Posted by: orcaweb | June 4, 2015

Three whale species in one week for Pont Aven Wildlife Officers…and a cheeky Puffin!

This week on board the Pont Aven started with a real surprise! We had a beautifully calm sea on our Wednesday morning watch across the Bay of Biscay, which gave us the perfect conditions to spot a magnificent beast! We had our usual friends the common dolphins approaching the ship, leaping spectacularly out of the water, but amongst the dolphin sightings there was an unexpected treat.

 

Passengers, who had been encouraged up on deck watch by our morning presentation, ran over from the other side of the ship to tell us they could see a whale! We of course followed them to the other side where we saw a small bushy blow coming from what looked like a floating log! Our gut instincts told us that this was a sperm whale. However we were reluctant to announce this to our passengers as we wanted to be sure. We normally see them in the south of the bay as we approach Spain, where deep sea canyons house their favourite squid prey. We snapped some photographs and after studying them we confirmed that it was indeed a sperm whale! It was an excellent start to the week and a great sighting for the passengers.

sperm

Sperm whales produce one of the loudest sounds in the animal kingdom! The click that they use for echolocation can reach up to 230 decibels!

cds

The yellow and grey hour glass pattern on their sides make the common dolphin very recognisable

It was soon time for our Ireland survey, one of my favourite survey routes! It was a perfect tranquil sea state and our first sighting was not a cetacean, but a beautiful sea bird, a single little puffin! This was the first time I had ever seen a puffin and I would have considered it a great day even if we had seen nothing else. But there was more!

After that the survey just got better and better. We saw six bottlenose dolphins feeding just as land was in sight. We had been told by locals that there is a resident population of dolphins just outside of Cork harbour and so it was lovely to finally see a group of them here. Then, just as Becky said ‘now all we need is a whale’, a cheeky minke whale made an appearance very close to the ship!

minke

The sickle shaped dorsal fin is a good way of identifying a minke whale. This species is often seen from the UK, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for them if you find yourself on a coastal cliff walk.

bd

A distant glimpse of bottlenose dolphins. There are two different ecotypes of bottlenose dolphins, there are those who live in coastal waters which are around two meters long, and those that live in deep water which can be around four meters long

 

We had a bit of time to explore Ringaskiddy and so Becky and I (Jess), despite the rain, went for a walk along a stoney beach. It was a very pretty place but unfortunately a lot of plastic bottles and tin cans had been discarded and washed up on the beach and road sides. Litter, particularly plastic and cans, has an extremely detrimental effect of marine and terrestrial wildlife, and in the short time I have been a Wildlife Officer with ORCA, I have seen a saddening amount of plastic and waste floating in the sea. Becky and I picked up a few bottles and soon our walk became a litter pick!

We filled two bags in ten minutes and carried what we could back to the ferry. One way that we can all help our wildlife is to reduce, reuse and recycle our plastic products and waste. A great thing to do is to challenge yourself to collect and recycle at least five pieces of plastic waste when you visit your local beach. Keep an eye out for any upcoming community litter picks in your area.

We were of course very keen to get back into the Bay of Biscay on Monday where we had perfect whale watching conditions. Passengers got some smashing views of common dolphins feeding and swimming towards the ship. Many of the passengers had told us that they would love to see a whale and were waiting and watching with patience and determination. It was not long before Biscay lived up to its reputation of being one of the best locations in Europe to see whales, and we had a great view of not one but two very large animals in the distance. Their vast dark backs rolled through the water, revealing a small dorsal fin just before they disappeared, they were two fin whales!

fin whale

Fin whales are one of the few animals in the world that have asymmetrical colouration, the right side of their lower jaw is white whilst the other side is grey.

The excitement really did ripple through the small crowd who had gathered in hope of getting a glimpse of these inspiring creatures. It felt very satisfying that we had helped some passengers achieve their dream of seeing a whale, as I strongly believe that if we help more people feel a connection with nature, then we will have more people in the world who will care about and protect these wonderful animals that have so many threats to contend with.

Becky and passengers enjoying the sunshine and sightings!

Becky and passengers enjoying the sunshine and sightings!

If you would like to experience the incredible wildlife that the Bay of Biscay is home to, then please take a look at ORCA’s I-Spy mini cruises as these provide an excellent and affordable opportunity to see these animals in the wild.

If you would like to find out more about ORCA and the conservation work that we do, or how to become a member then please visit our website.

Thank you for reading!

Jess and Becky.

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