Posted by: orcaweb | August 9, 2013

Fin Whales, Risso’s Dolphin and a super pod of Common Dolphins!

Hello! Lucy and Ana here reporting from the Cap Finistere.

Portsmouth – Bilbao (31/7/13 – 1/8/13)

The early morning deck watch got off to a great start with a pod of 6 Long-Finned Pilot Whales swimming in the opposite direction to the ship, about halfway to the horizon. Only 20 minutes later did we get our second sighting of the day, a large school of breaching yellowfin tuna! And 10 minutes after this we were greeted by a pod of Striped Dolphin. The pod, consisting of around 25 individuals, approached the boat and the growing numbers of passengers on deck with us were treated to some impressive acrobatics by the dolphins right beside the ship.

Striped Dolphin

Striped Dolphin


All was quiet for about an hour and then the captain started waving at us from the bridge, signalling us to go to the other side of the ship. We all excitedly scurried to the other side and were greeted with 3 large whale blows just over halfway to the horizon! Judging by the thick, high, distinctive blows, these were made by a large species of Rorqual Whale. The blows continued for about 10 minutes and once they had disappeared we all happily wandered back to the other side of the ship just in time to see a pod of 6 Striped Dolphins. As the dolphins disappeared from sight 2 whale blows appeared on the horizon, quickly followed by 2 more blows much closer to the ship. We were able to identify these second 2 blows as Fin Whales, due to the tall blow, which took a long time to dissipate and the long rolling of the whales back before the dorsal fin was visible.
Fin Whale

Fin Whale


Everyone on deck was thrilled with these sightings and over the last couple of hours we saw a further 3 Fin Whales, a sunfish and a Beaked Whale, which surfaced just to the rear of the ship, but unfortunately we did not get a good view of its’ head so were unable to determine the species.

Bilbao – Portsmouth (1/8/13 – 2/8/13)

After our presentation and following the success of the morning we had quite a crowd on deck with us and no-one was disappointed. We spotted our first large whale blow within 5 minutes and over the next 2 hours we saw 11 large Rorqual Whale blows and 6 Fin Whales. At one stage there were blows from 4 individual large Rorqual Whales towards the horizon, whilst a pod of 8 Striped Dolphins were leaping out of the water towards the ship. Everyone on deck had a big grin on their face and all the ‘ooooo’s’ and ‘ahhhhh’s’ reminded us of the noises made by people whilst enjoying a really good fireworks display; it was fantastic!

Fin Whale blows

Fin Whale blows


Another great sight was a large Fin Whale surfacing not too far from the side of the ship producing a big blow, which was quickly followed by a much smaller blow directly beside it. This continued for several minutes and we think that this could possibly be an adult and a juvenile swimming together. The final sighting of the day came from a large flat area of water next to the ship. This was obviously a ‘footprint’ left in the water by a large animal that had recently surfaced and with that a Fin Whale appeared towards the rear of the ship, majestically and elegantly swimming towards the horizon. We watched it in silence until it was out of sight.
Beautiful Fin Whale

Beautiful Fin Whale


The following morning we woke to find ourselves entering the English Channel and during our deck watch we saw 2 large sunfish, basking in the morning sun on the water’s surface next to the ship.
Sunfish basking in the morning sun

Sunfish basking in the morning sun

Portsmouth – Santander (2/8/13 – 3/8/13)

Our morning deck watch started as we were travelling over the continental shelf. It was quiet for the first hour, but as we started to travel into deeper waters, over the continental slope, our sightings became very frequent. Within 2 hours we saw 6 pods of Common Dolphins, 2 of the pods contained calves. Shortly after this 2 Long-Finned Pilot Whales surfaced at the front of the ship and as everyone on deck watched them gently swimming away from the ship a pod of 25 Striped Dolphins appeared. The dolphins were spinning and twisting in the air, giving us a great show. Within 5 minutes of the dolphins disappearing under the ship 3 Long-Finned Pilot Whales surfaced right next to us. This was a beautiful sighting, their large black bodies glistening in the morning sun. We saw 2 more pods of Striped Dolphins, consisting of 20 and 12 individuals respectively, before we went inside for our morning presentation.

