Posted by: orcaweb | July 1, 2014

Killer on the loose

This week I manned the Pont Aven alone. This was the final week of the Wildlife Officer season on the Pont and I have had a fantastic time on the stunning ship over the past few months.

Throughout the first few days of the week Common and Striped Dolphins surrounded the ship on each crossing through the Bay of Biscay. Although  nothing bigger made an appearance we still had fun watching the playful dolphins breaching and zipping through our wake.

Stirped breach

Breaching Striped Dolphin

On Monday morning I trudged up to Deck 10 just before 5:00am. I was joined by eager passengers awaiting a sighting. After two hours of nothing but cleverly-shaped waves, something happened. Four black, shiny fins emerged from the sea. A small pod of Long-Finned Pilot Whales surfaced and swam lazily past the ship with a calf in tow. I managed to snap one blurry photograph, but thankfully all of the passengers had a front row seat for the show.


Long-Finned Pilot Whale

The excitement didn’t stop there. Within half an hour, three Cuvier’s Beaked Whales popped up a few hundred metres from the ship. One of the whales was incredibly scarred, indicating it was a male of advanced age. These Cuvier’s Beaked Whales were spotted surprisingly far north, which was interesting to see as I usually see them closer to the deep sea canyons close to the Spanish coast.


Three Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

The lack of dolphins on Monday morning was a little disappointing, but I had a shrewd idea that Orca may be feeding close by, and the usually abundant dolphins had darted away to safety. No such luck – I am still yet to see wild Orca. During the presentation about the Wildlife of the Bay of Biscay, I was telling passengers about Common Dolphin behaviour. In the exact moment I told my audience that often these animals will head towards the ship, more than 60 Common Dolphins began leaping out of the water in our direction. We all rushed to the window and enjoyed watching the perfectly timed display, and ran upstairs to Deck 10 as one as soon as the presentation was over to have a few more minutes of scanning the horizon.

After a quick turnaround in Santander we set off through the Bay of Biscay for one final time. I was anticipating some good sightings and I was certainly not disappointed. A great multitude of dolphins made appearances, of which one pod consisted of approximately 100 animals. Passengers were excited to see them and it was a lovely way to end the trip.


Breaching Common Dolphin and calf

A couple of hours from Santander, I spotted a cetacean that was certainly not a dolphin. Firstly it was larger than even a Bottlenose Dolphin, and it was completely black. It was a similar size to a Pilot Whale (four to six metres), but did not have the dorsal fin characteristic of a Pilot whale. The dorsal fin was fairly small with a rounded tip. The face was rounded but without a pronounced melon. A jolt of excitement went through me. It couldn’t be. Unbelievably whizzing through the water below the ship was what I could only identify to be a False Killer Whale. It surfaced only three times, but was witnessed by other passengers and I immediately recognised the shape of its face. It was too large to be a Melon-Headed Whale or a Pygmy Killer Whale. The dorsal fin was unlike that of a dolphin or Pilot whale. The real tragedy is this: I did not manage to get a photograph. The case remains open, but I fear the mystery will never be solved.

Finishing shot

Common Dolphins riding in the wake of the Pont Aven

Thanks for reading, check back for the weekly report from the Cap Finisteré!



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