Posted by: orcaweb | June 10, 2015

Celebrity Crossing and Fantastic Sightings For Passengers!

There was much excitement in the ORCA office when I re-joined Jess Owen for another spell on board the Pont Aven, this was because one of our patrons Nigel Marven (wildlife TV presenter and all round nice guy) was also joining us as part of his journey to Spain to film venomous snakes. We met Nigel briefly after a successful meet and greet, during which lots of passengers were keen to find out about our talk and the one Nigel was also going to be presenting the following day.

Wednesday came around and Jess gave a fantastic presentation to around 170 passengers including Nigel. After our presentation we stuck around to listen to Nigel talk about his personal wildlife experiences with Cetaceans from around the world which was awe-inspiring and the passengers really enjoyed it. After the presentations we all headed out on deck to help passengers spot Cetaceans, it was a lovely day and we had a great turn out throughout the deck watch. We had some close and thrilling encounters with common dolphins and striped dolphins who were surfing in the large swell. Nigel was hoping to spot his first Cuvier’s beaked whale but unfortunately there were none to be seen. There were tantalising blows on the horizon, twice very close together which was the source of great excitement amongst passengers but they were too far away to identify.

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Passenger points to common dolphins right next to the ferry

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Myself, Nigel Marven and Jess Owen on deck watch

Due to the recent success of our Cork deck watches, Jess and I expected great things Saturday morning but although the skies were clear the sea was rough and full of white water with a sea state 5. This made spotting any elusive minke whales that much trickier due to their near invisible blow and short surface time. We did have a few manx shearwaters, guillemots, cormorants and gannets though and there was an unexpected surprise for us during our time ashore in Ireland which made our day. After a decent breakfast we found ourselves walking towards a stony beach we had discovered on a previous trip to Ireland, this time Jess and I were determined to walk a bit further round the coast than we had previously. As we sat down for a short break we just happened to be talking about how, last time we were there we had spotted the head of a common seal poking out from the sea not far offshore. Almost immediately after we spotted a young seal balanced precariously on a rock just within the water line. The seal was lovely to behold and we were able to get a bit closer for some fantastic shots of him looking right at us and rubbing his front limbs together.

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Juvenile common seal in Ireland

It was a lovely sunny day as we approached Plymouth, the sea state was admirable and made for easy deck watching, however although we were keeping our eyes peeled we weren’t sure if we would see much as we headed towards the middle of the English Channel. Then just as we were about to come off effort I spotted some movement and the smallest break of water made by a dark fin not too far away from the ship. It was slightly behind us already and getting lost in the wake of the ship but it was clearly a small Cetacean making the smoothest of rolling movements, a harbour porpoise! Jess and I had not encountered this species before ourselves but it is the most common cetacean found around our coastline, we were very pleased to spot one and were also treated to another sighting on our way out of Plymouth!

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Harbour porpoise in the calm of the channel

As the Pont Aven turned back towards the Bay of Biscay we discussed how we were anticipating a good day of sightings and the hopes of spotting some more Cuvier’s beaked whales. The sea state was still showing some white water but Jess had a great spotting of two Cuvier’s beaked whales not far off the side of the ship, their blows were clear to see and they themselves were almost the same colour as the water but even though they were traveling away from us the whites of their heads could still be clearly seen. There was a bit more excitement for those up on deck when a lady spotted a huge straight blow in the distance, unfortunately the animal was moving away from us and we could not get a good look to ID it, but with such a tall blow it was likely to be a fin whale. This was followed by a whale sighting on the other side of the ship, Jess and I ran over to investigate and in the glare of the sun I managed to spot and get a few clear shots of another Cuvier’s beaked whale as it dived for the final time below the surface. To round it all off as we approached Santander we had a group of feeding bottlenose dolphins and since looking back through my photos I have identified a possible common-striped dolphin hybrid.

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Close encounter with a Cuvier’s beaked whale that was part of a pair

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Possible hybrid 

The morning had been incredibly successful but as we turned back towards the UK the winds had picked up as well as the swell making for difficult surveying conditions, we still had spectacular sightings of common dolphins though, surfing the waves right up close to the ferry and leaping in the wake.

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Dolphins surfing in wake of the Pont Aven, can you spot them?!

It was lovely to meet some readers of the blog this week on board but if you don’t already follow us on Twitter or Facebook please do for all our most up to date information!

This was mine and Jess’ last week spent together as Wildlife Officers and I have to say it has been an absolute pleasure to work with her, please keep tuned in though for more blog entries from all of us on board the Pont Aven!

Over and Out,

Rose and Jess

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