Posted by: orcaweb | April 29, 2015

Sperm whales spotted on a fantastic Thursday in the Bay of Biscay!

Hello all and welcome to another installment of your weekly Wildlife Officer Blog! I was joined by Clare on board Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere, and we were ready to set sail for the Bay of Biscay once again.

Our deck watch on Wednesday did not bring us any luck, due to a sea state 8/9 which turned the sea white with foam, making whale watching almost impossible. We went to bed that night dreaming of better sea conditions, and wondering what the next day would bring…

Having awoken before first light, we were eager to head up onto the deck, and were greeted by many white caps. Despite this, we were treated to a pod of over 20 Common dolphins after just 5 minutes of being outside, helping us overcome the poor conditions. But this morning was only set to improve, as pod after pod of Common and Striped dolphins raced in to meet the ship over the next few hours. One particular group came porpoising in to play in our bow waves, passing by within just 20 metres of the ship. Whilst looking at the dolphins cutting in and out of the water with ease, we noticed a rather different shape that was traveling beneath the surface, much less familiar than our dolphins. After some examination, we exclaimed ‘Shark!’ in unison, realising that this animal was not mammalian at all. It drifted past the boat casually, measuring around 3 metres in length when compared to our dolphins.

Our mystery shark species - does anyone know which it is?

Our mystery shark species – does anyone know which it is?

But the best was still yet to come. Just two hours outside of Bilbao, when the Cap Finistere began to traverse the deep sea canyons, we noticed a low bushy blow far off in the distance that was angled at 45⁰ to the left. This is unique to only one whale species – the Sperm whale. We could hardly contain our excitement as two of these blows appeared, pointing them out to passengers and teaching them the key identification features.


The angled blow…


..and the long body and triangular dorsal fin of a Sperm whale.

Half an hour passed by, and soon we were treated to the second whale sighting of the morning, bringing us the graceful Pilot Whales. These slow moving creatures totalled around 15 in number, and delighted passengers by swimming close to the ship, allowing excellent views. This was our last sighting before we reached Bilbao, and Clare and I couldn’t wait to turn back and see what else we could find.

Pilot whale

Pilot whale

The afternoon brought us some mystery Beaked Whales that were quite a distance away from the ship, making them incredibly difficult to identify. Still, we knew we could rely on our beautiful Common dolphins, as once again they delighted passengers with their seamless leaps and jumps right up until the sun had set over perfect glassy seas.

Stunning glassy seas proved for some amazing dolphin sightings!

Stunning glassy seas proved for some amazing dolphin sightings!

Saturday’s crossing had us return to the Bay once more, and we had a very special guest on board. Wildlife adventurer and T.V presenter Nigel Marven joined us out on deck for the day, and also joined up as a member of the charity to help us conserve our whales and dolphins (Thanks Nigel!).

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(L-R) Clare, Nigel Marven and Chantelle on deck 10 of the Cap Finistere

His presence seemed to bring the passengers some good luck, as a pod of 15 Striped dolphins appeared from under the ship to give us a show. We were also lucky enough to be revisited by our Pilot whales, milling through the water casually, their stocky bodies and wide based dorsal fins making them unmistakeable.


Striped dolphin mother and calf

Sunday mornings sailing had us peacefully passing by the stunning Brittany coastline, with cliffs rising up out of the ocean, upon which coastal villages and towns had been built. Brittany islands lay to either side of the ship, as we sailed over mirror-calm seas. This perfect sea state provided us with fleeting glimpses of Europe’s most common and smallest cetacean, the Harbour porpoise. Despite its shy nature, these flat seas gave away the animals location with the slightest movement.


A beautiful ship enjoying the sights of the Brittany coastline

Everything had changed by Monday, as a stormy sea state and plentiful glare made surveying incredibly difficult, and so we awaited our next day with anticipation. Before we knew it, Tuesday had arrived, and brought with it perfect conditions as we made our way through the Bay of Biscay from Bilbao. We were on deck for just about ten minutes when the action began. First, we had a pod of excitable dolphins swimming along with the ship, leaping clear of the water to make sure everyone knew where they were. Once these had passed by, we noticed some splashes far off into the distance, and a stocky black shape made itself apparent. After having taken some photos, we positively identified these animals as Pilot whales, much to the pleasure of the passengers who shared the experience with us. Several more dolphin pods joined us that afternoon, and as we passed over the continental shelf some hours later, we were left with a sign off sighting of a large group of Pilot whales just before the sun set over the Bay of Biscay once more.


Common dolphins

So that concludes our last week on board – an exciting one for our Wildlife Officer Clare Owen as she added two new species to the tick list!

Until next time,

Chantelle and Clare

The answer to last weeks trivia question is: The Cuvier’s beaked whale has a dive recorded at an amazing 2,992 metres!

This weeks trivia question: The latin name for the Long-Finned Pilot whale is Globicephala melas. What does Globicephala stand for?

To find out more about ORCA and how you can become a member please visit our website.



  1. That’s a basking shark. Cool sighting!

  2. what a brilliant exciting report most envious

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