Posted by: orcaweb | May 20, 2015

A modelling minke amidst a stormy common commotion.

Wednesday bought us another change over, and I (Chantelle) was joined by Clare on board the Cap Finistere.

Our first Bay of Biscay day arrived, and we tentatively drew back to curtains to reveal a sea state 5, making conditions challenging! Once up on deck, we were joined by passengers a plenty, keen to capture a glimpse of elusive animals darting between the waves. They certainly didn’t need to wait for long, as after 19 minutes of being on effort, common dolphins leapt and frolicked underneath murky skies, coming in to greet us good morning.

sneakyfirstcommon

Common dolphin cutting through the waves

The weather was very strange indeed, with half of the sky a dark moody grey, and the other seemingly belonging to a beautiful and sunny summer’s day. Smatterings of rain would hit, and just as soon as we had a chance to write this down would again leave. Many brave passengers faced the highly variable weather with us, and to their advantage spotted plenty of common dolphins, along with a fleeting visit by four cuvier’s beaked whales, adding an extra element of excitement to their journey. After docking in Spain, we awaited our return traversing highly productive waters.

We had been told by several passengers that the weather would be rough, but had no idea what was in store…

Our deck watch that afternoon started off in a stormy sea state 8, turning the sea white with long streaks of foam and breaking waves in many places. This was caused by an incredible wind, which seemed determined to knock us off of our feet. After having seen us struggle to stay upright, a very kind passenger brought us out hot chocolate, which provided us with the energy to stand up straight and battle through! Our efforts proved fruitful, as we managed to spot 3 pods of common dolphins and a cuviers’ beaked whale. This went a long way to show us that sometimes you just have to wait and watch, regardless of conditions, and the cetaceans will show up! However, our deck watch was cut short as the outside decks were closed due to the rough conditions, and so we sidled inside to grab some dinner, and hope that we could get some sleep amongst the pitching and rolling of the vessel.

Minke whale

Surveying rough seas…

After an interesting night (which involved sliding up and down ones bed and leaving my stomach somewhere up near the ceiling), we were greeted by the salvation of Friday morning daylight. The adverse weather conditions had delayed us slightly, and so we were delighted to find ourselves close to the French islands. Here we experienced several common dolphin individuals amid a feeding frenzy, and plentiful birdlife, including terns and kittiwakes.

Gannetmeeting

Gannets enjoying a morning meeting over breakfast

The ship soon sped beyond the islands and landed safely back into Portsmouth. Here we greeted a new group of passengers, and awaited our Saturday sailing through the Bay. That next morning proved to be quiet, but the afternoon brought us an impressive site. An hour and a half into our deck watch, our first pod of common dolphins appeared, and then never ceased to end. From 1.30pm to 4.30pm, the sea appeared to boil with dolphins, arriving in a torrent of yellow and grey flashes. It would have been harder for you to look at the sea and not see dolphins, which was absolutely fantastic for our passengers. We were also joined by some sneaky bottlenose dolphins amid the fray, of which one leapt clear of the water to reveal its true identity.

13th May - 19th May

A collection of commons

Sunday morning brought a flat calm sea state 2 making watching conditions nice and easy. After having stood outside for a long while with no success, we prepared to leave. But just four minutes before we were due to leave deck, a minke whale popped up right in front of us, roughly just 100 metres away from the ship. It didn’t appear to shy away from the ship, but instead surfaced a few more times to pose for a photo.

Sea state 9

Saying ‘Sand eels’ for the paparazzi

That day, we met the wonderful Hurst family, with little Darley and Daniel (ages 5 and 6) having spotted the whale from the window. This was a memorable experience that will hopefully stay with them forever, and we chatted away about whales and dolphins whilst making binoculars and whales out of paper rolls. Thank you for making our trip fantastic!

Monday’s deck watch was an interesting one indeed. As we stepped on to deck, we noticed that the islands that would usually be passing by on the starboard side appeared to be much larger than we were used to. Checking on the GPS, we realised that this wasn’t an island at all, and was indeed the mainland – we were heading back north. It turns out that we needed to do an exercise with the French authorities, making our trip a little more exciting. The area was buzzing with pilot boats and helicopters, but sadly no cetaceans. A sea state six stopped our surveying effort, but we still stayed outside, ever hopeful. Still, it was not to be, and so we settled down to wait for Tuesday.

helicopter

Helicopter

pilot boat

Pilot boat

tevennec

Tevennec lighthouse

Tuesday afternoon brought with it a myriad of sea state changes, ranging from moderate whale watching conditions, to those where we are required to stop our survey! Despite this changing environment, we were still lucky enough to spot many pods of common dolphins, as well as a small pod of striped dolphins, that were leaping high into the air for all to see.

COMMON

Beautiful leaping commons

That concludes this last weeks’ Cap Finistere adventure. Tune in next week to find out more about what the Bay of Biscay has to offer!

The answer to last weeks trivia question is:

There are several different theories as to why dolphins are attracted to ships, but the most common is that dolphins use the waves created by the ship to hitch a free ride, and therefore expend less energy.

This weeks trivia question is:

What do minke whales use the white bands on their pectoral flippers for, and how do they use them?

Au revoir,

Chantelle and Clare

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