Posted by: orcaweb | April 8, 2015

Close encounters of the Fin kind…

Hello and welcome to another installment of the wildlife officer blog. After waving off the rest of the Wildlife Officers in Portsmouth, it was down to Clare and I to board the Cap Finistere once more, and sail through the notorious Bay of Biscay.

Our first presentation went down a storm, with over 70 keen passengers coming along to learn about cetaceans, and children eagerly hanging on to every word. This interest was carried on later in the day, when we were joined by many passengers who kept us company for our afternoon deck watch. The deck was awash with sea spray and battering winds, but many braved the conditions in the hope of catching a glimpse of the elusive cetaceans of the English Channel. However, despite their bravery the sea did not yield, and so we left the deck hopeful for calm seas and sightings on the Thursday.

The next morning we were pleasantly surprised to find beautifully calm seas and clear skies. The Bay of Biscay did not disappoint. After having spent several hours surveying with passengers by our side, we noticed some distant splashing far off on the horizon. The splashes closed in rapidly to the ship, and eventually the forms of Common and Striped dolphins became apparent. They frolicked in the waves created by the ship, numbering around 100 individuals, before diving under the ship and disappearing to the other side. This provided an excellent reward for the determination of those who had joined us, capturing a glimpse of the beautiful markings on both of the dolphin species.


Striped dolphin reflections…

The morning passed quickly, and soon we were once again departing from Spain to return to Portsmouth, with a new set of passengers to educate about marine life. Our afternoon deck watch was as successful as the morning with a pod of 30 common dolphins racing towards the ship as the sun was setting and the moon was rising, with two gentlemen joining us just at the right time. This was certainly a wonderful end to a fantastic day at sea.

A Common leap at sunset

A Common dolphin leaping at sunset

Friday bought us rainy skies, but relatively calm seas. Within minutes of observations we had 5 Common dolphins come close to the ship, which was a lovely reward for the eager passengers that had joined us at first light. With our deck watch completed after several hours, we made our way indoors, ready to make some creative marine creatures with the younger passengers.

We had a very quiet deck watch over the channel on Saturday morning, but our luck turned as we passed over the continental shelf that afternoon. In one hour we had several pods of Common and Striped dolphins who delighted passengers with their leaps, as well as two fantastic Fin whale sightings. One of these was particularly incredible, as we didn’t spot the whale by it’s blow, but rather by the fact we saw it swim out from underneath the ship, catching a glimpse of it’s long body and massive tail. Absolutely amazing!! Many of our younger passengers who joined us out on deck became mini marine scientists for an hour, as we handed them observation forms and taught them all about how to survey for whales and dolphins.

Soon enough, dawn had brought a new day, and we were set on course over the English channel. Unfortunately, the deck watch did not bring any luck, of the cetacean variety, but we did see many bird species around the Brittany Coast.




2 Great Skuas



Just before we gave our presentation a keen-eyed passenger spotted dolphins playing in the ships wake. Once the presentation was over, we lead a craft session with the children on board, making whales out of paper plates. This went down really well, and we had lots of keen children asking us all manner of questions about marine wildlife!

On Monday morning we awoke to our day sailing through the French islands. It was a beautiful clear day, and we were joined by many passengers who were admiring the scenery. They weren’t only treated to the islands, but also several pods of Common dolphins that swam over to the ship, in both the morning and the evening. We also created jellyfish out of plastic bags, teaching youngsters a valuable lesson about the impact of plastics upon the environment.

An exuberant leap!

An exuberant leap!

After having left Bilbao early on the Tuesday morning, we were met with a stormy sea state 7/8 and a windy deck, making cetacean spotting very difficult. However, despite the poor conditions, we still spotted a small pod of four Cuvier’s beaked whales, as well as several pods of dolphins. This just proved that no matter how bad the conditions, if you stick it out, you will definitely be rewarded!

Until next time,
Clare and Chantelle

The answer to last weeks trivia question: A Fin Whale can travel up to 40kmh in bursts! This weeks question…can you spot the dolphin in this picture? If so, which Biscay species is it? Tune in next week to find out…

Where is it?

Where is it?

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