Posted by: orcaweb | October 2, 2013

Many Dolphins, Fin Whales and Beaked Whales on the final trip of the season

So here we are, Imogen and Lucy for the final 10 days on board the Cap Finistere and what a wonderful time it has been!

Thursday 11th July Portsmouth – Bilbao

Today started a little on the slow side, with 1 distant whale blow spotted. It was over an hour before the next sighting appeared; a Striped Dolphin popping up right next to the ship, then quickly heading to the back of the ship to play in the wake. We could also see a group of dolphins further out, but weren’t able to get a positive ID on them as they only broke the water slightly. Not long after this 3 Common Dolphins also decided to make an appearance, playing in the wake. 10 minutes passed when we spotted a large whale blow alongside the ship, we could then see a large expanse of back breaking the water and were able to identify it as being a Fin Whale.

Leaping Striped Dolphin

After 40 quiet minutes, Lucy suddenly became very excited clapping and shouting as she spotted a group of 3 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales blowing and swimming parallel to and quite close to the ship. One of these was very pale and scratched looking, as you can see in the photo below, which can therefore be identified as a male. It was really lovely that everyone on deck got a great view of these rare animals!

Cuvier's Beaked Whales

Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

Not long after this we saw 2 Fin Whales blowing and swimming along and shortly before we arrived in Bilbao an Ocean Sunfish drifted past the ship and showed off by jumping fully out of the water! Something we hadn’t seen before, but had heard a lot about. This morning has been amazing in that we were joined by many passengers who had not seen Whales or Dolphins in the wild before, and today they got to see both!

Bilbao – Portsmouth

After such an eventful morning, we were hopeful of a wildlife filled return journey, and we were not disappointed. Unfortunately the weather had a changed a little, so when we spotted our first 2 whale blows they were dispersed quickly by the strong wind. However, one of the blows was much smaller than the other and we think it most likely that it was a mother and calf. It wasn’t long before we got another lovely surprise, a whale suddenly surfacing very close to the ship and quickly swimming away from us. We only got a quick glimpse, but judging by the size and colour it definitely a species of Beaked Whale, and could have even been one of the super rare ones – we will never know! Only a few minutes later, we spotted a blow ahead of the ship. It then appeared again slightly behind us, but close enough to get a nice view of the classic surfacing technique of the Fin Whale. After such a busy start, the watch then quietened down, after an hours wait we spotted an Ocean Sunfish and another large whale blow. Shortly before sunset we were treated to another lovely view of a Fin Whale swimming along and blowing.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

Friday 13th September  Bilbao – Portsmouth

This morning’s watch took place in the English Channel, which was filled with patches of mist. Despite this we saw lots of bird life, including Gannets diving into the sea to feed. Just as the watch was about to end we spotted a HUGE splash – which appeared again, with the full body of a whale coming completely out of the water! It was obvious that it was a Minke Whale as we could even see clearly the white band markings on its pectoral fins. It continued to breach out of the water, mostly just the front half of its body. It was spectacular to see such an amazing display of this incredible lunge feeding behaviour!

Saturday 14th September Portsmouth – Santander

We were up bright and early for the morning watch but were very confused why it was still dark outside – we even wondered if we had accidentally got up an hour too early. On arriving on deck we discovered fog and heavy rain were obscuring the light from the rising sun. The fog eventually began to clear enough for us to see 2 Common Dolphins jumping quickly close to the ship – so fast only Lucy got a proper view! 40 minutes later a much larger pod of Common Dolphins arrived, giving the hardy souls on deck a lovely sight.

Common Dolphin leaping through the waves

Common Dolphin leaping through the waves

This afternoon we were greeted by rain, strong winds and lots of sea spray. Our spirits were lifted by a pod of 10 Striped Dolphins attracted to the ship, jumping out in sync and giving the delighted passengers a spectacular view. 20 minutes later we spotted a HUGE splash right near the horizon, and a large whale jumping fully out of the water lung feeding! We could also see some whale blows in the same area – but unfortunately this was all too far away to identify. It was then Imogen’s turn to get really excited, jumping up and down as she spotted a pale shape surfacing only 30 meters from the ship. This was revealed to be the first of a group of 3 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales – surfacing in classic beaked whale style, sticking its nose out the water.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale

Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

5 minutes later an interesting bird appeared, and while we were busy looking at it, most of us just missed seeing a whale breaching very close to the ship. It left a huge light patch in the water from which we could see the animal was very large! A few passengers got to see the whole thing and were understandably very excited – while we were very envious. However, we did get to see it blow as it surfaced much further away. Only 9 minutes later we spotted another blow and following this a pod of 6 Common Dolphins swam very close to the ship, making many passengers ‘oooh’ and ‘ahhh’ over how spectacular they looked  as they jumped out of the water. Shortly before arriving in Santander, we were treated to a spectacular view of an Ocean Sunfish very close to the ships wake. An action packed day, despite the foul weather!

Ocean Sunfish

Ocean Sunfish

Sunday 15th September Santander – Portsmouth

This morning’s watch found us in the close to the Brittany coastline, where we were hoping to see lots of dolphins. We were not disappointed. We first saw 2 Common Dolphins approaching the ship and then an hour later a large pod started to appear – a pod of 41 Common Dolphins attracted to the ship and giving everyone a lovely view. The watch ended with a group of dolphins feeding a little way from the ship. Only the dorsal fins were above the water, so we couldn’t get a positive ID on the species.

Monday 16th September Portsmouth – Bilbao

Today’s deck watch started in the coastal waters near the Brittany coast and it wasn’t long before the first Common Dolphins made an appearance. We continued to see Common Dolphins throughout the evening, seeing a total of 35.

