Posted by: orcaweb | April 7, 2015

Two Countries, Two Cetacean Species!

02.04.2015-07.04.2015 Week one Blog: Jess Owen

The Wildlife Officer Programme for 2015 has commenced and we are back on board the Brittany Ferries flag ship, the wonderful Pont Aven.

I (Jess) am so excited to be working with ORCA for the first time, coming from a mainly terrestrial wildlife background; I could not wait to experience the beauty of marine life, and what better way to do it than from a luxury ferry!

Becky, one of ORCA’s seasoned Wildlife Officers and Marine Mammal Surveyors, spent our first day showing me the ropes and on the Saturday we began our first early morning deck watch.

When you are new to spotting marine mammals, every single wave looks like a potential cetacean and my eyes were beginning to play tricks on me. An hour in and our luck began. An animal sprung out of the water with such grace that it was undeniably not a wave! It was the first of four Common dolphins to approach the ship. Not long after, another pod of four Common dolphins came in and I was very proud to have spotted them myself. It was wonderful to finally feel like I was getting an eye for the job and it was fantastic to share this sighting with a passenger who had come to join us.

As we were approaching Cork, Becky spotted a lovely surprise swimming just beside the ship, a Grey seal. It seemed very intrigued by us and the passengers were impressed with the sighting.

A cheeky Grey seal in Ireland

A cheeky Grey seal in Ireland

Becky and I spent a little time in Cork looking at the coastal flora and fauna. We found a lovely area by the harbour where lots of gorse bushes were flowering and had become home to lots of song birds such as Sparrows and Blue tits. We also saw a magnificent Heron flying over the water.

We sailed over some spectacularly calm and colourful water as we left Cork and although there were no cetacean sightings, we saw some little Guillemots resting on the water and of course our friend the Gannet joined us.

A Gannet soaring alongside the ship

A Gannet soaring alongside the ship



On Sunday Becky gave the first of our presentations and it was a great success. This was followed by an arts and crafts workshop with 7 children on board who were keen to discuss and learn about the whales and dolphins they were creating in their ‘under the sea’ posters.

Making some Under the Sea posters.

Making some Under the Sea posters.

On Monday, we finally made it to the Bay of Biscay, cetacean heaven! Becky had been telling stories of fin whales, sperm whales and killer whales the night before and so I was desperate for some nice calm water over this brilliant whale and dolphin habitat. Of course this is a big ask for the Bay of Biscay, but despite the wind, sea spray and large swell, we made it up to Deck 10 for our early morning watch with great excitement, and we were greeted by a beautiful sunrise.


The sunrise over the Bay of Biscay

We were just half an hour into our survey when Becky called out ‘Cuvier’s beaked whales!’ An absolute treat and a first for me! I had only read about these mysterious whales. In pictures they looked like creatures of myths, and now I could not believe I was really seeing them just 100 meters from the ship. I was so excited and in awe of this unusual species (so much so that I didn’t manage to get a picture of it for the blog!).

This excellent sighting gave us a real buzz and suddenly the wind and rain wasn’t all that bad! We had lots of enthusiastic passengers come and join us later in the morning and throughout the afternoon. We got chatting to two writers from England, one of which who was writing a novel that was based on an island, and it was lovely to assist her in finding words to describe our incredible ocean, and they loved learning of the animals that live in it. It was wonderful when their patience was rewarded with a very long and clear view of three Common dolphins. This was a real highlight for me as it was wonderful to see the passengers faces light up and I could tell they were feeling the same rush that I feel when I see a new species for the first time.

Common dolphin

Common dolphin

I am amazed at how quickly this week has gone. I’ve seen two new species, visited two new countries and have already learnt so many new skills. Talking to passengers, learning from them and teaching them about the fantastic wildlife we have in our oceans has been inspiring and I cannot wait for my next adventure on the Pont-Aven.

Week 1 JO BG 020415 007

Deck 10 on the Pont Aven

All the best from your Wildlife Officers Jess and Becky.

If you would like to learn more about ORCA or how to become a member then please visit our website.


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