Posted by: orcaweb | September 9, 2015

Whale blows and bottlenose

Hello everyone please let me introduce myself. My name is Lucy and I am the third and final trainee Wildlife Officer on board the Cap Finistere for the 2015 cetacean watching season. After a great first week with Tiffany kindly and patiently showing me the ropes of life on board I have now been joined by Chantelle who has been a dedicated Wildlife Officer for ORCA for the past two years.


Me (Lucy) taking a closer look at the Brittany coastline.

The start of the week was a little slow with the odd blow spotted on the horizon here and there between our Bilbao and Portsmouth voyage, which we noted these as probable fin whales due to their impressive heights. I was pleasantly surprised however when on Thursday morning we were lucky enough to spot three Cuvier’s beaked whales not far from the ship surfacing for air. It felt like a great achievement to be able to identify these illusive animals due to their pale bodies being clearly visible as they rolled across the water’s surface.


Two of the three Cuvier’s beaked whales surfacing on Thursday.

As Saturday came around things suddenly became very exciting. The deck was packed and I think it’s fair to say there were smiles on everyone’s faces. common dolphins gave us a good show in the earlier hours with great leaps above the waves. As we crossed the continental shelf and headed into the pelagic waters it almost became impossible to keep up with the number of whale blows happening all around us. The full back of a fin whale, dorsal and all was seen by most of the passengers out on deck.


The blow and body of a fin whale as it came to the surface for air.

A few angled blows also indicated that there were sperm whales in the vicinity. Some erratic splashes also caught our attention but it wasn’t dolphins this time, tuna could be seen through our binoculars and it’s no wonder they get mistaken for dolphins, they were huge. As the day went on and the deck became more crowded with each sighting, I happened to look down at just the right moment to catch an oceanic whitetip shark sauntering alongside the ship. I was so excited I could barely contain myself, and didn’t even think to catch a photo as I watched it disappear into the wake. As if this day could have got any better we were then delighted with the appearance of six pilot whales making their way through the Bay.


The sun setting over the Bay of Biscay.

The activities of Saturday really gave me a boost and I decided that evening to take on all of the following day’s activities, I felt ready to become more actively involved. Sunday morning came around and we started the day with another deck watch as we passed the beautiful Brittany coast line. Here we were greeted by some excitable common dolphins and a little later on we were pleasantly surprised with the appearance of two bottlenose dolphins. It was then that the size difference between common and bottlenose dolphins really became apparent with the commons reaching an average of 2.5 metres and the bottlenose reaching an impressive 4 metres maximum length, they were also much fatter, clearly well fed.


A pod of bottlenose dolphins off the Brittany coastline.

After the deck watch we headed in for my first children’s interactive presentation. I was nervous to begin with, but Chantelle was great at reassuring me it would all be fine and she was right. The children were engrossed from beginning to end and it was so rewarding to be able to answer their questions about the whales and dolphins and reward their new found knowledge with ORCA stickers that they proudly wore like medals of honour when they later arrived for marine themed activities. We ended our fun packed Sunday with a family friendly quiz for the passengers on board, to fine tune those cetacean spotting skills. `

Monday quickly became named dolphin day as before we even left our cabin for the morning’s presentation we spotted a pod of around 30 common dolphins leaping out of the water in an amazing display. The afternoon came quickly round and once again whilst getting ready to leave the cabin once more, this time for the afternoon’s deck watch we spotted some more dolphins putting on a performance. This time it was a pod of approximately 15 bottlenose dolphins, really giving us a show. The whole day felt like a constant showcase of common and bottlenose dolphins giving us their very best examples of how great it is to be wild and free. We ended the week very much as we had started it. An almost constant sea state six made accurate sightings extremely difficult through the Bay. We were not let down by our week’s companions though and we were thrilled to be joined by another pod of common dolphins as the sun began to set over the pelagic waters of the Bay of Biscay.


Mother and calf common dolphins.

Thank you for taking the time to read my first blog as an ORCA Wildlife Officer, I hope you have enjoyed it. Two weeks into my placement and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experience or more excited as to what the following two weeks have in store. Please check by next week to find out what other amazing cetaceans Chantelle and myself are lucky enough to encounter.

Last week’s trivia question was: How long do dolphins sleep for?

The answer is: Dolphins sleep for approximately 8 hours a day however half of their brain will remain active during this sleep state.

This week’s trivia question is: What is the average size difference between an adult common and bottlenose dolphin? (Comment below if you know the answer!)

If you would like to make a donation to help fund the fantastic work that ORCA do, or to become a member and train to become a Marine Mammal Surveyor to help us to collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Thanks again

Lucy & Chantelle


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