Posted by: orcaweb | May 6, 2015

Sunfish shine through grey rainy days

Welcome to the Cap Finistere blog once again. This week I (Clare) was joined by Tiffany and after the fantastic sightings Chantelle and I had last week we were really excited to get back on the ship.

After exciting a bar full of passengers with a presentation about the wildlife in the Bay of Biscay on Wednesday lunchtime, many joined us up on deck to try and spot some of these Cetaceans in the Channel. Unfortunately the sea was rough and so no Cetaceans were seen, but a lot of passengers were keen to try again the next morning as we sailed over the deep pelagic waters and the canyons just before our arrival in Bilbao.

Passengers helping us spot Cetaceans

Passengers helping us spot Cetaceans

The Bay of Biscay was very rough on Thursday morning with many white caps making Cetacean spotting difficult, but as we approached Spain the seas calmed down and more were sighted. The passenger’s patience was rewarded with pods of Common and Striped dolphins playing in the ships wake. As we got closer to Spain we sighted two blows on the horizon, and then just 10 minutes later we saw a closer blow and identified it as a Fin whale. Many passengers witnessed the mighty Fin whale blow and said it made a fantastic start to their holiday.

Fin whale seen on Thursday

Fin whale seen on Thursday

After a relaxing lunch sat in the sun whilst in port in Bilbao, we were really excited to greet the new passengers and tell them all about the great sightings we had that morning, hoping they too would join us on deck that afternoon. As usual Thursday in the Bay of Biscay did not disappoint, the sea had calmed down since this morning to a sea state two, making ideal Cetacean sighting conditions. The passengers on deck were first treated to a small pod of Bottlenose dolphins near the coast of Spain and then four Fin whale sightings in just one hour, with two of them close to the ship. As the afternoon progressed we had 16 further sightings of Common dolphins. After three hours on deck the weather suddenly changed to a sea state five and the rain started falling, limiting our chances of seeing more Cetaceans.

Common dolphins seen on Thursday

Common dolphins seen on Thursday

After a very rough night in the Bay of Biscay we woke up blurry-eyed and not too excited about surveying in the rough Channel waters. Things changed when we went to have our usual breakfast of toast or cereal and found out that Friday was a bank holiday in France so we were treated to freshly baked pastries. After a big mug of coffee and a warm croissant we were much more eager to go outside and see if the Channel can produce any Cetaceans for us. Unfortunately after 3 hours on deck no cetaceans were spotted, so we went back inside to warm up.

Saturday morning looked even worse than Friday with just 500m visibility and rough sea state 5 conditions, so unsurprisingly we didn’t see any whales or dolphins in the morning despite sailing over the usually productive continental shelf edge.

Common dolphins heading towards the ship

Common dolphins under the bridge

We soon went back inside to deliver our presentation, which was viewed by over 50 interested passengers and many came up after to ask about how they can get involved and support ORCA. Following a fantastic presentation most of the passengers joined us upstairs to help spot the Cetaceans they had just learnt about. We were not too hopeful after the awful conditions in the morning, but as we got to deck 10 we were pleasantly surprised as the visibility had vastly improved making our chances of seeing cetaceans much higher. The bay was relatively quiet with just a few small pods of Common dolphins and a Sun fish, but this was enough to keep over 50 passengers eagerly scanning the sea. When we were about two hours from Spain the sea suddenly calmed down, the grey skies and the calm waters made perfect Cetacean sighting conditions and suddenly the dolphins started appearing. We had a large pod of about 50 dolphins that raced towards the ship putting on a show to the passengers that had waited patiently all afternoon. This was then followed by our first Sunfish sighting and then another large pod of dolphins with a few calves in it. Saturday was such a fantastic day as we were joined by lots of passengers that entertained us with wildlife stories and interesting questions, so thank you to everyone that joined us on Saturday

Common dolphins

Common dolphins

Sunday started like the rest of the days with rough seas and rain. We didn’t see any cetaceans but were entertained by many sea birds and the views of the beautiful Brittany islands.

Juvenile Gannets

Juvenile Gannets

Despite the weather forecast showing high winds Monday stayed relatively calm throughout the Brittany islands and on to the northern shelf. In the evening as we could see the storm clouds brewing we spotted a Minke whale on the northern shelf, it just blew a few times before disappearing, but it showed itself enough to be seen by the passengers up on deck with us. As the evening went on we entered a huge thunder storm and the seas soon stirred up creating huge waves and a very rocky night. Tuesday looked even worse as we left Bilbao with a huge 5m swell and gale force winds turning Biscay into a sea state 8! However we did still spot a few dolphin pods and a Sunfish before the sea spray forced us to come back inside.

Stormy skies on Monday

Stormy skies on Monday

We have been on the Cap Finistere for just over a month now and we wanted to give you a little summary of the sightings we have seen this month and all of the fantastic passengers we have engaged with. The month started quiet with rough weather and the odd dolphin or Fin whale sighting. From the middle of April the seas calmed and we started to see a larger variety of species like the Pilot whales and Sperm whales. By the end of the month we even saw up to seven different Cetacean species in one day!  We started seeing fish species too like Sunfish, Yellow-finned tuna and even a shark.

Species Sightings
Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) 95 pods
Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) 21 pods
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) 2 pods
Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) 3 pods
Pilot whale (Globicephla sp.) 10 pods
Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) 4 pods
Sperm whale (Physeter microcephalus) 2 individuals
Fin whale (Balaenopetera physalus) 11 individuals
Minke whale (Balaenopetera acutorostrata) 1 individual
Yellow-finned tuna (Thunnus albacares) 1 school
Ocean Sunfish (Mola mola) 4 individuals

As well seeing lots of incredible Cetaceans, we have engaged with 1171 passengers through presentations, and over 1000 have joined us up on deck to see the Cetaceans for themselves. We have also made crafts out of recycled materials and played marine themed games with 131 children, inspiring them to take an interest in marine conservation. All three of us Wildlife Officers have thoroughly enjoyed our first month on board the Cap Finistere and we would like to thank all the fantastic passengers we have met throughout April.

Rainbow above the Cap Finistere

Rainbow above the Cap Finistere

Our weekly trivia question:

Why is the Mola Mola called the Sunfish?

Sun fish


The answer to last week’s trivia question is: The Pilot whale’s Latin name- Globicephala means ‘globe head’ and refers to its bulb shape head.

Thank you for reading our blog.

Clare & Tiffany

Please check out the ORCA website for more detail on how you can get involved by becoming a member.



  1. The weekly trivia question … Is the answer, because they are frequently seen basking in the sun near the surface of the water?

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