Posted by: orcaweb | July 23, 2014

The Royal Rorqual Return.

Before I knew it, I was waving goodbye to my colleague Amy and the familiar docks of Portsmouth once again, to head out for another week traversing the Bay of Biscay.

After having given the presentation, I headed up on deck to join eager passengers to watch for our cetaceans in the English Channel. The water was mirror flat, making way for a sighting of the tiny Harbour Porpoise – one of our most common cetaceans, yet undoubtedly the most discreet. This pumped everyone with enthusiasm, ready to join me yet again for another watch in the infamous Bay of Biscay.

After just 9 minutes on deck that Thursday morning, 7 beautiful Long-Finned Pilot Whales made themselves present, gracefully cutting through the waves. Their blackbodies were shining in the morning light, and naturally this had me raring to go for the rest of the morning.

Three beautiful black Pilot Whales

Three beautiful black Pilot Whales

Yet, as time passed, it became apparent that this sighting was one of only several, with the others being pods of dolphins that were far in the distance, and so very difficult to identify! This didn’t stop them creating the genuine happiness cetaceans inspire in people however, and so everyone left reassured that these creatures can be seen even from a humble ferry journey.

The Friday deck watch yielded only a lonely sunfish, but this was all set to change on our Saturday crossing into Santander…

That Saturday morning, we had approximately 100 Common Dolphins racing in towards the ship, encouraging gasps from plenty of keen onlookers. But it wasn’t to stop there. Upon this morning we also had two slow moving pods of Pilot Whales – numbering 12 and 5 consecutively, as well as a group of Striped Dolphins feeding down by the side of the boat at the same time! None of us knew where to look, with this all happening in just 20 minutes.

Feeding Striped Dolphins!

Feeding Striped Dolphins!

But the real winner of the day for me was a new species to add to the list – my first confirmed Risso’s Dolphins! Despite being roughly 700m off of the Starboard side, that tall, thin dorsal and obvious white scarring upon the flanks were unmistakeable. These animals use their teeth heavily in communication, scarring each other all over the body, meaning that the dolphins can have rather a ghostly profile when seen under the water! This left me with butterflies in my stomach, which refused to settle for a long while after the sighting was over.

Risso's exciting!

Risso’s Dolphins…so exciting!

With all of this excitement, it wasn’t long before the day was over and Sunday rolled around. I was joined by a passenger out on deck for the two hour watch that morning along the Brittany Coastline. The lady who kept me company had not seen any cetaceans on the way over to Spain, as so was determined to catch a glimpse on the way back. After about an hour and a half of waiting, her patience was rewarded, as 15 Common Dolphins showed up to play in the wake of the ferry. The water was so incredibly flat and clear upon that day that we managed to get some beautiful snapshots of the animals gliding elegantly just beneath the oceans surface. As a Wildlife Officer, I feel there is nothing more important than making someone else’s day by alerting them to an unforgettable sighting, and I’m so glad that the dolphins delivered upon that particular morning!

Common Dolphin under crystal clear surface water

Common Dolphin under crystal clear surface water

Upon the Monday, after having presented information about cetaceans earlier on in the day, I continued onwards to deck 10 for another day of surveying. Filled with anticipation after memories of Bottlenose Dolphins and superpods from the previous Monday, it was hard to dampen my enthusiasm. As I was putting my boots on in my room, when the ferry was passing through the Brittany Islands, I spotted 10 dolphins in a pod travelling away from the ship. This had me bounding up the stairs ready to help everyone see plenty more.

However, the dolphins made it more challenging for everyone upon that day, by showing up much later on to leap through the sunset. This was a beautiful capture of the way in which these wonderful creatures live in the wild, frolicking in our wake as the last sunlight was fading, and sending us all to sleep with plenty to think upon.

Leaping Commons

Leaping Commons

The last day brought with it a superb spectacle – the return of our rorqual whales! It’s been such a long time since a Wildlife Officer has been able to say they have seen the familiar blow of a large whale, but now that particular ocean silence has been broken. I was chatting to one of the passengers at the back of the deck and showing him some photos, when a cry from a young Spanish family had me racing back towards the barrier. But being about 500 metres away, everyone along the length of the deck regardless of their position got to see this massive travelling animal.

Upon watching the individual, the blow seemed absolutely massive, and no obvious dorsal fin made itself particularly apparent, with a lighter colouration to the body…it is most likely to be a Fin Whale, but judging by the evidence, could it perhaps have been the largest animal on the planet – The mighty Blue Whale? My gut tells me the latter, any takers on I.D?  Otherwise, we shall never know…

Fin Whale...or is it??

Fin Whale…or is it??

I was also informed that they had seen several of our large rorquals from the Port side of the boat, and so it seems like they are returning in force once more! The rest of the day brought along many a dolphin sighting, including a group of striped dolphins that appeared out of our wake.

Leaping Stripeys, including a mother and calf

Leaping Stripeys, including a mother and calf

But again, as I was turned around, settling down to enjoy a light snack up on deck after 6 hours of observation, I was alerted by more cries – this time the result of a superpod of Common Dolphins heading straight for us, as well as many more further out enjoying some feeding. This was a real gem of a sighting over the continental shelf, with the dolphins numbering approximately 600 in total! Keep your eyes peeled over that shelf ladies and gents, it appears to be erupting with life!

So, top tip for any of you readers embarking on a trip to see wildlife in the future…if you see me, get me to turn around, or distract me with something else, and I can guarantee you will see many a creature!

 All the best to everybody,

Remember, distract this woman to see wildlife! (Picture Courtesy of Carlos Condeco)

Remember, distract this woman to see wildlife! (Picture Courtesy of Carlos Condeco)




  1. Reblogged this on ccondeco's Blog.

  2. Great article – thanks for sharing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: