Posted by: orcaweb | June 10, 2015

Potential killers claim Biscay

A big hello to you all and welcome to this week’s Cap Finistere blog! Clare and I set off for the Bay of Biscay last Wednesday, and woke up eager on Thursday morning to see what it had in store.

The first few hours proved to be rather quiet, but after several hours of scanning, a pod of common dolphins came to break through the churning sea’s surface. People watched in awe as they leapt effortlessly towards the ship, numbering around 50 in total. It wasn’t long after this that we had our second sighting again of dolphins, but this time they were noticeably larger. As Clare and I watched them draw ever closer, we noted their gunmetal grey flanks shining in the sunlight, and their stocky muscled bodies – these were unmistakeably bottlenose dolphins. A ripple of excitement ran over the deck as we informed them this was a different species, and we were even lucky enough to spot a calf!


Bottlenose making a splash

However, for five hours of surveying, we were surprised at only having seen two pods of dolphins, surely something was afoot…

After a short but sunny stop in Bilbao, we completed our presentation and managed to get out onto deck half an hour earlier than scheduled. This certainly worked in our favour, as we spotted what we believe could have been the reasoning for our quiet morning…
Just 200m from the ship, I noticed a white patch of activity where an animal had quite obviously breached. This was shortly followed by three backs and fins, belonging to what appeared to be orca! We waited eagerly with the camera for the animals to resurface to help us positively ID them, but they did not oblige. We are 80 percent sure, but will we ever know?

But the frustrations did not end there. Just over an hour later we spotted the gigantic splashes of breaching whales close to the horizon. We wished more than anything that we could commandeer the ship and see what they were, but it was over just as soon as it had begun. These sightings left us feeling tense, but common dolphins appeared to soothe our souls, plainly obvious in a stunning sea state 2.


Leaping for joy

Our next Bay day came around on Saturday, and we were joined by a multitude of very keen and pleasant passengers. No enthusiasm was lost despite a sea state 5/6, and all waited patiently at the barrier.
No sightings were had on our morning deck watch, apart from a collared dove who was hitching’ a ride on board. The afternoon brought us plenty of common dolphins, many of which had calves. This was a joy to see and a great start to everyone’s holiday!


Flying a long way is awfully hard…everyone deserves a break!


Mum and calf

After a day of talking to wonderful people, we were enthused to welcome our new ORCA patron Nigel Marven on board once again. We were joined by Nigel on our Sunday morning deck watch, and together we enjoyed the sights of the beautiful Brittany coastline, as well as plenty of birdlife, including a large flock of Manx Shearwaters.
That afternoon, Nigel gave a talk to passengers on all of the adventures with whales he has had whilst filming. This had a wonderful turnout of 90 people, and was a pleasure to listen too, the enthusiasm of Nigel undoubtedly inspiring many others to seek out new adventures.


Nigel Marven giving his inspirational talk

Before we knew it, it was time to say goodbye to our new patron, and Monday morning rolled into view. Unfortunately the sea state was poor on this day, with white caps as far as the eye could see. However, the sun was shining, and we enjoyed our afternoon on deck chatting to lots of different people.

Tuesday’s presentation went by in a flash, and once again it was time to return to our beloved deck 10 to survey the cetaceans of the Bay. Beforehand, whilst eating lunch, we noted that the sea was a rather lovely sea state three, motivating us to get upstairs as soon as possible. However, once upstairs it became clear that this was not to last and it quickly transitioned from this to a sea state 7.


White caps make whale watching very difficult

The wind was howling across the deck, bringing with it clouds of spray, and yet some valiant passengers braved the conditions in the hope of seeing a whale or dolphin. Within the first hour, we were lucky enough to spot two large blows, which we believe belonged to the mighty fin whale. The high waves also helped us to spot common dolphins heading in towards the ship, surfing along in the beautiful white crested waves, and leaping out to say hello just before reaching the ship.


Clear hourglass patterning

Due to the poor conditions, we retreated inside to take a break from the wind for a short while. On our return to the deck, we spotted a sunfish amidst the fray, but no more.
Summary of Ghost Fishing Gear 14th May – 29th May 2015

This table summarises the ghost fishing gear which has been recorded so far from the Cap Finistere in the Bay of Biscay and English channel (May 14th– May 29th 2015) for the World Animal Protection Sea change campaign.

Ghost Fishing Gear Sightings
Buoy – 6
Rope – 2
Line – 1
Net – 3

Abandoned fishing gear has a significant impact on marine life, with approximately 136,000 Seals, Sea lions and large whales dying every year from fishing gear. ORCA Wildlife Officers have been recording and photographing any fishing related debris seen from the Cap Finistere and Pont Aven. This data will be passed to World Animal Protection so they can collate the trends, geography and volume in order to tackle the problem. See more about ORCA’s work here.

That leads me in to the conclusion of this week’s blog. Tune in again next week to find out what Clare and Tiffany have been spotting!

All the best,
Chantelle and Clare

The answer to last weeks trivia question is: There are many different theories as to why whales breach. One of the most popular is that they may breach to remove parasites and other organisms from their skin. Another is that they may do this to communicate to each other over large distances, as breaching creates loud noise and this travels well throughout the water.

This weeks trivia question is: How long do dolphin calves stay with their mothers?

Thank you very much for reading our weekly blog. If you would like to support ORCA, you can become a member or make a donation. To find out more about ORCA’s work then please visit our website.


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