Posted by: orcaweb | July 8, 2015

Whales impress the crowds in Ireland!

Hello! Welcome to the Pont Aven Wildlife Officers PENULTIMATE BLOG!

We have almost come to the end of our three months on board Brittany Ferries flagship the Pont Aven and sadly this has been my (Jess) final week as a Wildlife Officer with ORCA. But what a week to finish on! Our early watch on Wednesdays in the north of the Bay of Biscay is generally quiet, but I was in for a treat! A small minke whale surfaced, but quickly disappeared. I knew I was likely to only get one chance of a second glimpse as minke whales tend to surface just a couple of times before disappearing for good. I was alone up on deck 10 and when the whale surfaced again I managed to snap a picture, reassuring myself that I wasn’t hallucinating.

Minke whales are usually solitary animals and have smelly breath, though I would imagine most whales smell a bit funky.

Minke whales are usually solitary animals and have smelly breath, though I would imagine most whales smell a bit funky.

Although I love sharing these wonderful encounters with other humans, there was something quite special about being alone with this creature (but I admit the minke whale was most likely unaware of me). I often find that some of the best wildlife experiences are private, fleeting, and unexpected.

It was unusually quiet in the southern part of Biscay, with only a handful of common dolphin sightings and some rather quick and elusive bottlenose dolphins. Perhaps this is a result of the suspected killer whale sightings from the previous week and they have caused some animals to disperse. I did however see some fantastic birds, an entire class of animals that I fear I have neglected in previous blogs. We often spot shearwaters from the ship, a fantastic group of birds that live out at sea all year apart from when they breed. For this they nest colonially in burrows above coastal cliffs. Skomer Island is a great place to see Manx shearwaters .

shearwaters

These shearwaters, highly pelagic birds, were flying in unison very close to the waves.

Upon returning to Plymouth on the early watch I caught a brief glimpse of a pod of seven common dolphins and I was pleased to share this view with Alan Burton, a dedicated passenger who kept me company. We had a great view of three cormorants, a fish eating species, overtaking us on route to land. They frequently fly far between fishing waters and breeding sites or roosts.

Cormorants nest on cliff edges but also inland in trees. Amazingly the tree nesting cormorants can kill their nest-trees with their droppings!

Cormorants nest on cliff edges but also inland in trees. Amazingly the tree nesting cormorants can kill their nest-trees with their droppings!

Wildlife Officer Becky joined me in Plymouth and we were delighted to see that some gull chicks we had spotted a couple of weeks ago were doing well. Their mother had made a nest on top of the moving rail for the gang plank at Plymouth dock.

blogg

There has been quite the baby boom at Plymouth harbour.

blogbaby boomI was really excited to return to Ireland for the final time and so was a little disappointed at the high sea state and serious wind on both the morning and afternoon watch!! But despite the pretty undesirable viewing conditions we had a truly amazing sighting! Our super cool captain (to whom I am eternally grateful!) made an announcement over the speakers alerting us that there were whales on the starboard side. We legged it across the deck just in time to spot huge blows and the long rolls of dark backs that could only belong to fin whales. We believe that it was a mother and calf and one other adult as one was considerably smaller than the other two.

The long backs of two fin whales

The long backs of two fin whales

Although generally fin whales are considered to be a deep water dweller, throughout the autumn, winter and spring, a few move into shallow shelf waters such as off Cornwall and south-west Ireland.

Although generally fin whales are considered to be a deep water dweller, throughout the autumn, winter and spring, a few move into shallow shelf waters such as off Cornwall and south-west Ireland.

Again our Monday watch through the Bay of Biscay, which is normally hectic with dolphin sightings, was surprisingly quiet. We just had a handful of distant common and striped dolphins. I really do suspect that this is because of orca (killer whale) activity so keep an eye out for Becky and Rose’s blog next week and the blog from the Wildlife Officers on the Cap Finistere, as I have a sneaky feeling that in the upcoming weeks we could have some orca occurrences!

The crew and entertainment team on board Brittany Ferries are very supportive of our work and often join us on deck for a spot of whale watching.

The crew and entertainment team on board Brittany Ferries are very supportive of our work and often join us on deck for a spot of whale watching.

It is amazing just how much life you can discover on a ferry crossing. In my time with ORCA I have seen such a big variety of birds, fish, insects (moths, bees, and beetles, in the middle of the ocean!), and mammals, including ten species of cetaceans! I feel so lucky to have seen so many whales and dolphins every week, which before now had almost been like creatures of myths to me, and although the urge to shout ‘Thar she blows!’ at the sight of each whale has been overwhelming, I have managed to hold it in, until now, for which I apologise.

Thank you ORCA, thank you Brittany Ferries, thank you passengers, for gifting me with such a wonderful experience and so much precious time with nature. And thank you Becky, for teaching me everything!

So long, and thanks for all the whales.

gannet on raft

A gannet on a pallet

Jess.

If you would like to learn more about ORCA or how to become a member then please take a look at our website.

Don’t forget, the ORCA Your Seas project has been shortlisted in the National Lottery Awards in the best Environmental project category.  Please support our project by voting here!

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