Posted by: orcaweb | May 19, 2015

Passengers see five species in one day!

I (Rose Massingham) was excited to re-join Jess Owen back on board the Pont Aven after two weeks of rest. We had a successful meet and greet leaving Portsmouth and I was eager to get up on deck the following day on our way to Santander across the Bay of Biscay. On Wednesday morning Jess and I had a very large turnout for the presentation with roughly 90 passengers listening to Jess talk! She did extremely well and we got lots of positive feedback and donations. If you follow us on twitter @orca_web you might have seen the tweet about our success!

In the afternoon we had a very productive deck watch, it was a slow starter but in the end we had five different species! The first appearance was a fin whale, spotted by myself in the far distance because of its large blow and I was able to track the animal using that. We were able to identify it as a fin whale when Jess caught sight of its fin in her binoculars. It took a while for anything else to appear and Jess and I were starting to question the absence of common dolphins when we began to spot groups of dolphins feeding in the distance. This kept up the enthusiasm of the passengers and as the dolphins lunch break grew to a close more pods started to head closer to the ship which created a real buzz across the whole vessel. On closer inspection of some of the photos we discovered there had been not only Common Dolphins but also some striped dolphins thrown in for good measure!


Striped dolphins causing a stir amongst passengers


Common dolphins traveling towards ship

For the dedicated passengers who stuck with us until the end of the deck watch on approach to Santander we were all rewarded with an exciting encounter with pilot whales, there were about five individuals in this group and everyone was really interested in this uncommon sighting. Whipped up with excitement the passengers rushed over the other side of the deck when they heard there were more dolphins on starboard, Jess and I waited patiently and sure enough they came to portside for us to look at, these dolphins did not come out of the water as much as commons and were bigger. We were not positive on a definite identification at the time but due to the curved dorsal fin, smooth body, size and behaviour we thought they could be bottlenose dolphins, which was confirmed when we checked our photos. The Cetaceans weren’t the only friends to be seen during our crossing, once again for the third week we were joined by two collared doves.


Pilot whales

not a pilot whale?

Bottlenose dolphin


Collared dove

An early deck watch on Thursday morning was looking like a grim prospect when Jess and I walked out, the sea state was five and it was blowing a gale! Taking shelter from the wind but taking a hit from sea spray we were joined by one brave passenger (Paul Eversfield), as the watch went on the sun appeared and the sea state calmed a little, enabling us to catch a glimpse of three pilot whales no more than 300m from the ship just casually swimming past. This put a smile on our faces as we headed down to do our presentation for the day. When we returned to deck watching in the afternoon there was a lot of bird life to be seen around the islands of Ushant, we spotted; Northern fulmars, kittiwake juveniles, gannets and juvenile gannets. We thought birds might be the only wildlife to be seen but us and two passengers were excited to spot common dolphins jumping through the rough sea state close to the ship which really topped off a lovely day.

Northern Fulmar?

Northern Fulmar

juv kittiwake or at least first year???

Juvenile Kittiwake

On Saturday we were heading into Cork and as we got closer to the emerald isle the weather and sea state kept improving, it was looking to be a gorgeous day with plenty of gannets flying close to the ship. Just about an hour away from Cork, Jess unbelievingly and excitedly said “I just saw a blow?!”. We both trained our eyes on the spot where the animal had been and sure enough a blow followed by rolling back and a dorsal fin appeared, disappearing again quickly. It was a very brief encounter but we both felt that the animal we had seen had been Europe’s smallest rorqual whale, the minke whale. Unfortunately with such a quick encounter there was no time for a photo but this had been our first encounter with a minke whale and we are hopeful we shall see more in the future. On our way back out of Cork we had a single tantalising blow and numerous groups of diving gannets which made for spectacular viewing, indicating there was plenty of fish below the surface.


Lovely weather going into Ireland


Passengers watching Gannets close up



Monday morning saw us returning to Santander and after a successful presentation the previous evening we had lots of passengers join us on deck throughout our watch. We had high hopes as not only were we over the most productive part of the bay but the sea state was a stunning one and made for exceptional clear viewing. Our optimism was well placed as within the first hour we had two sightings of fin whales! The first was a distant blow and roll of the back but the second was closer and we got a great view of the animal and an idea of just how large it was, we were so stunned we completely forgot to get a photograph! Throughout the rest of the watch we had half a dozen Cuvier’s beaked whales and an incredible amount of common dolphin sightings; the majority of which appeared to be feeding.


Common dolphins close to the ship


Cuvier’s beaked whale coming into Santander

The morning’s success meant that we were expecting great things from our afternoon watch, however the swell had increased to over 4m and as the watch went on the sea state deteriorated. We still had plenty of common dolphin sightings and this time they were being far more playful, leaping out of the water, breaching and approaching the boat much to the delight of many of the passengers which helped take their minds off the rolling ship.

Breaching common dolphin

Breaching common dolphin

I hope you have enjoyed reading about mine and Jess’ adventures on board the Pont Aven this week, if you would like to hear more about what ORCA is up to please like us on facebook.

Over and out,

Rose and Jess


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