Thursday 19th August Portsmouth – Bilbao

This morning’s watch started with a mixed pod of 5 Common and Striped Dolphins attracted to the ship and playing in the wake behind, leaping out of the water very acrobatically.

Striped Dolphins

Striped Dolphins

At 9am we spotted our first of today’s many whale blows. Only a few minutes later we spotted more, which were close enough for us to see the large backs of 2 Fin whales breaking the water. The final sighting of the watch was another whale blow an hour before we arrived into Bilbao.

Bilbao – Portsmouth

After having such a successful morning we were very hopeful for the return journey across the bay this afternoon – we were not disappointed! Immediately after getting out on deck the first whale blow was spotted and began the start of a very busy and exciting few minutes. With a total of 3 blows and 1 Ocean Sunfish putting in an appearance, everyone couldn’t decide which way to look first! A few minutes later another blow was spotted, again shortly followed by an Ocean Sunfish drifting past the ship. Over the next few hours we spotted a further 7 whale blows.

Saturday 21st September Portsmouth – Santander

The sea state this morning was unbelievably good, with the sea so flat we could see everything that moved and quite far down into the water. It wasn’t long before the first sighting came along; a distant small pod of dolphins swimming parallel to us. Only the dorsal fins were showing so we were not able to identify the species. 30 minutes later we saw a pair of dolphins, again quite far away and very subdued in behaviour, but this time we got a close enough look at the side of one to see it had a pattern – meaning it was either a Striped or Common Dolphin. We then had our first pod of dolphins to approach very close to the ship – a pod of 4 Common Dolphins passing close in front of the bow. Shortly afterwards we spotted a group of Gannets circling the water and underneath a pod of 4 dolphins feeding. One of them jumped out, allowing us to identify it as a Common Dolphin.

Common Dolphin

Common Dolphin

Over an hour then passed, until we were rewarded with the sight of another distant dolphin swimming along. By this time the sky was quite overcast, making the view unclear, but judging by the possible colouration and the bulky size we think it may have been a Bottlenose Dolphin. We then had a pod of 13 dolphins swimming parallel to the ship – again very large in body size and most probably Bottlenose Dolphins.

After a successful morning we were very optimistic about this afternoon’s watch, particularly as we had now passed over the continental shelf and were in the deeper waters of the bay. However, despite our best efforts and a sunny packed deck not a single cetacean, fish or even many birds put in an appearance! This just goes to show the perils of wildlife watching.

Sunday 22nd September  Santander- Portsmouth

This morning found us in the incredibly calm and very flat English Channel. We were very hopeful to see lots of the coastal water species found around the UK. It wasn’t long before Imogen spotted a shape surfacing very briefly twice quite distant from the ship. Judging by the rapid movement and the shape of the animal it was a Minke Whale. With barely a ripple in the ocean, 2 Harbour Porpoises were easily spotted slowly swimming together away from the ship. Everyone got a lovely clear view of the pair rolling gently through the water, their equilateral triangle dorsal fins looking very distinctive. After seeing this, several passengers remarked that it looked very similar to something they had seen shortly before we arrived on deck. So there had been plenty of Harbour Porpoises around today! We then started to travel through patches of very thick fog, at times reducing the visibility to an arm’s length away from the ship! The fog did lift enough at one point to get a lovely view of 2 Bottlenose Dolphins swimming parallel to the ship.

It’s been a wonderful last week on board the Cap Finistere, with some fantastic sightings! However, we have noticed that sightings have started to decrease slightly – which is to be expected as we end the season as the migratory species who have come into the Bay of Biscay to feed move back out of the area.

It’s been an absolutely fantastic season, and we hope that any readers who joined us out on deck have enjoyed it as much as we have. On behalf of all the Wildlife Officers we’d like to take the opportunity to thank Brittany Ferries for their support, ORCA for allowing us to do this amazing job and of course every passenger who has supported us – whether by helping us to spot animals up on deck, donating any spare change, or by supporting ORCA by becoming a member. You have really helped make a difference and are helping the Wildlife Officer programme to resume next year.

A goodbye from Imogen & Lucy

A goodbye from Imogen & Lucy

Ourselves and fellow Wildlife Officer Chantel, were also Wildlife Officers on the final I-Spy trip of the season, on board the Pont Aven with ORCA’s patron Chris Packham. This was one of the most successful trips ever across the Bay of Biscay, with so many fantastic sightings. To find out more about the incredible things we saw, check out the trip report via the ORCA website.

Wildlife Officers Chantel, Imogen & Lucy with ORCA patron Chris Packham

Wildlife Officers Chantel, Imogen & Lucy with ORCA patron Chris Packham



  1. Hi !
    I travelled on the Santander ferry to Portsmouth on around 24th July 2013. I happened to wake at around 5 a.m ( ship’s time ) the following morning. I went up on deck and I believe I saw a single Orca whale ( dolphin) with its distinctive fin and clear black and white markings . Exciting !
    Has anyone else reported a sighting please? I can not find any reports of one in your blog.
    Best wishes
    Menna Kasicka

  2. […] Many Dolphins, Fin Whales And Beaked Whales On The Final Trip Of The Season October 2nd, 2013 — “So here we are, Imogen and Lucy for the final 10 days on board the Cap Finistere and what a wonderful time it has been! Thursday 11th July Portsmouth Bilbao Today started a little on the slow side, with 1 distant whale blow spotted. It was over an hour before the next sighting appeared; […]” […]

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