Posted by: orcaweb | July 2, 2015

Fluking fantastic!

Howdy folks!
Clare and I (Chantelle) set out for the Bay of Biscay once again last Wednesday, and on our way were greeted by absolutely stunning conditions in the English Channel. Quite often these deck watches can be rough, making it difficult for us to see anything. However, we had a fantastic sea state one, meaning we managed to spot 3 pairs of harbour porpoise, delighting passengers on their first day. We were equally elated by a fantastic close up view of a gannet that flew just next to the deck, which caused many passengers to venture out from behind the glass to ask us what type of bird this stunning creature was.


The beautiful Gannet

Thursday morning meant an early start for the two of us, arriving out on deck at just 5.20 am – but this proved to be totally worth it. Just ten minutes after having been on deck, under a beautiful pink sky, we were greeted by a pod of over 400 common dolphins, including 24 calves! The sea boiled with activity for approximately twenty minutes, with the dolphins feeding and leaping in towards the ship. This flux of dolphins continued for at least the next few hours, with plentiful passengers gaining great views of both common dolphins as well as striped dolphins, as we passed over the continental shelf edge. However, after a short while, the sea once again died down and we were left to search. On our approach to Spain, we noticed some cetacean backs shining in the midday light. On further inspection, we realised that we were watching some curious Cuvier’s beaked whales as they rolled slowly through the surface, our first pod of two on that day.


Can you spot the Cuvier’s?

The afternoon unfortunately brought a much less favourable sea state five, meaning that our first few hours were not fruitful. Yet, as we approached the continental shelf, our dolphin sightings once again began to increase. The sea state reduced more and more as we sailed further north, and eventually the sun was left to set above mirror calm seas.
The next day brought a Channel deck watch, at which we encountered a few white caps, but not enough to douse our spirits. We were once again treated to a fleeting glimpse of two harbour porpoises, after a diving gannet alerted us to their presence. This was our only sighting of the morning, and soon we headed in to conduct some fun children’s games, teaching them all about cetaceans.


Teeny tiny harbour porpoise

Early on Saturday, we encountered some beautiful smooth seas as we sailed south over the Northern shelf. The first few hours of surveying provided us with nothing, but knowing we were nearing the continental shelf where we have had plenty of recent sightings, we were optimistic to at least see something that morning. However, we really were not expecting what graced us with its presence. As we were just beginning to pass over the depth change, we noticed an angled bushy blow, unmistakeably a sperm whale! We sighted this in our binoculars and continued to follow it along the horizon, watching it blow as it went, and eventually fluking up before it disappeared into the abyss. This is the first time I have ever seen anything fluke, and so I was incredibly excited, and felt privileged to see this amazing spectacle.


Logging sperm whale – notice the angled blow

We were also lucky enough to spot a second sperm whale logging at the surface, with three others having been spotted on the opposite side – it seems we had hit a sperm whale hotspot! And of course, plentiful dolphins continued to enchant passengers for the entirety of the day.


Leaping mother common with the calf just underneath

The daytime deck watch on Monday brought us a group of feeding dolphins near to the horizon, with birds circling and wheeling through the sky, before diving into the water to capture fish. A sunfish was also spotted moving quickly away from the ship!
But the real magic happened later on that evening, when we spotted two large pods of bottlenose dolphins getting their own piece of the action. Their stocky bodies were clear for all to see, making incredible splashes as they leapt out of the water, with some venturing in to greet the ship.


Feeding bottlenose dolphins

On Tuesday morning we decided to try something a little different, and presented a special ‘Beaked Whale’ talk in place of our usual southbound presentation. This educated a group of 20 passengers on the Bay of Biscay beaked whales, and the specialist adaptations these spectacular marine mammals have for diving so deep. Everybody was keen to listen, and learned quite a lot of new things about this elusive cetacean family.
That afternoon, we were joined by lots of passengers out on decked, looking forward to capturing a glimpse of a whale or dolphin. Unfortunately, we weren’t lucky enough to spot any beaked whales. However, we were lucky enough to have multiple pods of feeding dolphins, as well as some who were attracted to play in our pressure waves. Also, when reviewing the pictures in the evening, it seems we also had some pilot whales in the midst of the feeding frenzy. Incredible!


Beautiful markings!

That’s all for now folks, but tune in next week to find out how Clare and our newest team member Jenna got on!


Review of species seen in the last month (2nd June – 30th June 2015)

speciessummaryThe answer to last weeks trivia question is: Scientists can tell the age of whales by counting their layers of ear wax! These build up over time, and therefore work in a similar way to tree rings, allowing us to work out how many years the whale has lived for.

This weeks trivia question is: What is the spermaceti organ found in the head of sperm whales used for?


ORCA has recently been nominated for a National Lottery Heritage Fund environment award for it’s Your Seas work. This would mean we would win £2000 and gain national recognition! To learn more about this project visit our Your Seas page and cast your vote here!


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