Posted by: orcaweb | August 19, 2015

My final farewell from 11 species

After five amazing months on board the Cap Finistere I (Clare) am very sad to say this is my final week, and my final blog!

My last week on board has had its ups and downs! It started pretty badly with HUGE thunderstorms over the Bay of Biscay on Thursday morning, by the time Jade and I had finished our deck watch we were soaked right through our waterproofs! By the afternoon crossing Biscay had stirred up a storm, the sea was white with waves and the wind was howling. However our persistence (and that of many passengers) to stay out for both deck watches paid off and we saw a fin whale, two sperm whales and a pod of 80 striped dolphins!

Stormy seas on Thursday

Stormy seas on Thursday

80 striped dolphins on in stormy seas on Thursday

80 striped dolphins on in stormy seas on Thursday

The storm stayed around for all of Friday but by Saturday morning the wind had calmed down and all that was left was the swell (very large swell I may add!). The calm seas and excellent visibility ensured we could see whales and dolphins miles away, by the time we went inside for our presentation at 9.30am we had already seen over 100 common dolphins and 6 fin whales! The afternoon was much the same with another 7 fin whales including a couple of calves, pilot whales and plenty more dolphins! The deck was full with passengers helping us spot cetaceans and as they came nice and close they all got a fantastic show!

Fin whale

Fin whale

By Sunday morning the conditions had calmed even more and the sea was beautifully flat. Throughout our sailing through the northern Bay of Biscay and around the corner of Brittany we spotted 9 pods of dolphins, 2 pods of harbour porpoises and a lovely sunfish waving its large fin at us!

My last sunrise over the Bay of Biscay

My last sunrise over the Bay of Biscay

But on Monday our week hit a real high! As we sailed into Roscoff in the morning the sea was mirror calm, so after a craft session with children and my last ever presentation we rushed straight out on deck. Before I got outside Jade had spotted 2 minke whales in the calm seas around the Brittany islands and the fantastic sightings continued. The following 7 hours flew by in a flash as we had sightings almost every 10 minutes seeing dolphins, tuna, sharks and sunfish. By the evening we had seen over 130 common dolphins, 40 bottlenose dolphins, 9 sunfish and a shark, but the best was still to come. As the sky turned pink with the sunset we spotted our first fin whale blows, they were far in the distance but the excellent visibility allowed us to see the beautiful roll of a mum and calf. As the sun was setting a fin whale surfaced right in front of the ship and continued to surface in front of the sunset (making a perfect photo opportunity!), everyone discussed what a fantastic end to an amazing day it was….but that was not the end! Another fin whale passed close to the ship, and then THREE surfaced just 50m from the ship! Now that was a fantastic end not only to an amazing day but to an absolutely incredible summer!

2 of the 3 fin whales near the ship at sunset

2 of the 3 fin whales near the ship at sunset

IMG_0952a IMG_0717These common dolphin photos are for Issy who joined us on deck on Monday. She wanted to enjoy the amazing encounter with the common dolphins without worrying about getting the perfect photo.

Tuesday was another calm day with fantastic sightings. As we sailed across the Bay of Biscay from Bilabo we saw 2 pods of pilot whales, 11 pods of dolphins including 150 bottlenose dolphins and 140 common dolphins, 4 Cuvier’s beaked whales, 2 fin whales, 5 sunfish (including 4 in one school all waving their fins at us!) and 6 tuna fish breaching! It was almost like every species popped up to say farewell on my final crossing!

4 sunfish in a line waving their fins.

4 sunfish in a line waving their fins.

Working as a Wildlife Officer for ORCA has been incredible, and without a doubt the best job I have ever had. I have visited Spain 40 times, 13 of these where I have disembarked to visit the beautiful city of Santander, conducted 53 deck watches in the Bay of Biscay, and 65 around the Brittany coast and in the channel. I have seen thousands of dolphins and hundreds of whales, eaten loads of French baguettes, and been asked “have you seen anything yet” a million times!

Not only have I got to witness thousands of cetaceans in the wild but I have learnt skills that will undoubtedly be essential in my career. Before this position my public speaking experience consisted of a few talks to small audiences, but now I have presented talks to over 100 passengers many times a week, and it has become one of my favourite parts of the job. I love getting to meet people from all walks of life and hearing about their fantastic cetacean encounters! Working with the entertainment staff on board has been really fun with both of the entertainment couples really supporting our work and helping us out a lot, all of the French crew are friendly and some have regularly joined us out on deck too. Overall I am very sad to say good bye to my job, but immensely grateful to ORCA for providing me with this amazing opportunity.

I have had so many amazing cetacean encounters over the last 5 months, but here is a summary of my favourite 4:

#1: Breaching minke whale

Breaching minke whale

Breaching minke whale

My top sighting has to be the breaching minke whale! To have such a shy creature leap out of the water in front of you is amazing and to be able to photograph it even better!

#2: Fin whales at sunset

Fin whale blow at sunset

Fin whale blow at sunset

Monday this week was without a doubt my favourite fin whale experience!

#3: Common dolphins

Dark morph and deformed common dolphins

Dark morph and deformed common dolphins

The Thursday in June when we had thousands of common dolphins and we managed to photograph 3 different dark morph common dolphins and the dolphin with the spinal deformity. I enjoy seeing unusual encounters which spark questions in my mind and then I can research to discover more.

#4: Fluking sperm whales

Sperm whale blow

Sperm whale blow

It was a Saturday morning and we had just started travelling over the continental shelf edge, the water was getting deeper and deeper when we saw the distinct bushy blow from a sperm whale. As we watched it a blow a few times suddenly we saw the back bend and the beautiful fluke gracefully stick up as it went for a deep dive. The first sperm whale fluking up that I had ever seen!

Trivia question:

Last weeks trivia question was: How long do common dolphins hold their breath for and how deep do they dive?

Answer: Common dolphins can dive to depths of 280m and stay under water for up to 8 minutes, however their usual dive time is from 10 seconds to 2 minutes.

I hope you have enjoyed reading my blogs this summer. I just want to say a last thank you to the amazing people I have got to share this experience with: my fellow wildlife officers Tiffany and Chantelle and the lovely trainee Wildlife Officers Jenna and Jade! You have all been great fun to work with so thank you so much for the lovely memories!

Continue to read the blog to see what amazing encounters the wildlife officers get to experience for the rest of the summer.

Clare and Jade

If you want to a chance to research some of these amazing cetaceans and help collect data for us, join as a member and do one of our marine mammal surveyor courses, then you can join us on one of our surveys!

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Responses

  1. Thanks to Claire and Jade for all your information, enthusiasm and whale/dolphin spotting support on Tuesday’s (18/8/15) sailing from Bilbao! It was a wonderful opportunity/experience and made for a very memorable journey for me! (Feedback has also been sent direct to Brittany Ferries).


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