Posted by: orcaweb | June 18, 2014

Fin Whales, Dolphins and a Swordfish!

On Wednesday, I was joined by Wildlife officer Ruth Coxon and we boarded Brittany Ferries Cap Finisteré and we set sail towards the Bay of Biscay. Bright and very early Thursday morning, we were passing over the continental shelf. This area is a well renowned feeding area for Cetaceans and sure enough, we were joined by five Fin Whales that morning. Two of these were fairly close to the ferry, giving us a lovely demonstration of their surface roll behaviour after their typical eight metre tall blow.

FW 3

Fin Whale

Throughout the day the sea state calmed, so by the time we approached Bilbao the sea was tranquil and clear. Through the crystal clean water we spotted an unusual creature lurking at the surface. It was very close to the boat. At first glance, we excitedly assumed it was a shark (especially Ruth having seen 9 sharks in one day on a recent crossing). However, the extremely long snout pointed to a more swordfish shape. So, after some quick snaps, we were very giddy having obtained photographic evidence of our strange creature. While in Bilbao then,  we were able to speak with Lisle Gwyn (a previous WO and Cetacean specialist), asking for the identity of this strange shark-like creature which looked like a swordfish. With the picture in transit, the reply came back “Are you sure it wasn’t actually a swordfish?”. At this moment it dawned on us that this three and a half metre beast WAS actually a swordfish! However, we have since been reassured that this unusual specimen is a rare sighting, especially found dwelling at the surface.

BEST swordfish


On the return crossing from Bilbao, we were treated to an array of dolphin pods, including many Common Dolphins and even some close encounters with some chunky Bottlenose Dolphins. Among some of our later dolphin sightings were some unidentified pods, too far away and too inconspicuous to properly identify. However, one of these sightings seemed to posses rather large dorsal fins and were making much larger splashes than our typical Commons. Together, we have suspected that these may possibly have been Risso’s Dolphins, so hopefully these will make an appearance in days to come to confirm our suspicions.

CD clear

Common Dolphin

The return to England brought shallow water and a clear view of two Harbour Porpoises in the English Channel.  The journey back however was very quite in terms of Cetacean sightings until the Bay of course!  One of the most exciting of these was a Striped Dolphin pod at nine o’clock on Saturday morning. The entire pod was leaping out the water, all acrobatically displaying their lovely white bellies before crashing down on their sides to make a splash. Even a calf was seen zooming ahead of its mother out of the wave.

leaping BD 2

Bottlenose Dolphins

The last trip back to England brought more Common Dolphin pods, storming full steam towards the boat at sunset. The final sighting the next morning was also a pod of two individuals, sighted near the coast of Brittany. This was our last sighting as we disembarked, handing over to Amy Grisdale. This is also goodbye for a while from Ruth who won’t be returning until September. Becky will updating you from the Pont Aven in just over a week’s time.

Amy here!

I’ve been manning the Cap Finisteré alone for a couple of days and although I’ve been a little lonely it’s been a treat as always.

On Monday after the daily presentation about the wildlife of the Bay of Biscay I rushed up to Deck 10 with 60 passengers in tow. As the hours passed with no sightings the crowd thinned. Every wave began to look like an animal, and I was getting increasingly anxious. After seven hours of no cetacean sightings at all I had almost given up hope. The only animal I had seen during the entire afternoon was, rather bizarrely, a beautiful 19 year old cat. He was owned by a passenger who brought him upstairs to have a look at the view of the Bay.


A Passenger’s Cat enjoying the sea breeze

Evening came and the sun set rather beautifully, which I watched with some other crew members and a group of dedicated passengers. Disappointed, I turned away to go downstairs to my cabin. At that moment I heard a shout. I spun on my heel and rushed to the barrier. Mere metres from the ship was a pod of Common Dolphins! After almost eight hours of nothing at all the dolphins finally made it.


Bay of Biscay sunset

Tuesday was sprinkled with more Common Dolphin Sightings, but alas nothing bigger made itself known. The week isn’t over though, and with Chantelle joining me for the latter half of the week at least I’ll have some company during deck watch!


Common Dolphine


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