Posted by: orcaweb | September 30, 2015

So long and thanks for all the fins…

Hello and welcome back to the very last blog of the 2015 Wildlife Officer season! For the last week on board I (Tiffany) was to be accompanied by Chantelle as the Cap Finistere traversed the Bay of Biscay.
On Wednesday I said Au Revoir to Lucy- our September trainee Wildlife Officer. Lucy was a very keen, enthusiastic and hardworking intern and it is safe to say she definitely did not want to leave after having a fin-tastic four weeks on board with us!

me and chanice

Myself and Chantelle

As Chantelle and I prepared to depart Portsmouth towards Bilbao, we recognised a passenger from our very first week of training. This passenger was Gavin who had stood out on deck with us previously for hours in the bitter wind to spot cetaceans and it was great that he would be joining us for a crossing during our last week!
With the wind picking up again on Wednesday and making even standing very difficult, our deck watch didn’t last too long! However we were feeling optimistic for the following day as we crossed pelagic waters, especially as the Pont-Aven had only just seen its second sighting within a week, of a young bull killer whale, on the I-Spy trip with Chris Packham!


Flock of Shearwaters


Great Shearwater

We were hopeful we could cross the killer whale’s path as we were deep in the Bay of Biscay on Thursday morning with perfect sea conditions! It wasn’t long before we saw a logging elongated cetacean- a fin whale quite close to the ship. This fin whale’s blow wasn’t as colossal as usual, which indicated it may have been resting at the surface after a dive.


Flat seas Thursday

We had very distant splashes of dolphins breaching towards the horizon throughout the rest of our morning’s deck watch, but our show stopper came in the form of another fin whale, which appeared to have come up from under the ship and emerged 100m away from us and several excited passengers, including Gavin! As the large rorqual rolled through the still water we were all mesmerized by the sheer size and beauty of this giant. This was one of my best sightings of a fin whale and left me beaming from ear to ear all morning!


Fin whale surfacing


Fin whales can dive up to 550 metres!

That following afternoon we were blessed with fantastic sea conditions, with a sea state two for the majority of or deck watch. Whilst inside recording data, I heard Chantelle shout ‘sighting,’ to which I eagerly rushed out onto deck to see what had surfaced. This sighting was of our most frequently seen squid-loving beaked whale- a Cuvier’s! Throughout the season I have grown immensely fond of these mysterious and strange looking whales.


Spot the beaked whale…

Exactly one hour later we observed as two more Cuvier’s beaked whales appeared. This seemed to be an older male and a female, with the male seemingly in pursuit of the female. Our last sighting of the day was a pod of four pilot whales that glided past the ship.


Male Cuvier’s


Female Cuvier’s


Male Cuvier’s beaked whale chasing the female!

Friday morning’s deck watch in the channel revealed a pod of common dolphins that sped towards the ship and plenty of soaring great skuas, which was a delight to see.


Female Pilot whale

Saturday morning over the coastal waters in the Bay of Biscay made for challenging cetacean spotting due to the sea conditions. However this was by no means a fruitless effort as two pods of common dolphins raced towards us, revealing their beautiful hour glass pattern on their flanks. As we began to cross over the continental shelf edge, a group of striped dolphins hurtled towards us and porpoised alongside the ship, displaying their stunning and distinctive markings.

After witnessing the vast blows of two distant whales, we headed back to our cabin to prepare for our talk. I couldn’t quite believe our luck when we saw four pilot whales glide past our cabin window. What an incredible view and an amazing morning!

For the last part of our week on board, I will hand you over to Chantelle. Before I do this I just wanted to say a few thank you’s! Being a Wildlife Officer has been a truly life changing and incredible experience and one which I shall not forget! I have learnt a huge amount and have had countless fantastic sightings! I am privileged to have seen nine species of cetaceans, as well as plenty of sunfish, yellow fin tuna and various beautiful seabirds and will miss seeing these on a daily basis! Thank you to Brittany Ferries and the crew on board for being so very welcoming and supportive of our work. Thank you also to all of our brilliant passengers for their generous donations, their stories and company, I hope we have inspired you all to help protect these amazing animals! A big thank you to the lovely Wildlife Officers- Chantelle and Clare and trainee Wildlife Officers- Jenna, Jade and Lucy. You have all been amazing and great fun to work with and have taught me so much. Lastly thank you to ORCA, who provided me with this opportunity. I will always feel exceptionally grateful and am looking forward to future surveys!

Here are my favourite pictures from my season on board the Cap Finistere!


My favourite photos from the season

So I will now carry on from the fabulous first half of the blog written by my colleague Tiff.
The second half of Saturday was not nearly as fruitful as the first, with plentiful white caps making cetacean spotting challenging. However, those who joined us out on deck were treated to several whale blows, which were easily distinguishable from the much lower waves.

Sunday once again brought us alongside the picturesque Brittany coastline, with the islands in plain view on the port side. Fabulous mirror calm seas allowed for several harbour porpoise sightings, as well as fleeting glimpses of dolphins calmly breaking through the surface. On this sailing we were lucky enough to be joined by a very knowledgeable passenger who had himself sailed along this coastline on a much smaller vessel. He imparted his wisdom unto us of all of the islands and lighthouses that we passed, helping us finally get to grips with the myriad of interesting features found around this coastline.


Beautiful Gannet

After an engaging talk by Tiffany on Monday morning, we headed out to be greeted by warm sunshine and eager passengers, keen to glimpse some marine life – and they didn’t need to wait for long. After just 10 minutes our first pod of three commons came racing in towards the bow, much to the delight of all watching. However they decided to keep us waiting after this, as it was another two hours before the common dolphins showed themselves to the Cap again. From here on out passengers were caught up in a constant whirlwind of grey and yellow flashes, with the whoops of joy reverberating around the deck, as dolphins leapt joyfully in amongst our bow waves.


Leaping Common dolphins

We were also lucky enough to spot several sunfish basking at the surface. Many passengers informed me that they had never seen a sunfish before, with obvious amazement in their voices at having been presented with this opportunity.



As we reached seven pm that evening, the sun began to sink down to greet the horizon, and marked the end of our penultimate day in the Bay of Biscay.
We awoke on Tuesday morning in the port of Bilbao, and after having given the last presentation of the season, we resumed our position up on deck 10. However, a sea state seven/eight meant for incredibly poor whale watching conditions, and so we did not have any luck upon this day. Eventually we headed indoors, waving goodbye to the Bay and preparing ourselves to settle back in England for the winter.


Our last time looking out for whales and dolphins…

I’d personally like to say thank you to the wonderful Clare and Tiffany – it has been a pleasure working alongside both of you and I wish you all the best! Also a big thank you to our trainee wildlife officers Jenna and Jade, as well as Lucy who I was lucky enough to work with for two weeks! Thank you very much to the crew of Brittany Ferries along with the Boogie entertainers, you have made us feel very welcome and have constantly come to our aid. Also to the passengers on board who have spent many hours keeping us company and spotting plentiful whales and dolphins. But lastly, I’d like to thank ORCA for presenting me with the opportunity of becoming Wildlife Officer Team Leader this year. I have thoroughly enjoyed this season and hope that it continues to run for many years to come!

The answer to last weeks (and our final) trivia question is:

We have been lucky enough to see 9 different species this season! This includes; Common dolphins, Striped Dolphins, Bottlenose dolphins, Pilot whales, Fin whales, Sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, Minke whales and Harbour porpoises.This season has been absolutely fantastic and we thank you all for joining us in these sightings!

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!


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