Posted by: orcaweb | August 26, 2015

So close yet so far out…

19th August -25th August

Hello again and welcome back to my second and unfortunately my last blog on board the Cap Finistere. Last week I said goodbye to Clare after her final two weeks with ORCA and again I am joined by Tiffany to see what my last week in the Bay of Biscay had in store for me…

So the week started with a quiet channel deck watch on the Wednesday night as the sea conditions were a rough 6, so we went to bed hoping that the Bay of Biscay did not hold the same fate. We opened the cabin curtains on Thursday morning to be greeted by mirror conditions so we hurried breakfast and rushed up on deck to watch the sun rise over the lovely pink water.

Flat seas of the Bay of Biscay

Flat seas of the Bay of Biscay

The sea conditions got slightly worse throughout the morning but we had 10 sightings in total – it was a difficult morning for identification as many animals were far out and the ones that did swim close to the ship did not clearly show us any markings to make a confident decision but we had one confirmed striped dolphin pod of 12 and another pilot whale pod of 2.

As we left Bilbao on Thursday afternoon we headed out into a sea state 5 however as we headed north the conditions thankfully improved to provide one of my best afternoons! In the distance a passenger spotted a small blow in the distance which we believe were 2 sperm whales due to the distinctive 45 degree angled bushy blow however in the rough conditions it was a difficult to see any bodies. Within 20 minutes we had our first two fin whale sightings quite close to the horizon but then things went quiet on us for an hour or so until the crew on the bridge started pointing out towards the front and two blows could be seen directly in front of the ship!

Passengers watching a fin whale in the distance

Passengers watching a fin whale in the distance

The crew then excitedly pointed over to the port side of the ship so we rushed over with the passengers in tow to witnessed two pairs of fin whales close to the ship. We then returned to the starboard side to see another blow towards the back of the ship then another whale blow to the right… Within minutes 6 whales were in our line of sight and then I caught sight of another 2 upfront! These passed within 250m of the ship and were definitely fin whales as they rolled their beautiful dark bodies through the water. Towards sunset and as the conditions continued to improve we had another 2 whale blows and 2 unidentified dolphins – overall we had an impressive 18 whales in one day!

A closer fin whale...

A closer fin whale…

We woke again on the Saturday to be greeted by yet another beautiful flat bay and it certainly provided us with lots of feeding activity! Within seconds of stepping on deck we spotted our first common dolphins of the day as they came towards the ship thick and fast – within 45 minutes we had 3 more pods totaling around 375 estimated individuals! The remainder of the morning provided us with one sunfish, another 33 common dolphins, 4 whale blows, and 3 pilot whales. We also had one quite impressive medium sized cetacean breaching several times quite close to the horizon but it shall remain a mystery….

Feeding commons with birds!

Feeding common dolphins with birds!

More feeding common dolphins with birds!

More feeding common dolphins with birds!

After doing my first adults presentation we were eager to get back up on deck after such a good morning and it was a slow start however in total we saw 3 whale blows during a quiet couple of hours before hitting the canyons. The last 75 minutes of the deck watch provided us with 3 potential minke whale sightings, another whale blow, 5 bottlenose dolphins, 9 unidentified dolphins and a possible tuna fish breaching. This deck watch definitely taught me to not beat myself up over the unsuccessful ‘easy’ identifications, as for one of the minke whale sightings I was unable to get to the railings quick enough to photograph it surfacing a second time after I caught it out of the corner of my eye less than 150m away from the boat – for me it will forever be the one that got away!

Whale blow seen close to the horizon...

Whale blow seen close to the horizon…

Sundays have far been one of my favourite days of the week as we pass the Brittany coastline and around the French Islands after filling our bellies with pastries for breakfast! After around half an hour we saw a small pod of common dolphins but the morning continued to be a quiet one as we only had one more harbour porpoise and a common dolphin dip under the boat. After a soggy hour of rain the coastline came into view along with the sunshine but the views made up for the lack of sightings!

Collage of my favourite Brittany coastline and French Island pictures

Collage of my favourite Brittany coastline and French Island pictures

Monday provided us with a uneventful deck watch in the northern part of the bay as we only caught glimpses of 3 unidentified dolphins across the bow and 1 common dolphin came underneath the ship as the conditions peaked at a sea state 7.

Birds following off the back of the ferry...

Birds following off the back of the ferry…

After my final presentation we headed out on to my last ever deck watch and as the Spanish sun still lingered we had 11 distant blows, 2 possible sperm whales, 3 unidentified dolphins and some tuna fish within the first hour on deck! From that point however things went a little shy as we hit the deep pelagic waters as in four hours the only wildlife keeping us amused was a pigeon hitching a ride on deck! Later on in the afternoon we sighted another 4 whale blows and a large pod of 40 dolphins close to the horizon whilst we were off effort due to rough conditions. After recharging our batteries with dinner we hit the deck for one last chance and around 120 common dolphins with several calves and 3 sunfish provided me with one final show as I waved goodbye to the Bay of Biscay!

Percy the pigeon!

Percy the pigeon!

So after one whole month working in some of the most cetacean rich waters in the world I feel my confidence and identification skills has increased 10 fold – I cannot believe how excited I still felt after 4 weeks at seeing these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat. I have met 100’s of lovely people along the way (even if they have picked my brain at 6am in the morning!) and if I have inspired one child to go on and make a difference every second of these 4 weeks has been worth it! Finally a special thank-you goes to Tiffany and Clare for filling my past month with knowledge, experience and most of all fun… Until next time Bay of Biscay!

Me at sunset - goodbye Bay!!

Me at sunset – goodbye Bay!!

Jade & Tiff

Species summary for the 29th July – 25th August

Species Sightings
Bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncates) 11 pods
Common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) 68 pods
Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris) 13 pods
Harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) 1 pod
Pilot whale (Globicephla sp.) 6 pods
Striped dolphin (Stenella coeruleoalba) 5 pods
Fin whale (Balaenopetera physalus) 34 individuals
Sun fish (Mola mola) 30 sunfish
Tuna fish (Thunnus albacares) 29 individuals

A common question we have been asked this week is: How many cetaceans get caught in fishing gear every year?

Answer: An estimated 308,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises are caught in fishing gear and nets every year resulting in death and this bycatch is the largest killer of cetaceans and also causes injuries. Learn more about ORCA’s work with World Animal Protection to help tackle ghost fishing gear here.

This week’s question: How long do fin whales live for?

To help ORCA continue their brilliant work you can make a donation or become a member which allows you to train as a Marine Mammal Surveyor to help collect the vital survey data to aid the conservation of cetaceans. You can also check out the website for more details on all the other projects ORCA are involved in.



  1. […] So close yet so far out from week 4 – […]

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