Posted by: orcaweb | June 25, 2014

A Sunny Week for Sun fish

Hello again from the Pont Aven, we (Ella and Becky) have joined Brittany Ferries flagship for one last week to look out for Biscays Cetaceans.

Brittany Ferries flag ship the Pont Aven

Brittany Ferries flag ship the Pont Aven

We were lucky enough to have our opening sighting almost immediately upon commencing the first deck watch. As we passed Brittany, the northern-most French peninsula. We were met by a spectacular view of the coastal waters largest whale, the Minke Whale. From 800m away we could see the animal breaching its entire body, despite the rough 4/5 sea state. It was in the close vicinity of a small fishing ship where gannets and gulls could be seen diving, making it very possible that this whale was lung feeding. Also very shortly after we were accompanied on deck by, yet again, a stowaway Collared dove.

Gannet

Gannet

 

Stowaway

Stowaway

Following a fantastic start, the day had more excitement in store. Many large pods of Common and Striped Dolphins came alongside the ship, several of whom had calves with them. We were also joined on deck by a lovely gentleman who turned out to be the series producer for David Attenboroughs’ Life series. It goes without saying, he had some amazing stories to tell. Once we arrived in Santander, not only had we had a fantastic day for Cetaceans, but also a great sense that many of the passengers disembarking had been treated to an amazing close encounter with nature.

Common dolphin mother and calf

Common dolphin mother and calf

Our return journey to Plymouth yielded few sightings at first, as the early hours crept past and we trudged ever further into the English Chanel. This poor luck, however, surprisingly changed when we crossed the path of an Oceanic sunfish. This peculiar creature could be seen just below the surface of the water. Within five minutes of this sighting, a small cetacean could be seen making a characteristic get away from the ship – most likely a Harbour Porpoise.

Sun fish (Mola mola)

Sun fish (Mola mola)

As we progressed ever closer to land, so the sightings came. We spotted not one or two, but four more sunfish in total; each a different size and colouration to the last, but all within the top 5-10m of the water column. This of course, could not have been a coincidence. Alongside the sunfish in the water dozens of small barrel jellyfish could be seen, the primary prey-item of sunfish. We surmised that this must have been an ideal feeding area for the fish, and were hugely grateful for the opportunity to see such a bizarre species so frequently in one day! As we approached Plymouth we had the unusual sighting of a submarine, where many people could be seen standing on top.

Submarine

Submarine

Although the seas were favourable, there were no sightings to speak of around Ireland, however, on our approach back to Plymouth this certainly changed. As we approached England an elusive shark could be seen, swimming quietly under the surface of the water. This happened again as we left the port of Plymouth. A few hours out, yet another shark was sited not too far from the ship. There were however, no cetaceans to speak of.

Our Shark, any ideas on what species it may be?

Our Shark, any ideas on what species it may be?

As we made our way back through the Bay of Biscay we were joined by many pods of dolphins, typically leaping out of the water next to the ship. This gave a fantastic display to all the eager passengers that joined us. Unfortunately, shortly after docking in Santander, we were then told that the ship would be delayed and not leaving until the evening which meant we were unable to deck watch that afternoon.

More Common dolphins

More Common dolphins

Although the Channel had been rather productive for us during the week, it had become very quiet for our mornings deck watch as we made our way to the unscheduled stop of Plymouth. This did however change in the afternoon. For our final ever deck watch as ORCA Wildlife officers aboard the Pont Aven, we were treated to several very close sightings of Oceanic sunfish and one final Shark. This English channel crossing had been the most productive one yet for the both of us.

Don’t forget, you can support ORCA’s work by becoming a member for as little as £3 a month.  You can also read about all the latest news from the charity on the ORCA website.

Goodbye for now, we shall both be back very shortly on board Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere.

Our last deck watch

Our last deck watch

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