Posted by: orcaweb | April 14, 2015

Striped Dolphins and Mystery Cetaceans

This week I was joined by Wildlife Officer Rose as Brittany Ferries Pont Aven turned around once again towards Santander, we had a wonderful start to the week with the sun rising over the Bay of Biscay. The morning watch was pretty quiet with a few Gannets and a small flock of birds that, at first, we were unable to ID but have since sent the photos off for identification. Many passengers turned up for the first presentation of the week and were eager to join us up on deck as we cross over the southern part of the Bay.

Gannet

Gannet

We hadn’t been waiting long until the Common dolphins breached out of the water and headed towards the ship. Throughout the deck watch we had eight sightings of Common dolphin pods, the largest being 25 strong. We also saw our first dolphin calves of the season, all the passengers who had come to join us were just as excited to see them as we were.

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Mother and calf Common dolphin

The sea state picked up and there were a few more white caps as Spain started to appear on the horizon. Even through the waves a small blow of a whale could be clearly seen. It was certainly too small to be one of the larger cetaceans such as the magnificent Fin or Sperm whale, however we were uncertain on an exact ID. With a smaller size and a very distinctive grey colour, we came to the conclusion that it was possibly a heavily scared Cuvier’s beaked whale.

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Possible Cuvier’s beaked whale

Rose and I saw Thursday in with another early start where we watched the sunrise before starting our deck watch past the Brittany Peninsular. Gannets dived around us however no dolphins were seen feeding beneath them. The scenery was stunning as we slowly passed between the Brittany coast and the Island of Ushant. Later that day we had a fun filled wildlife workshop with games and crafts where the children onboard created their own marine creatures out of recycled materials.

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Tevennec lighthouse, France

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Arts & crafts in the making

With our final deck watch of the day crossing the English Channel we passed by nine drifting Barrel jellyfish. Many of the younger passengers were very intrigued to see them. There were plenty more diving Gannets, Auks and a Manx shearwater but within the final half hour of deck watch passengers were finally treated to a brief but very close and exciting view of two Common dolphins.

Barrel Jellyfish

Barrel Jellyfish

It wasn’t long before we started the return trip to Ireland. On both deck watches there and back we had no sightings of Cetaceans, however we were joined by many Razorbills and Guillemots, Skuas, Gulls and of course, Gannets.

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Pont Aven

With the whole day in Ireland, we disembarked and took a long walk in the country to see what other wildlife we could find. Our little adventure took us over rolling hills in the country, past old overgrown ruins of former buildings and finally to some marshes where we saw Herons and Shelducks.

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Marshes in Ireland

As we started the walk back to the Pont Aven we passed fields full of playful horses and inquisitive cows. When finally back on board, the afternoon deck watch showed us some stunning rainbows out at sea.

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The channel deck watches were very quiet and misty where only the avian species kept us company as we sailed past the Eddystone Lighthouse.

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We had heard from the Wildlife Officers on board Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere, that the sea state in Biscay was perfectly calm at the moment, so we had our fingers crossed for such weather.

Monday soon came and within the first hour we had seen a pod of Common dolphins. More sightings continued throughout the crossing and included our first Striped dolphins of the season.

Breaching Striped dolphins

Breaching Striped dolphins

After spending a few hours docked in Santander, in the wonderful 28°C heat, it was time again to make our journey north back through the Bay of Biscay. The dolphins joined us almost immediately, both Striped and Common dolphins could be seen right next to the ship. As time passed, sightings started to dwindle until, all of a sudden… “Whale”. A medium sized brown whale passed by hardly breaking the surface about half way to the horizon, this was thought to be a Cuvier’s beaked whale.

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Possible Beaked whale

It came around fast, but it was soon time for our final deck watch on Tuesday morning. The English channel was stunning with a sea state two which gradually changed to a one. We were joined by a Greater black back gull who was using the ships updraft to glide above us.

Greater black backed gull

Greater black backed gull

We finish our week with a mystery, Rose spotted an animal moving away from us in the water. It blew as it came up and rolled its back a few times. We took some photos, however we are not sure what it could have been, with a very tall and unusual looking dorsal we thought, perhaps a Rissos dolphin? But please do let us know what you think.

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Mystery dolphin

Shortly after and seemingly out of nowhere, fog surrounded the Pont Aven and the sound of the fog horn certainly got our attention as the deck watch came to an end.

Rebecca Garrity and Rose Massingham

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