Posted by: orcaweb | May 27, 2014

A Mixed Bay!

Another week of the cetacean season has flown by and has brought sightings galore! Amy and Ella have been on board the Pont Aven since Tuesday, and have had an incredible time. Early in the week the sightings we had were mostly Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis), with some fantastic birds making appearances!


Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) breaching.

Despite a conspicuous absence of any Baleen Whales in the first half of the week, the skies were alive with an abundance of rare and interesting marine bird species. There was, of course, the ever-present Northern Gannets (Morus bassanus) that intermittently joined us on our ferry passage, everywhere between the Irish Sea and the most southerly point of the Bay of Biscay. Gannets are highly specialized divers, capable of reaching a terminal velocity of 65Km/h on impact with the surface of the water when hunting pelagic prey.


Northern Gannet (Morus bassanus).

An exciting sighting came partway through the week, in the form of a Great Shearwater (Puffinus gravis) spotted in the Northern edge of the Bay of Biscay. Like the Northern Gannet, this species also utilizes plunge-diving to catch its prey; often fish or squid.

Off the South-Coast of Ireland, Manx Shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) could be spotted cutting the surface of the waves, returning to the British Isles where 80% of the global population nest. The last great spot of the week came in the form of a Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus) an apex predator that preys not only on fish, but land mammals and other birds alike. All these fantastic bird spots lead to the question… where are all the whales?!


Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus)

Our luck changed on Monday, as we were joined on board by some ORCA members who participate in surveys. We met on deck at 5 o’clock in the morning to get maximum time surveying the deep waters of the Bay of Biscay. With so many pairs of keen eyes scanning the sea the sightings came in thick and fast. Long-Finned Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas) were among the first to be seen at first light. As the morning progressed we witnessed Rorqual blows on both sides of the ship, and very excitingly the second blow resembled that of a Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus), although we can’t be certain! Not too long afterwards we spotted the blow of a Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) off the starboard side.


Pomarine Skua (Stercorarius pomarinus)

After the success of the morning, we had high hopes for the afternoon. As we greeted passengers on board we encouraged passengers to join us on deck and excitedly spread the news of our sightings on the outward crossing. Thirty passengers braved the wind and spatters of rain and the hopes inside us began to deflate. Passengers began asking how long it would be until we saw something, and as the weather worsened we wondered if we would see anything at all. Finally, a pod of twenty five Common Dolphins burst into view and put on a spectacular show of breaching through the waves. Every passenger caught a glimpse and were satisfied with the sight of the beautiful dolphins.


Sunrise over the Santander Canyon.

We’re on board for another week so we’ll be posting our news next week. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed!

Amy and Ella


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