Posted by: orcaweb | April 21, 2015

From the Channel to the Bay… what a week!

Jess and I (Rose) have been on board the Pont Aven for the past week, and what a week it has been! We left Portsmouth last Tuesday with the excitement of Becky and myself having spotted a potential Risso’s dolphin in the channel so we squeezed in an hour of deck watching with the remaining light.  The channel was like silk and we had a spectacular sunset but unfortunately no Cetaceans.

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Sunset in the channel

A new day dawned and we were joined by a lovely man we named Nick the Greek. There were also lots of feathered friends out and about including a Great Skua, Black Backed gulls, Gannets and even Curlews. Less than two hours into the deck watch I spotted dolphins towards the front of ship, apparently out of nowhere.  Even though I hadn’t seen them clearly before I knew their tall distinctive dorsal fin – they were Risso’s. It was a brief but close and exciting encounter. It wasn’t long before we had some more excitement, there was a huge splashing movement as though something was thrashing beneath the surface, and we couldn’t see what it was but suspected it was a shark!

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Risso’s dolphin in the North of the Bay

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A Curlew

After the mornings deck watch Jess led the first presentation of the week to a captive audience of 60 passengers! We also trialled a new quiz to go with the presentation which received lots of positive feedback saying people felt the quiz kept them engaged and helped them to learn more.

On our second deck watch of the day over the deep pelagic waters into Santander we had over 30 passengers join us, everyone was very enthusiastic and Common dolphins were already passing just before we started our survey! During the watch everyone was rewarded with more Common dolphin sightings but as the weather turned on approach to Spain, Jess and I were left to a spattering of rain which didn’t dampen our spirits as I suddenly spotted something completely new and different! Dark shapes seemingly moving through the water in slow motion.  They were quite far out but Jess managed to capture a photo of their dorsal fins and exclaimed, ‘Pilot whales!’ What a lovely treat to end the day with and the first spotted by us this season.

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Passengers watching Jess’ presentation

female and male LF pilot whales!!

Pilot whales near Santander

On our return to Plymouth we had less luck Cetacean spotting in the morning but we did witness some Gannets diving which is always a thrill to watch and the mild weather and decent sea state made for pleasant viewing. The weather held whilst we crossed the channel that afternoon and a few dedicated passengers stayed out for an entire deck watch which involved three different, if a bit distant, Risso’s dolphin sightings! A wildlife photographer was one such passenger and captured a family of four Risso’s (including one calf) with his camera that looked magical, due to the distance Jess and I struggled to get a decent photo but it was exhilarating nonetheless!

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Diving Gannet

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Four Risso’s dolphins courtesy of Ted Humphreys

We had little luck whilst surveying on our way to Cork but the sunrise was spectacular and as it rose we had an audience of Gulls which were hovering above the ship. Off the ship we had time to stretch our legs and on our return to the Pont Aven we spotted a familiar face in the water that could only belong to a Grey seal! The encounter was a close one and he can’t have been more than 15 metres away from us which was lovely to see. Unfortunately the wind had whipped the sea state higher as we left Cork and made surveying too difficult to continue which was a devastating decision to call.  However just as we were coming off effort Jess spotted two sharks just below the surface, not far from the ship! It was a quick and unbelievable glimpse, but a glimpse nonetheless which left us confident that in better conditions we can hope to spot more in the future.

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Sunrise to Cork

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Seal in the Port of Cork

Unfortunately the poor sea state continued into Sunday and even though we watched resiliently, there were no Cetaceans to be seen, but we had some lovely passengers come out on deck for a chat as we left Plymouth for Santander.

Thankfully Monday was to be the best day yet for sightings as we passed over the deep pelagic waters of the Bay of Biscay, the morning started well with sightings of Common dolphins and in the last ten minutes of the early watch and we had our first sighting of a Fin whale, a new species for us! It was very exciting to see the second largest animal on the planet not far from the ship. After two successful presentations we were eager to return to deck 10 for more sightings, especially after hearing the success of the ORCA survey team who were doing their monthly survey on the bridge and had spotted Sperm whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales. On our return to Portsmouth we had a rapt audience join us as we crossed the Bay who were rewarded with fantastic sightings of Fin whales, three Cuvier’s beaked whales and lots of activity from Common dolphins right through till sun down.

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Fin whale

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Male Cuvier’s beaked whale

As we returned to a sunny Portsmouth this morning, Jess and I were looking forward to returning to the Bay tomorrow in the hope for another fantastic day of sightings, read next weeks blog to see how we got on or follow @ORCA_web on twitter for instant sightings news from both the Pont Aven and the Cap Finistere.

Over and out from Rose and Jess!

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Common dolphins

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