Posted by: orcaweb | April 9, 2014

Cuvier’s Beaked whale: An almost Beluga like male.

Ship: Pont-Aven

Setting off again for Biscay, a wonderful sun and a sea state one, made a fantastic start to the journey. Passengers and I were joined by many pods of very distant, slow moving dolphins. These were so far away making identification very difficult. The birds also joined us with Gannets, Skuas and Black backed gulls.


Distant Dolphins

As we headed north and made our way back and forth across the channel between Roscoff, Cork and Plymouth, the weather turned. Mist, rain and a sea state five gave way to no sightings apart from quite a large number of jellyfish as we approached Plymouth. However one young passenger informs me that there had been a dolphin leaping out of the water on the opposite side of the deck watch.


Plymouth Harbour

The sightings instantly picked up as the sun rose on Biscay, before our early dock in Santander I was up at sunrise and greeted by two separate sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales and many dolphin pods including the unmistakable, elegant Common dolphin. With a sea state 1 and a very low swell, the weather conditions were perfect for spotting. Later that morning after presenting a talk on the whales and dolphins we could see, looking forward to getting back up on deck, I was very surprised to be greeted by thick mist that had encroached so much so, a Sperm whale could have lunged out the water less than 200 metres from the ship and it would have gone un-noticed. It wasn’t until half an hour before reaching the port of Santander that the weather finally lifted to expose a glorious 22⁰C day. For those last few minutes I was joined by many passengers of all ages and nationalities and we were all very lucky to be greeted into Spain by a pod of at least 50 Common dolphins swimming and breaching next to the ship.


Biscay Sunrise

When setting out again, with a new group of passengers joining me on deck, we were treated to the same large pod of Common dolphins. Over the next few hours there were three separate sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales. The last sighting of the day being the most impressive, with three individuals making up this small pod, there were two very dark animals followed by a very large and very white male. This is very common with Cuvier’s, males fight between themselves and becoming heavily scared and as a result, whiter with age. This final sight of the day showed an almost Beluga white colouration, standing out a mile above the darker females.


The Great Skua

With a very choppy Channel as we made our way to Portsmouth, my final port for this trip, passengers and I were delighted at a glimpse of a cetacean. It was very far away and kept disappearing behind a high swell however it was very obviously a large animal, unlike the dolphins I believe it could have only been a Minke whale. With this very brief sighting, I’m hoping it’s only a taste of things to come. Goodbye Pont Aven and thank you to all the fantastic crew and passengers, until next time…


Farewell Pont Aven


Some Interesting questions I have been asked over the last few weeks:

What is the water temperature range at the moment?

11.5 – 12.5⁰C (As of 3rd April)


What speed can dolphins swim, how long can they keep up with the ship?

Dolphins can cruise at about 11 -12.5km/hr. They can reach speeds of 16.5km/hr but this cannot be maintained for too long.


Can new born whales dive as deep as their mothers?

Using the Sperm Whale as an example, where adults can dive over 2000m deep and for as long as 90 minutes. They leave their young closer to the surface, as the calves do not have the same diving capabilities. To reach these depths, Sperm whales store the oxygen they need within their blood stream and muscles, the bigger the animal the more oxygen it can store and therefore the longer it can dive.


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