Posted by: orcaweb | August 13, 2014

Stormy Sightings

Hello everyone! So today I (Chantelle) will be briefly stopping in to tell you about mine and Becky’s short three day Biscay adventure together, before our new WO Clare takes over to tell you about the rest of our week…

Our Wednesday afternoon watch was rather quiet for the first hour or so, which was to be expected in the area we were sailing. However, the second hour brought us two separate Harbour Porpoise sightings-something we were both delighted to see so early on in our trip! The animals seemed to be rather active, bringing quite a lot of their bodies out of the water, which is in stark contrast to their usually elusive behaviour.

Harbour Porpoise

Harbour Porpoise

The next day brought us a whole day sailing within the Bay, so we were both undoubtedly excited. We made it up onto deck for 6am, eagerly awaiting the fruitful cetacean bounty we have come to expect of the Bay of Biscay. However, after many an hour on deck, we were only joined by one mystery large splash, and a small pod of Common Dolphins. Yet many an eagerly awaiting passenger enjoyed the view of our beautiful dolphins leaping in towards the bow of the ship, giving them a very well earned reward after many hours of watching.

After having spent several hours in Bilbao, the Cap Finistere was ready to turn around again and make her way back towards Portsmouth. Both Becky and I were up on deck as soon as we had completed our presentation, ready to show everyone what the Bay has to offer. That afternoon we had many a very low-lying dolphin approach the ship, not offering to show us much of their beautiful colours. What was it that was causing this unusual behaviour? We shall never know…

Friday morning was soon upon us, and with only an hours’ deck watch in the channel, prospects of sightings were deemed low. However, a sea state one facilitated excellent Harbour Porpoise watching, with over 6 separate sightings in that single hour, totalling 18 individual porpoise! This delighted everyone who had come to join us, capturing a glimpse of some very elusive tiny cetaceans. But this wasn’t our most exciting viewing of the morning, as sidling past the ship we spotted a rather large fish – A beautiful Basking Shark! Everyone got to watch the lovely creature smoothly gliding along the side of the ship, and left us all very excited!

Basking Shark

Basking Shark

We then headed straight for Portsmouth, ready to pick up our lovely new Wildlife Officer Clare, who will take you through the rest of our week.


My name is Clare and I have joined the team of volunteer WOs on board the Cap Finistere travelling from Portsmouth to Santander and Bilbao, crossing the infamous Bay of Biscay.

My maiden voyage was on Friday 8th August, and the first duty was our usual meet and greet with the passengers. Chantelle has been fantastic at introducing me to life on-board, taking me on a tour and talking me through all our duties. There’s been a lot to take in and I’m learning all the time.

On Saturday morning we woke up nice and early for the sunrise deck watch. The sea was really calm as we came round the corner of Brittany into the Bay of Biscay. A number of passengers came up to join us in our watch, with many eyes making light work of surveying the ocean. At around 7.30am I saw my first dolphin! A small pod of Common Dolphins came swimming towards the ship, looking absolutely beautiful. I immediately recognised the hourglass pattern as they swam alongside the boat. About half an hour later, a couple of children came onto Deck 10 and almost straight away a large pod of around 300 common dolphins came hurtling towards us, leaping over surface! It was incredible, I honestly felt honoured to witness such a crowd of them, and even saw some parents and calves. It certainly made the morning wait worth it. I really hope that is an image that stays in the children’s minds for a long while – it was very magical.

Beautiful Common Dolphins!

Beautiful Common Dolphins!

Unfortunately, the afternoon deck watch was not as exciting, and whilst we didn’t record any whale sightings ourselves, a couple of passengers saw some logging long-finned pilot whales while we were doing our presentation. Another family reported they saw blows on the port side of the boat, which must have been fin whales. Knowing these amazing creatures are definitely out there just makes the deck watches more exciting, as you never know what you’re going to see!

Great Shearwater

Great Shearwater

You might have noticed that the weather hasn’t been awfully brilliant for whale and dolphin watching – what with the arrival of Hurricane Bertha on Sunday! As such we’ve had to improvise a little, as some days we’ve not been able to get out on deck. Rather than do our usual deck watch on Sunday, Chantelle and I created a Children’s Activity Hour, including a kids talk, spotters-quiz, and create-a-creature challenge. We had a group of around 12 children aged 3-12 take part, with a few more dropping by for parts of it. This has been one of my favourite duties so far – outside of volunteering with ORCA I am a youthworker, so talking to children about their passions, interests and dreams for growing up is something I really enjoy. One 8 year old girl told us she’d love to be an explorer in the Amazon rainforest, and another a marine biologist. It is really encouraging to hear the children talk so passionately about the natural world and taking seriously their place within it.

The rest of the week has been a little frustrating on the whale-watching front, with the sea state fluctuating mostly between 4 and 7, making it quite difficult to see life out there. Still, we keep hoping! It’s been good to use this time to talk a lot to passengers, some of whom have shared some great stories with us about their holidays, the wildlife they’ve seen, and one family were very keen divers so had a lot of amazing sightings to share. I really enjoy talking with people and encouraging each other, as it reminds me of the importance of not treating whale and dolphin watching as a tourist activity, but rather really appreciating the majesty and beauty of these incredible animals. We were rewarded yesterday with seeing a lonely Fin Whale, who swam alongside the ship for a few minutes allowing time for many passengers to see her too. As a newbie to this job, the Fin Whale was the first whale I’ve ever seen! It was a view I hope my memory never forgets. There is something truly special about seeing a glimpse of the second largest animal to have ever existed. I really hope the next week brings some more of these amazing moments.

My first whale sighting - the mighty Fin Whale!

My first whale sighting – the mighty Fin Whale!

All the best watching whales!

Clare and Chantelle


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