Posted by: orcaweb | June 30, 2015

Possible Orcas Cause A Stir!

After the fantastic sightings last week, Jess and I (Katy) were eager to get back out to the Bay of Biscay. We boarded the Pont Aven with high hopes for the week ahead. While our first watch on Tuesday evening was somewhat lacking on the cetacean front we did spot a rather magnificent tall ship as we sailed past the Isle of Wight.

DSC_0521

On Wednesday morning we set out bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited for the day ahead. We were not disappointed! We were welcomed with calm seas and hundreds of common dolphins, who joined us as we made our way through Biscay and down towards Santander, it was a spectacular sight! Dolphins will often form super pods when hunting and these pods can get up to 1000 dolphins! Imagine that!

Breaching Commons

Breaching commons

As we headed further south the dolphins kept coming, until suddenly everything went quiet, and it was a good hour or so before we had any more sightings.

But then we spotted some faint splashes about 500m from ship- now these splashes appeared very shallow compared to the ones we’d been used to seeing with the common dolphins. We kept a firm eye on these mysterious animals as they swam past, and then suddenly out of nowhere what a appeared to be a large black and white animal gave a shallow leap out of the water- giving us a tiny glimpse of what it could be. Two other animals swam close by, but none of them gave us a clear view so we could work out their identity.

Common dolphin galore!

Common dolphin galore!

Upon close inspection of some very poor photos (on my part). We came to the conclusion that they may have been Orca chasing a dolphin, further evidence arose when a large pod of common dolphins came charging towards the ship like rockets as if they were fleeing a predator.

Possible Orca

Possible Orca?!

The Orca we get in Biscay hunt marine mammals such as dolphins, small whales and seals, so when we saw the dolphins making a b-line for the ship we were leaning closer to the fact we may have just seen killer whales!

ORCA FACT : There are thought to be 9 different sub-species of Orca found all over the world. The size of their eye patch, saddle patch and colouration varies between the sub-species.

As we got into the final hours our journey we entered Cuvier’s beaked whale territory, and with the sightings we’d had in the previous week, were hopeful we’d see a few more. However our only encounters were a few far away glimmers of the sun on the back of a few long finned pilot whales and a lone Oceanic Sunfish. Considering our location we surprised how quiet it was, but if our sighting earlier were, in fact Orca, this would explain the quietness of the bay.

On Thursday we approached the northern shelf and toward the English Channel, with mirror calm seas it was perfect whale watching weather. Within minutes we spotted a small dorsal fin 20m from the ship, it was a shark! We could tell it was a shark from the way it moved it’s tail from side to side, unlike cetaceans who move their tails in an up and down motion.

Mirror Calm Seas

Mirror Calm Seas

Unidentified shark in mirror calm seas

Unidentified shark in mirror calm seas

Soon after we spotted a small pod of harbour porpoises including a tiny porpoise calf! As the sea began to turn, white water started to appear making it harder to see any whales or dolphins, however we did get a fleeting glance and two common dolphins casually bobbed through the waves, even though our cetacean sightings were on the thin side we were surrounded by gannets as we sailed through the islands off the Brittany coast and past the haunted lighthouse Tevennec.

Harbour Porpoise Mother And Calf

Harbour Porpoise Mother And Calf

Tevennec

Tevennec

Large flocks of gannets soared over our heads as the older birds seemed to be teaching the younger ones how to use the thermal lift from the ship. We then saw more gannets further out flying in perfect formation, with one adult at the front and one at the back, it really did seem like they were having a flying lesson. As we approached Plymouth our only other sighting was a group of Shearwaters and 4 little Swifts.

Our weekend crossings were just as quiet & with blustery winds and a lot of sea spray, it was difficult to spot any cetaceans, but on our way in and out of Cork, we did spot several Sunfish- whose latin name is Mola mola, we found out that mola in Spanish actually translates to “cool”! A very fitting name for our largest boney fish!

Oceanic Sunfish

Oceanic Sunfish

You may also remember Rose and Jess talking about our little Irish friend the seal- well we saw him again! As we got to his signature rock, we were disappointed to find he wasn’t there. Not disheartened we made ourselves comfortable and patiently sat and waited. We didn’t have to wait long as his little head soon popped up to have a look at us. This is all we’d see this week, as with a quick flick of his tail he dived down, and so, he was gone.

Our favourite Irish friend!

Our favourite Irish friend!

Sunday bought more white water and dark skies, again leading to no cetacean sightings, however we did spot several very large barrel jellyfish as we made our way into Plymouth.

Our final trip to Santander was surprisingly quiet (possibly more evidence that our sighting a few days prior was in fact Orca) compared to our previous week, but with a sea state four both into and out of Spain, it made it that little bit harder to spot cetaceans, we did however have some lovely sightings of common and striped dolphins as they leaped clear out of the water, as if to say ‘Here we are!’. It was a spectacular sight!

The Acrobatic Striped Dolphin

The acrobatic Striped Dolphin

Despite it being a quiet end to my time on the Pont Aven it’s been an amazing few weeks, and I thank all the ladies at ORCA for having me back.

If you’d like to find out more about ORCA or you would like to become a member visit our website: www.orcaweb.org.uk or like us on facebook.

Thanks for reading!

Katy & Jess

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