Posted by: orcaweb | August 12, 2015

Feeding frenzy!

5th August – 11th August

Bonjour and welcome to my first blog from the Cap Finistere. So after a hectic first week adjusting to life on board I (Jade) have started to find my feet with a special thank-you to Tiffany for showing me the ropes! This week I am joined by Clare and I was excited to see what the second week had in store for me…

Within less than 10 minutes being on deck on Thursday morning a small pod of dolphins were seen on the horizon. Around an hour later a huge splash on the surface caught our eye, for several seconds I and Clare were a little confused until it came closer and to our surprise it was a fin whale surface feeding! These beautiful animals usually swim past slowly rolling at the surface so it was a treat to see it feeding so energetically which is a behaviour neither me nor Clare have seen displayed before. As we continued to Bilbao we saw some more whale blows along with pilot whales, bottlenose dolphins and a diving sperm whale diving caught from the corner of my eye.

Surface feeding fin whale

Surface feeding fin whale

That afternoon, after my first interactive children’s presentation, Daniel (from last weeks blog) joined us on deck with many other eager passengers and we were not left disappointed! In total around 15 fin whales were sighted which didn’t quite beat Tiffany’s and Jenna’s previous record of 18 in one deck watch two weeks ago! Just before the sun set we saw 8 Cuvier’s beaked whales swimming very close to the ship – along with being Daniel’s favourite whales I am slowly developing a soft spot for these beauties!

Cuvier's beaked whales at sunset!

Cuviers beaked whales at sunset!

After a quiet Friday deck watch we hoped Saturday morning in the Bay of Biscay would provide us with more action. On and over the continental shelf we had a mixture of common, bottlenose and striped dolphin and pilot whale sightings along with a unidentified whale blow in the distance – a potential fin whale migrating to the deep waters to feed.

Common dolphin mother and calf

Common dolphin mother and calf

After packing out the Planets Bar for our presentation we were joined by around 120 passengers during the afternoon deck watch over the deeper waters and canyons as we came towards Santander. Even though the sea state moved from a 3 into a 5 we had 8 confirmed fin whale sightings with the addition of some unidentified blows and a pod of 12 dolphins towards the horizon.

Fin whale going for a dive....

Fin whale going for a dive….

Whilst approaching the beautiful Brittany Coast on Sunday (a.k.a. pudding day!) we had a total of 5 common dolphin sightings. A patch of diving juvenile and adult gannets attracted us to one of these sightings in which a pod of dolphins were feeding below the birds. When coming around the French Islands we witnessed two pods of around 15 bottlenose dolphins swimming in between the yachts and two harbour porpoises caught our eye around 200m away from the ship. Shortly after a dead cetacean floated past very close to the ship – it was difficult to identify but was around 5m long and hard to watch after such a lively morning. The morning ended with another pod of nearly 20 bottlenoses which appeared to be feeding in a current.

Feeding bottlenose dolphins!

Feeding bottlenose dolphins!

Gannet

4th summer juvenile gannet

After dipping in and out of deck watch on Monday afternoon due to poor visibility we rushed back on deck after dinner after spotting some common dolphins out of the window from the crew mess. Over the past week the dolphins had gone a little quiet on us and were rarely coming towards the boat but in less than three hours we had 13 sightings of common dolphins (just over 250 individuals in total) and a handful of bottlenose, striped (my first successful identification of one!) and unidentified dolphins combined with five sunfish sightings. Whilst running backwards and forwards recording data and being very excited that the dolphins were now officially back in town I noticed some darker looking bodies amongst the pods which Clare informed me to be the dark morph forms – a different colouration in which the yellow thoracic patch is black (see previous blog) and lots of calves were present.

Common dolphin dark morph

Common dolphin dark morph

Common dolphins heading towards the ships bow!

Common dolphins heading towards the ships bow!

The week ended with a highly anticipated Bay of Biscay deck watch on the Tuesday with a total of one confirmed fin whale sighting, three unidentified whale blows, a potential Cuvier’s beaked whale and two small pods of dolphins were seen feeding. The conditions peaked at a sea state 6 and after one additional common dolphin sighting we decided to call it a day before we were blown over – a quiet but still active end to my second week on board.

DIVING BIRDS

Diving and feeding gannets

Last week’s question was: Do whales & dolphins mate for life?

 Answer: Stephen Marsh (ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor) has provide us with a fabulous answer:

‘No, they do not mate for life in the wild. Even in species such as orca and pilot whales that have strong family bonds and stay together for most of their lives, the males will leave the family pod to find an unrelated female to mate with, avoiding any inbreeding.’

This week’s question is: How long do common dolphins hold their breath for and how deep do they dive? (Please comment below if you know the answer!)

If you would like to know about the further fantastic work that ORCA do then please visit the website for more information! You can also make a difference to help ORCA continue their brilliant work by donating or help collect vital data on the survey routes by training to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor and becoming a member which both go towards helping to conserve these beautiful animals in their natural habitat!

Thank you for reading my first blog and tune in next week to read Clare’s last blog before she starts her Masters in St Andrews!

Jade & Clare

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