Posted by: orcaweb | September 16, 2015

Breaching fin whale in Sea State Stormy

Bonjour one and all from Chantelle and I (Lucy). Three weeks into my placement aboard the Cap Finistere and I cannot believe how fast time flies when you’re doing something that you truly love. As the weeks have passed it has become clear that the seasons are changing and with it the sea state and sightings. We started the week with a sea state 8 last Wednesday, however this did not stop us from seeing a few common dolphins heading in towards the ship. Thursday came in with an early morning deck watch and an abundance of tuna fish, more than I’ve ever seen in one watch before, all leaping from the surface in a total frenzy. The tuna were shortly followed by two unidentified beaked whales rolling across the surface. Bottlenose dolphins shortly followed and then came the striped dolphins. No blows were seen, which was rather unusual for the area, perhaps a toothed cetacean feeding extravaganza was taking place beneath the waves.

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The back and dorsal fin of a beaked whale, if anyone can help with a species ID from this picture please do comment below.

At this point within my placement I am starting to see familiar faces. Passengers that I have spoken to on their outbound journeys are now starting to return home and it’s been nice to have a catch up and discuss the previous week’s sightings with them. The school children have mostly left us now and returned home for the new school year, so our children’s activities have taken a side step so that we can focus on a more scientific presentation to suit a more mature audience. Thursday afternoon brought with it RUGVIN. RUGVIN are a Dutch conservation group much like ORCA and it was nice to have so many eager watchers on deck, tripods at the ready.

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Tripods at the ready for a day of watching

Friday morning had an unexpectedly short deck watch as we were once again greeted by a thick haze which soon developed into a smothering fog. With some extra hours to fill we went about completing some general admin on board, updating our survey data records and passenger feedback forms. Since becoming more involved and doing some of the presentations myself, it has been very helpful and reassuring to see such positive feedback from the passengers. It has allowed me to take a great sense of pride in the work I am doing with ORCA and to share our knowledge on the whales and dolphins of the Bay of Biscay with people who show a genuine interest and eagerness to learn. My first presentation since the children returned to school took place this week and I was thrilled to have such an attentive and generous audience, all coming forward at the end to make donations for ORCAs future work.

Saturday’s are by far the most exciting days I am experiencing during my stay on board and this Saturday was no different. The day began with an invite from the ships second officer to take a look from the bridge. I felt like a kid in a sweet shop. The panoramic view was phenomenal, we saw dolphins playing in the waves and all the technology within the bridge fascinated me. It was also great to see that there was an ORCA species ID poster and book within the bridge for the crew to use, as they are lucky enough to witness most of the Bays inhabitants. When we headed back out on deck we were joined by some pilot whales. I am really becoming very fond of these animals each time I see them.

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The view of the bow from the ships bridge

We then headed back indoors for another presentation and knowing we were likely to miss many exciting things we got ourselves back out on deck as soon as we could. We didn’t have to wait long before a breaching fin whale leapt from the water’s surface. Breaching is not a common behavior of the fin whale so we felt incredibly lucky to see this enormously magnificent animal leap vertically through the air before crashing down with an almighty splash back into the sea. The day continued with many more fin whale blows and backs sighted, a few more visits from pilot whales and another flurry of tuna fish as we approached the Spanish coastline.

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Pilot whales

Sunday greeted us with some rough seas and an inability to see any cetaceans amongst the white caps of the many waves. We did not let the day go to waste however. I delivered a presentation in the daytime and then later on in the evening I hosted the ORCA quiz with lots of eager teams and the winner scoring an impressive 15 out of 15! It’s a nice feeling to know that following a mornings presentation passengers feel inspired and have learnt enough to want to test their knowledge.

After what can only be described as a rollercoaster of a night, myself and Chantelle were sad to hear that the weather meant all open decks were off limits on Monday. Our days deck watching seemed all but lost. We couldn’t possibly spend a day without a deck watch. We were very kindly welcomed back onto the bridge and we were given a real show. A pod of over 300 common dolphins came bounding through the rough seas. At times when they leapt as the waves dropped they almost appeared to be flying and just as we thought we’d seen the last of them, more would appear just as weightless as the ones before.

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Common dolphins

Although the storm had calmed slightly Tuesdays’ conditions were still not favourable. With a sea state varying from six through to eight and constant rain we were surprised to see anything at all. Playful dolphins came in towards the ships wake and an enormous splash in the distance was no doubt that of a large breaching animal, but the conditions made it difficult to get a solid identification. Moving into my final week on board I can only hope that the storm has caused a stirring of the seas nutrients and thus an influx of cetaceans, fingers and fins crossed!

Thanks again for accompanying me on my adventure as a trainee Wildlife Officer. Tune in next week when I will once again be joined by Tiffany from week 1.

Last week’s trivia question was: What is the average size difference between an adult common and bottlenose dolphin?

The answer is: 1.5 Metres

This week’s trivia question is: What is the main difference between male and female pilot whales when identifying the species at sea? Please comment below with your answers.

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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