missed the pilot whales but was eager to spot another cetacean. He didn’t have to wait long, as we were filling in the data sheet he shouted there was something large breaching halfway out towards the horizon and he thought it might be an ORCA (aka Killer Whale). Ana and I a little sceptical raised our binoculars as the animal breached again. We were both shocked and amazed to see it was in fact an ORCA, it was absolutely stunning to watch!! It breached 3 times giving us an amazing view of its white eye patch, very tall dorsal fin and its very white underbelly. We soon noticed that it wasn’t alone and there were in fact 7 individuals!! all swimming about very casually in the mirror calm sea! It truly was a very special moment and a most spectacular sight!


Orca breaching!!

 After the thrill of the ORCA’s we were really thinking it was going to be an amazing day in terms of sightings. The rest of the morning didn’t disappoint, we had 11 more sightings of Common Dolphins ranging in size from 1 – over 300 individuals! This gave the early morning risers a great chance to see these beautiful animals. We also saw 2 pods of Striped Dolphins, consisting of 12 & 20 individuals respectively, in the later part of the morning.  Then just before we went in to do our talk we were greeted by the sight of 5 or 6 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales surfacing by the ship and swimming slowly away. It was a pod made up of both males (with pale, scarred backs) and females, but on a couple of them we were able to identify their very pale faces. It was lovely to see such a large pod as previously we have only ever seen them in pairs. 


Spot the Cuvier’s!


Rorqual blow

The afternoon was pretty quiet in comparison to the morning and to last week. Over the space of 2 hours we saw 3 blows from 3 separate whales. The first we saw situated just before the horizon, it was an extremely tall blow and took a while to dissipate giving the characteristics that it may have been a possible Fin Whale. The next was seen about 20mins later, and it was situated just over half way to the horizon. Using the camera we managed to see a large grey back although we saw no fin and the blow was slightly smaller and bushier that what we had seen previously, but it was definitely a large Rorqual Whale. This was followed by another large Rorqual blow about an hour later. Our final sighting of the day consisted of a pod of around 30 Striped Dolphins a little way from the ship. However, using the binoculars we were able to identify the distinct swimming pattern of the striped dolphin by the way they back flip and belly flop the water creating big splashes when they enter. We also had a few stowaways that came up to the ship giving us a great view of their light grey blaze along their side.

Santander – Portsmouth (28/07/2013)

This morning we woke up in the middle of a large thunderstorm. It was very impressive up on deck watching the lightning forks across the sky against the jet black clouds. However, these weren’t the best conditions for spotting the whales and dolphins because it didn’t appear light enough to see the sea until around 6.15, and when it was we noticed we had a sea state of 4 and a 2m swell. It was a quiet morning but after we had passed the storm we managed to see 3 pods of Common Dolphins consisting of 3, 5 and 10 individuals respectively. Although we have seen these animals a lot over the past few months they never get boring, it’s always exciting to see these sleek, very streamlined animals jump and play in the water.

Roscoff – Bilbao (29/07/2013)

What a difference today has been from last week! No more calm seas! With a sea state of 4, a swell of 2-3m and a gusty wind, sightings became difficult. However, we did manage to see a few pods of Common Dolphins (one included a very small calf)


Spot the calf!

 and a couple of dolphins bounding up to the bow ship on their own. Despite the weather conditions we had a good crowd on deck and we were pleased we had a few good sightings of these beautiful animals that put on a very good show. We also managed to see many sunfish enjoying the sunshine, whilst tapping their fins on the surface of the water. They’re very odd, but slightly cute looking fish.

Bilbao – Portsmouth (30/07/2013)

We hadn’t even gone up on deck before we had our first sighting today. It occurred whilst we were giving the talk. It was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale breaching!! It was less than half way out to the horizon so it was easy to see the almighty splash it created when it re-entered the water. Once out on deck, we were greeted by a sea state of 1, and a swell of 1m. We didn’t have to wait long before we saw another whale breaching in front of the ship. Although we didn’t see its body clearly it was most likely a probable Cuvier’s Beaked Whale again. Half an hour later we saw some very large blows quite a way from the front of the ship. The blows were very tall and took a few seconds to dissipate. After a few minutes we were close enough to them that we were able to see the blow then very long black bodies with very small dorsal fins at the back. This confirmed our thoughts that they were Fin Whales, 4 of them in total. Image

They were blowing and swimming along quite happily for some time after we passed them, we could still see the blows behind the ship out towards the horizon. Whilst watching the fin whales right in front of us, a lady beside me shouted to look down. Literally a couple of metres from the ship a whale with a pale head and what seemed like a very scarred orange body came up from under the ship and quickly dived. We were able to see much of its body and tail as it disappeared from view. We are pretty sure it was another Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, but with it happening very quickly we’re not 100% sure.  Not even 10 minutes had passed and we got another sighting of a pair of Fin Whales, this time much closer to the ship than the last 4 giving us an even better view of their long backs and very tall blows!


Fin Whale

 All went quiet for half an hour, then Ana and I both thought we saw a pale head within the water right by the ship, and sure enough we had seen the head of another Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. It surfaced right beside the ship giving us a great view of its very brown body, covered in scars, and its very pale squashed face.


Cuvier’s blow


Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

We were hoping this was a great start to a great afternoon. However, we didn’t have any more sightings for the 3 extra hours we were out on deck.


Common Dolphins

We returned back on deck at 6pm in the hope we would see some dolphins as we started to go around the coast of Brittany. With a sea state of 4 and a swell of 2 metres, it made sighting the animals a little more tricky. However, we managed to spot 9 pods of Common Dolphins consisting of 1-15 individuals. All the pods had individual dolphins breaching and they were all attracted to the ship, giving us some great shots of them from above as they jumped into the waves looking like torpedoes creating minimal amounts of splashing. Aswel as the dolphins we had numerous sightings of very large sunfish, just beneath the surface of the water very close to the ship.

All in all it’s been a fantastic week aboard the Cap Finistere. In total we have had sightings of 15 Pilot Whales, 12 Fin Whales (including the blows), 11 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales, 7 ORCA’s and numerous Common and Striped Dolphins. With rumours there is a Blue Whale in the bay who knows what they will see next week!

Stay tuned

Ana & Katrina (WOs Cap Finistere)


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