Posted by: orcaweb | July 16, 2014

Superpods to the rescue!

Well hello yet again to all of our fair readers.

So begins our tale of the week of the 9th July 2014 on board the Cap Finistere.

Wednesday morning rolled around after two weeks of work on dry land, and I (Chantelle) was full of anticipation to start a new week. The presentation came and went upon that day in no time, but not without me noticing the presence of several keen young naturalists in the audience. Sure enough, I was surrounded on deck watch later that day by lots of enthusiastic families, but no cetaceans were to show themselves.

On Thursday morning I dragged myself out of bed bright and early to be up on deck 10 for 5.30am, and for the five hours I spent on that deck we were treated to sightings of Common Dolphins, two Cuvier’s Beaked Whales and a glimpse (albeit fleeting) of three beautiful Long-Finned Pilot Whales. It’s fair to say that this gave our young naturalists plenty to be excited about, and they left for their holidays with a trip to remember still fresh in their minds.


Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

But over the next few days it became apparent to me that there were plenty of these passionate wildlife lovers of a young age around…perhaps there was something in the air? Whatever it was, it was infectious, and everyone who joined me was captivated by such fresh, unharnessed enthusiasm.

On the Saturday trip into Santander, a young man named Charlie and his father came up onto deck to greet me at roughly 6.30am…a valiant effort. Over time, I learnt that Charlie wanted to be a wildlife photographer when he grew up, and had commandeered his mother’s camera in the hope of snapping some shots of the Bay’s beautiful marine wildlife. Their patience was rewarded, as two Cuvier’s Beaked Whales surfaced close to the boat, showing us two brown backs virtually free of scarring. Charlie managed to snap a photo of one of these animals, which I have to say was better than any photo I managed to get. Could I be out of a job soon?

Saturday evening brought a new group of passengers, and I met a group of people from Dartmoor Zoo who had recently been tracking wolves in Portugal. Sharing similar interests in Conservation, but learning that they had never seen cetaceans before, I convinced them to join me for an impromptu deck watch on our way out of Santander. Common dolphins provided us with an escort that evening, leaping beneath an incredibly huge moon, and giving my fellow conservationists a glimpse of the beautiful animals that I wish to dedicate my own life to conserving.


Common Dolphin

Before I knew it, it was Sunday, and I knew I was going to be joined by Amy in Portsmouth that evening. We weren’t lucky enough to see any animals upon this day, but I was happy to keep passengers entertained, answering any questions that I received and throwing in some facts about these mysterious marine mammals.

I will now pass you over to Amy to inform you of the second exciting instalment of our mini adventure…

Monday morning brought a crew change in Roscoff. Later in the day, we trudged out on deck 10 expecting a slow day sightings-wise. Mondays have become notorious as we sail relatively slowly through the coastal waters of the Bay of Biscay. Within 20 minutes of watching, we were treated to a small pod of Bottlenose Dolphins breaching through the waves. It was fantastic to see such gorgeous dolphins so soon after arriving on deck, especially as we were expecting a long wait for our first sighting. Throughout the day we were lucky to see Striped Dolphins, two more pods of Bottlenose Dolphins and a super pod of Common Dolphins! This pod consisted of approximately 200 animals, and passengers dining inside ran outside to watch the incredible display. We stayed outside long after sunset to watch smaller pods breach and ride in our wake. We went to bed in very high spirits and exhausted from our hours battling the wind.

Bottlenose 1

Bottlenose Dolphin

Vortex dolphin

A Bottlenose Dolphin entering a vortex? Or two breaching simultaneously?

After leaving Bilbao the following day we excitedly told passengers about our experience the previous day, and during the talk we glanced furtively at the sea hoping to spy some dolphins, or even something bigger. After getting the passengers excited about the day ahead we bolted upstairs to deck 10 and waited eagerly. We saw small sprinklings of dolphins in the distance but assured our keen group of passengers that there was more to come. However, after half an hour we noticed the ship had begun to change course. Instead of heading almost due North, we began to head resolutely to the East. We exchanged confused glances. What on earth was going on? After almost an hour on this new course we decided to take action. Amy popped downstairs to the information desk and discovered that we were heading towards the coast of France because a passenger had been taken ill, and we were bearing landwards to meet a helicopter halfway. The upper decks were quickly closed, so we scuttled down to the port side of deck seven to look for more dolphins.

We quickly saw a lot of splashes, and found it difficult to identify the group of around 20 animals. After studying our photos, we were surprised to see they were actually Yellow Finned Tuna! We have only seen single tuna breaching before, and it was spectacular to see such a large group breaching continuously.


Yellow-Finned Tuna

It wasn’t long before the helicopter arrived to take our poorly passenger away for treatment, and it was rather exciting to see the aircraft come so close. During the helicopter’s visit a pod of six Common Dolphins approached the ship, and we overheard a passenger shout “First a helicopter, now dolphins! This is the best day ever!”.

Common 1

Common Dolphin

When the upper decks were opened we arrived back on the familiar ground of deck 10. As the ship had changed course so dramatically, we missed the deep pelagic waters of the Bay of Biscay and took a coastal route back towards England. Almost instantly we were surrounded by Common Dolphins. Large pods came thick and fast, and for the second day running we were dazzled by a super pod of Common Dolphins, this time consisting of 250 animals. We experienced over an hour of consistent dolphin sightings and by the time our watch finished we were drained. We stumbled downstairs and ate our dinner in a dream-like state, barely believing what we’d seen. After typing up our many pages of sightings data and writing these humble words ,we curled up in our cabin. We were very happy wildlife officers indeed.

Common underside

Common Dolphin belly

Commons breaching 2

Common Dolphins

Our summer surveying continues on the Cap Finisteré with Chantelle going solo. Check back with us next week to see what else the Bay of Biscay has in store.


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