Posted by: orcaweb | May 5, 2015

Whales, wind and waves!

It was soon time to board Brittany Ferries Pont Aven, this time for a solo week as Jess and Rose disembarked. As the sun started to fade on the first day I had enough time for a very quick deck watch. Still being in the busy ship lanes I was very surprised to see a Harbour porpoise slowly swim past the ship.

Wednesdays presentation soon came round and the seats were full with over 80 passengers attending, my largest audience to date! It was soon time to head up on deck to see what the south of the Bay had in store. Many passengers joined me and it wasn’t long before our first sighting, an active pod of Common dolphins putting on a show for us, the Captain even announced them over the outside deck speakers. There were many dolphin sightings along this crossing including mixed pods of Common and Striped dolphins.


Common dolphins

After a few hours of deck watch had gone by another announcement came over the speakers from the Captain telling passengers there were whales on the Starboard side, which happened to be the opposite side I had been viewing from. We all ran over to have a look and sure enough, three Cuvier’s beaked whales were slowly swimming past.


Cuvier’s beaked whale

I had also been joined on deck by staff who were very keen to spot some cetaceans with me. They didn’t have long to wait, right on the horizon a faint blow appeared, raising the binoculars I could clearly see the long role of a very large and dark animal. This would very likely be a Fin whale however it was just too far away to be sure of an exact ID. Only a few minutes after that, another whale appeared, but this time a much smaller one.   It swam past the ship very casually just 60m away. Although it was swimming away from us a lot of the animal could be seen and the dorsal looked much taller than the Cuvier’s we had seen earlier. This whale looks to be a Northern bottlenose whale, which is very exciting for me as it is the first time I have seen this animal.


Northern bottlenose whale

IMG_7952aThe next day as we approached Plymouth just a few minutes before the deck watch was due to start, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a pod of dolphins breaching towards the back of the ship. They looked much bigger than Common dolphins and were more likely to be Bottlenose or Risso’s dolphins however it was hard to tell which without my binoculars. This made me very eager to get strait out onto deck, unfortunately no other cetaceans were seen for the rest of the crossing.

On Saturday it was time to survey the seas around Ireland however the early morning deck watch was soon halted by the lack of visibility. Heavy fog had engulfed the Pont Aven and it was a struggle to see any more than 100m from the ship. The fog stayed with us throughout the return to Roscoff and back to Plymouth, although it did lift enough to allow for a few deck watches, with the highest visibility being 8km.


Heavy fog towards Ireland

It was soon time for the last Biscay crossing of the week. With an early start, passengers and I didn’t have long to wait until the first of the Common dolphins made an appearance. A few hours into the deck watch there was a whale blow in front of the ship. As the ship came closer and closer we were treated to a fantastic view of a Fin whale as its massive back rolled out of the water before showing us its dorsal fin just 300m from the ship. We also had two more whale blows closer to Spain.


Whale blow

Just as we approached Santander we were greeted by three unusual animals. Two of them were only 200m from the ship and the third caught my eye by breaching a little further out, they were very quick and I wasn’t too sure what they could have been at the time, however looking through the photos they turned out to be Bottlenose dolphins.


Bottlenose dolphins

The weather wasn’t looking too promising for the journey back through the bay with strong winds and many white caps as we pulled away from Santander. Fortunately this didn’t last too long as both wind and sea calmed down. The crossing back was noticeably quieter than the journey there however the Common dolphins certainly made themselves known as they surrounded the ship. A hybrid could also be seen amongst one of the pods which would be a cross between a Striped and Common dolphin.


Common dolphins and Hybrid

There were plenty of whale blows to be seen just below the horizon both at the start of the deck watch and at the end as we approached the continental shelf. I had many wonderful passengers joining me on deck and all were very pleased with the sightings Biscay had shown them. As the deck watch came to an end the clouds started to darken, patches of rain could be seen all over the horizon and the day finished with a very intense rainbow above the sea and later on we passed a very impressive thunderstorm.


Dark skies and a faint rainbow

The English Channel was covered in white caps on Tuesday morning and only passing birds were seen including Gannets, Gulls and much smaller migratory birds. As we arrived back in Portsmouth we welcome back Jess Owen as she joins me for another week aboard Brittany Ferries flag ship the Pont Aven .

Rebecca Garrity

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  1. Excellent work Becky! You clearly love your work and it shows! Wishing I was on the Pont right now. Hope the weather stays good! Here on the Isle of WIght it’s a bit blowy! Frequently on the beach watching the Ferries sail past wishing I was on one! Have fun.

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