Posted by: orcaweb | August 27, 2014

Where there’s a will, there’s a whale!

What a week! Katy and Clare have had some amazing sightings in the past seven days and we’re going to attempt to describe these incredible moments to you.

As usual, we’ve seen a fair few of our friendly Common Dolphins, who never fail to get the crowds excited and the children squealing. They also like to get up early and welcome us onto our sunrise deck watches, which always makes us smile. On Saturday we saw eleven different pods of these beauties between 6am and 10am.

Common Trio

Common Trio

Amongst these pods and sometimes on their own, we’ve had lots of sightings of the energetic Striped Dolphins, performing some fantastic routines, ducking and diving, splishing and splashing all around the boat causing lots of excitement! Our favourite moment was seeing some of their little calves joining in the acrobatic fun. It seems these animals simply love to play and make the most of their aquatic environment, an approach to life we could all learn from.

Striped Mum and Calf

Stripey Antics

We had a whopping SEVEN Fin Whale sightings on one day! This was really great to see as the Bay has seemed a little quiet recently. These gentle giants have been coming in quite close to the boat, which meant lots of passengers have been able to see them too. We also saw two whale blows we believed to be a mother and a calf Fin Whale, as one was distinctly shorter than the other.

Mum and Calf Fin Whale blows

Mum and Calf Fin Whale blows

One of the campaigns ORCA has been involved in recently is around protecting some of our largest whales from ship strike. This is where ships accidently collide with and sometimes fatally injure whales. Sadly the Fin Whale is the most likely whale in the Bay to be struck by the boats. It’s thought this is due to them not always paying attention to the surface while feeding and so coming up for air too close to the bow. ORCA is working with other wildlife organisations such as WAP and also shipping companies to help raise awareness about these risks and reduce the number of strikes.

Fin Whale

Fin Whale

We felt very privileged on one of our days to see the blow of a Sperm Whale, which a passenger pointed out and was quite obviously different to the usual blows we see. The Sperm Whale has only one blow hole, as do all toothed whales, which sits on the left side of its head and creates a slightly angled bushy blow to one side. We also learnt that Sperm Whales usually form matriarchal pods, with the female whales leading the groups. To witness the blow from this incredible animal was amazing.

Another first for Clare was seeing what we believe was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale surfacing and bringing up a large part of the front of its body just about 500m from the boat. It was a distinct brown colour with a white head, the classic tell-tale sign that it is our lovely Cuvier’s. It moved rather slowly, but must have gone straight into a dive as we didn’t see it surface again.

One of our most mysterious sightings was at about 10am on Saturday, when we saw a large pure white dolphin breach right out of the water about 700m away. It was incredible, and we were glad we both saw it as neither of us could quite believe how unusual it was!! It was followed by three splashes close by indicating there were four in total. It was bigger than the dolphins we are used to seeing and you could see the whole body was white. Upon reflection and research we decided this must have been the amazing Risso’s Dolphin, and a very mature adult who was heavily scarred, which would explain the white colouration. We think they visited us because Clare had been practicing all very best Risso impression all morning!

Another first for Clare came right towards the end of the trip to Santander, just as we were entering the port. We spotted a very unique wide-based dark dorsal, the sort which can only belong to the Pilot Whale. There was a group of four, moving gently and gracefully through the water just 500m away, showing themselves off to quite a large crowd on the deck, wowing everyone with their elegance. Poor Katy, who was writing the effort reading, had to jump up and down as the crowd was blocking the view, but she still managed to get this photo:

Long-finned Pilot Whale

Long-finned Pilot Whale

There’s been some sightings of other animals too this week – in particular our fishy friends. On one day we saw nine yellow-finned tuna in close succession, which amused us as we’d only been talking earlier about how we’d had less sightings and were concerned about population levels. It’s almost as if they heard us! We also saw a shark swimming under water near the boat, and we saw three large groups of what we believe to be moon-fish too. We were encouraged by all of these fish sightings as there were a large number of fishing vessels out in the bay that morning (we counted 29 in one area!) and there are obvious concerns about over-fishing and how these fishing practices might be effecting the animals living here.

Fishing boats at dawn in the Bay of Biscay

Fishing boats at dawn in the Bay of Biscay

We hope next week brings many more of these wonderful encounters.

Katy and Clare



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