Posted by: orcaweb | June 16, 2015

Sunfish Surprises and Harbour Porpoise Perfection

As the Pont Aven once again left Portsmouth for another week I, (Rose Massingham) was left to my own devices as wildlife officer Rebecca Garrity is away on holiday. A daunting but nonetheless fun and inspiring week awaited me!

We entered the Bay of Biscay early in the morning Wednesday, but after an hour of deck watch and with a sea state of six I decided to head inside. After a disappointing morning it was great to have such a good turnout for the presentation with a lovely audience who were very interested in ORCA and all the Cetaceans they could hope to see. The day progressed into a stunner as the lovely passengers kept me company up on deck and were rewarded with lots of great sightings. We had two pilot whales swim past the ferry, early into the deck watch which was very exciting as I hadn’t seen any for a while, they were going at quite a pace and I was thrilled to see their heads break through the water as they moved!

As we moved across the Bay there were pods of both common and striped dolphins which were playfully swimming under the ship. Passing over the deep canyons we had a thrilling view of a clear blow but unfortunately it came and went so fast we could not identify the animal. It did not look big enough to be a fin whale blow so I suspected Cuvier’s beaked whale and sure enough an hour or so later we had a surprise sighting of a beaked whale close to the ship which passengers on both decks nine and ten spotted! On first instinct I thought it to be a Cuvier’s but when looking at my photographs later on the dorsal fin looked very tall for this particular beaked whale and have sent my photos off to see if it could be a northern bottlenose whale!


Striped dolphin coming in close to the ship


Two pilot whales swimming past


Cuvier’s or northern bottlenose whale – what are your thoughts?

As we left Santander in the fading light I decided to make the most of the good location and go up on deck ten for an ‘off duty’ deck watch with some passengers who were on their return journey to England.  It was a lovely evening and although we saw the lights of many fishing vessels there were no Cetaceans to be spotted.


A lovely evening for a quick off effort deck watch

It was on our journey into Cork where I had my very first sunfish encounter; I had not seen one before but the large white bony fish was hard to mistake for anything else, it was extremely close to the ship and was being bobbed around in the wake with a face that looked permanently alarmed. It was unfortunately raining so although I whipped my camera from my bag I was not quite quick enough to get a photo. I noticed on the way out of Cork that there were (what I first thought to be small plastic bags) comb jellyfish appearing like ghosts alongside the ship.

These appearances of jellyfish and sunfish could be attributed to the seas becoming warmer; jellyfish are also a sunfishes favourite food so hopefully we shall see more of these in the next few weeks! However this also means that sunfish are at risk of mistaking jellyfish for plastic bags as I did, and at risk of ingesting them, please make sure your plastic waste is disposed of responsibly!


Small jellyfish in Cork

On deck watch approaching Plymouth I was lucky enough to spot my second sunfish in two days and grab a quick photo too! It also seems that the smaller comb jellyfish have joined the larger barrel jellyfish around Plymouth as well as outside Cork. Although we did not have any Cetaceans an eagle eyed passenger spotted another large sunfish much to her and my delight!


My first ever photo of a sunfish!

The crossing to Santander seemed to be full of promise when I went up on deck Monday morning at 6am and almost straightaway I had a sighting of common dolphins, very close to the ship! Not only did I have many common dolphin sightings throughout the mornings deck watch, I also had some dedicated passengers who stayed with me keeping me company with good conversation and excellent spotting. As we approached Santander with sadly no whale sightings, surprise, surprise there were two sightings of sunfish, they seem to be everywhere at the moment!

On the return journey I had hopes that we might have one whale sighting but unfortunately we were not in luck but still had plenty of common dolphin visits to keep us happy!


You can clearly see the ‘alarmed’ look carried by all sunfish here!


Common dolphin sightings

As I woke to my last morning on board the Pont Aven for a few weeks, (I too am off on holidays!) I was pleasantly surprised with a sea state one, perfect for spotting harbour porpoises! It wasn’t long before we had our first sighting not far from the ferry of two porpoises together. The sightings for the most common cetacean off our coastline have been few and far in-between so it was lovely to see these inconspicuous animals. We had three sightings in total as well as my first ever sighting of a Puffin, something which was also a first for wildlife officer Jess Owen a few weeks back! The puffin was just resting on the surface but his presence suggests that sand eels may also be in the channel, this is also a favourite food for minke whales and I was holding out for a sighting! We have not had one in the channel before but unfortunately this remained the same, hopefully Jess , who will be joined by Katy, will have better luck next week!


Harbour porpoise in perfect sea state


A very far away puffin!

It has been an eventful week on board the Pont Aven and I have met many wonderful passengers, if you would like to find out more about ORCA or how to become a member, please visit our website and like us on facebook.

See you in a few weeks,



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