Posted by: orcaweb | August 28, 2013

Pilots, Fins, Common and Striped Dolphins and a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

Portsmouth – Bilbao 22/8/2013

When we reached deck we found ourselves just crossing the continental shelf in the north of the bay. We had a good sea state of 2 with less than a 1m swell. After half an hour of being out on deck we had our first sighting of dolphins. They were leaping through the waves a fair distance from the ship. Thanks to it being cloudy we were able to make out their very dark bodies against the sea.  Unfortunately they were too far away for us to identify the species. This was followed soon after by three separate pods of Common Dolphins containing around 15-20 individuals each. A half hour later and we had an excellent sighting of 2 Fin Whales very close to the ship; they gave us a great view of their sleek dark grey backs as they moved away from the ship. Due to the size of them we thought it might be a mother and calf but cannot say for sure.

We then had a sighting of 2 dolphins passing the bow of the ship, which was followed very quickly by a large blow near the horizon. Due to the size and nature of it we think it was that of a Fin Whale. Next a boy on deck with us spotted a dark object on the sea moving away, we saw it was brown in colour with white scarring on its back, making us conclude it was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, probably male. Almost 40 minutes later we had a small pod of 5 Striped Dolphins doing some great acrobatics close to the ship, it gave us some great views of their tail lobbing and back flips creating some big splashes when they landed. Following this we had another 6 blows towards the horizon and another small group of unidentified dolphins.


                                               Pod of Striped Dolphins

The afternoon and evening shift was quiet in comparison to many weeks previously. The sea state had changed to a 4 and the swell had increased to 2metres. It started off with two large rorqual blows around half way out towards the horizon. This was followed soon after by 2 Fin whales blowing regularly and swimming not far from the ship.


                                                   Fin Whale blow

This was preceded by another two whales blowing in front of the ship. We then had a mixed pod of Common and Striped dolphins consisting of around 10 individuals. The evening rounded off with another whale blow, some dolphins splashing in the distance (thought to be Striped) and a pod of 6 Striped dolphins attracted to the bow of the ship and playing in the wake at the side doing many acrobatics.


Portsmouth – Santander 24/8/2013

We were crossing the northern continental shelf this morning an area that is normally quite busy with sightings. Unfortunately though we had a while to wait before we had our first, but it was worth it. It consisted of two Pilot Whales one of which was a calf swimming straight at the ship. They seemed to be on their own and surfaced only when very close to the ship. The young calf looked very sweet. This was followed a short time later by a pod of what looked like Common Dolphins however, on closer inspection of a gentleman’s photo they were actually a mixed pod of both Striped and Common dolphins. We didn’t have another sighting for around an hour, then we had three pods of dolphins two were unidentified but the third was a pod of Common dolphins breaching quite far away from the ship.

The afternoon watch was ok in terms of large rorqual sightings. We had four in total over the space of 3hrs. One was just a blow quite a distance away but the other three sightings enabled us to see the large backs of the animals and their very distinctive blows. The day ended with a sighting of what appeared to be a lost lone breaching near to the front of the ship.


Santander – Portsmouth 25/8/2013

Today sea conditions weren’t great, we only had a sea state of 3 but there was quite a large swell. We were out on deck at 6.30am just as we were approaching Brittany; this is a great area to spot cetaceans such as Bottlenose dolphins, and Harbour porpoises. Unfortunately for nearly 2hrs we had no sightings then just as we were about to go inside we spotted splashing up ahead of the ship, this turned out to be a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, it was a great sight as they came straight up to the bow of the ship breaching as they came in, gave us a great view of their uniformly grey bodies and large dorsal fins. Definitely worth the 2hr wait! 


        Mother and calf Bottlenose Dolphins


Roscoff – Bilbao 26/8/2013


Common Dolphin

We had perfect conditions on deck for spotting cetaceans, with a sea state of 2 and a swell of 1m. With very few white caps it was easy to spot any splashes or movement in the water created by the cetaceans. We didn’t have to wait very long for our first sighting. It was a set of many splashes not far from the ship. Unfortunately though no animal actually surfaced properly for us to make out what they were, but we came to the conclusion it was either a large school of tuna or a pod of dolphins feeding. We had another 2 sightings like this but much smaller groups this time and with the size of the splash and wake created by them we were more certain it was likely to of been dolphins. Our first confirmed sighting was that of a Common Dolphin which was breaching as it came in towards the ship. It gave us a very clear view of the diamond shaped back and how streamlined these graceful animals are. Over the next half hour we had another two sightings of Common Dolphins. One of the pods came right up to the ship, a mother and a calf at the bow of the ship and another that was particularly playful jumping in and out of the stern waves.  It then all went very quiet for 2 whole hours. We were nearing the continental shelf at the time when we had our next sighting it was a large pod of Bottlenose Dolphins split into two smaller groups. They were breaching and giving us great views of them as they swam past in the setting sun. It was a truly beautiful scene. 


                                           Bottlenose Dolphins


Bilbao – Portsmouth 27/8/2013

It has been an extremely quiet day compared to the past few weeks. Soon after we arrived on deck we were greeted by a gentleman who used to be a WO for MarineLife. He told us that he saw two Cuvier’s Beaked Whales, a Fin whale and a blow whilst we were giving our talk. He must have been a good luck charm because whilst we were talking to him we had two blows consecutively one straight after the other quite close to the ship. Unfortunately the cetacean didn’t surface for us to get a good look and identify the species. Almost 3/4 hr later we had another blow about half way to the horizon, we speculated it was a Fin whale, but again the animal didn’t surface properly for us to get a good look. It was then over an hour later before we had our next sighting which consisted of around 10 dolphins made up of both Common and Striped individuals playing in the wake of the ship, doing some beautiful acrobatics. By this time the sea state was getting worse and the swell a little bigger so it was getting harder to spot cetaceans and with the gusting wind the chance of seeing a blow was diminishing. However, soon after our dolphin sighting we had a glimpse of a large black dorsal fin in amongst the waves, we think this was the dorsal fin of a Pilot Whale, and sure enough a little later we had a couple of Pilot whales surface near to the ship giving us a great view of their sleek black backs and ‘smurf’s hat’ shaped dorsal fin.  


                                                Pair of Pilot Whales

Around 15minutes after seeing the Pilot whales we spotted some splashing and confirmed this as dolphins who seemed to be feeding in that one area. Unfortunately our next sighting didn’t occur until 2hrs later, which consisted of two unidentified dolphins breaching towards the ship, they only breached once so we didn’t have chance to identify them to species. Our final sighting of the day and week was a couple of Common dolphins made up of a mother and calf who breached at the bow of the ship before swimming down the side of the ship. It was a very small calf giving us an indication that it was particularly young.


All in all it’s been a quiet but very enjoyable week aboard the Cap Finistere.



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