Long-Finned Pilot Whale

Long-Finned Pilot Whale


The afternoon deck watch commenced as we were entering the submarine canyons, reaching depths of 2000 meters. We waited an hour until our first sighting, which was a Fin Whale towards the rear of the ship and a few minutes later we spotted a large blow on the horizon. Before reaching Santander we had a very exciting sighting. About 50 meters from the ship 2 Beaked Whales surfaced, swimming alongside us, but in the opposite direction, for a short time before diving. These could have been Cuvier’s Beaked Whales, but unfortunately we didn’t get a very clear view of them.
Two Beaked Whales!

Two Beaked Whales!

Santander – Portsmouth (3/8/13 – 4/8/13)

This morning we were up on deck at 05:30 and enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, which was made even better by a pod of Common Dolphins swimming towards the boat. Over the next few hours we saw 4 more pods of Common Dolphins, a lovely end to our morning deck watch.

Portsmouth – Bilbao (4/8/13 – 6/8/13)

When we arrived on deck the sea state was 4-5 and the swell 3 meters, which made it quite difficult to spot any cetaceans. However, over the next 4 hours we saw 7 pods of Common Dolphins, some including calves, 2 schools of breaching yellowfin tuna and a shark, which unfortunately we were unable to identify. So despite the conditions we had a pretty good deck watch.

Bilbao – Portsmouth (6/8/31 – 7/8/13)

What an amazing end to the week! Our deck watch started over the pelagic waters (a maximum depth of 4000 meters) and it took an hour for our first sighting, a large Rorqual Whale blow towards the horizon. During the next 30 minutes we saw a further 2 large blows out towards the horizon and as everyone on deck was admiring these something wonderful happened……….2 large Fin Whales surfaced right in front of us! They were only 20 meters from the side of the ship, swimming away from us and surfaced 6 times before they disappeared from sight, providing everyone with a great view of such magnificent creatures.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale


It was almost 2 hours before our next sighting, a pod of very acrobatic Striped Dolphins. Then 2 Fin Whales surfaced halfway to the horizon. Both were swimming in the same direction as the ship was travelling, so they remained in sight for almost 5 whole minutes!
Acrobatic Striped Dolphin!

Acrobatic Striped Dolphin!


There was another hour with no sightings, but the following 4 hours proved very productive indeed. We saw 5 pods of Common Dolphins, consisting of between 12-25 individuals and 2 pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, each containing 30 individuals. However, it had begun to rain and the deck had become almost empty of passengers.
Bottlenose Dolphin

Bottlenose Dolphin


Then we spotted a particularly large dorsal fin moving in and out of the water. On closer inspection we noticed white scarring across the animals back and close to the dorsal fin, identifying it as a Risso’s Dolphin. Both Ana and I were very excited at this as neither of us had seen a Risso’s Dolphin before and as we were admiring this animal a pod of 20 Common Dolphins approached the ship.
Dorsal fin of a Risso's Dolphin!

Dorsal fin of a Risso’s Dolphin!


A few minutes later we were treated to a spectacular sight. Ahead of the ship we noticed some splashes and a few Common Dolphins elegantly leaped out of the water towards us, but behind them we noticed even more splashes and within seconds the whole ship was surrounded by Common Dolphins! It was a super pod of over 300 individuals including many calves, everywhere you looked there were dolphins jumping out of the water and playing in the waves next to the ship. Within minutes the deck was full of passengers, despite the rain, many leaving their dinners to come and experience this impressive sight, which lasted for 15 minutes!
Leaping Common Dolphins

Leaping Common Dolphins


We remained on deck until the last light faded and saw a further 2 pods of Common Dolphins. It was a fantastic end to the week and we both went to bed that night with big smiles on our faces.

Lucy and Ana

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