Posted by: orcaweb | March 23, 2016

Wildlife Officers back on board!

Wildlife Officer Training 21-22nd March 2016

Welcome on board Brittany Ferries’ Cap Finistére from all of this year’s North-East Atlantic Wildlife Officers (WOs). The Wildlife Officer season has officially begun and from here on out, we will endeavour to enlighten you about all of the wildlife encounters over the coming months here in the Bay of Biscay, until September when the season comes to a close.

Over the last few days for our wildlife officer training, we welcomed on board three WOs who will be working on the Pont Aven until mid-summer: Ewelina Heil, Harriet Cole and Jon Taylor. Those of us staying on the Cap Finistére include Yolanda Aze, and two returning WOs, Ruth Coxon and Lucy McLeod.  We are all very excited to spot some whales, dolphins and porpoise out on deck! Training was led by ORCA staff Lucy Babey and Anna Bunney, who inspired us with anecdotal encounters from previous years.

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Jon Taylor (left), Harriet Cole (middle) and Ewelina Heil (right) – Wildlife Officers going on the Pont Aven

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Cap Finistere Wildlife Officers: Yolanda Aze (left), Lucy McLeod (middle), Ruth Coxon (right)

Following some Wildlife Officer training, we were all eager to get out up on deck 10 to discover what cetaceans might be seen- The word ‘cetaceans’ is the Latin collective name for whales, dolphins and porpoises. Our first deck watch commenced upon departing Roscoff around the Brittany Coastline. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long before some fins were seen slicing through the water and the call of ‘dolphins!!’ echoed about the decks with Wildlife Officers and passengers alike resonating the call. A steady stream of common dolphins completed the afternoon, some pods more discreet than others, with 17 individual dolphins sighted in total. A particular highlight was seeing a mother and calf swimming in synchrony, racing towards the ship, giving us a closer view of these lovely creatures.

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Common Dolphin

During the training, presentations were delivered  to passengers by Lucy and Ruth about the wonderful marine life that can be found in the Bay of Biscay. Sharing fun facts and previous cetacean encounters hopefully helped to set off the season with optimism and excitement. After the sun set, the evening comprised of learning Wildlife Officer duties, revising ID skills and learning how to input our all-important survey data for the vital monitoring that the charity conducts.

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Lucy McLeod delivering a presentation in the Planets Bar

With the dawn of a new day after leaving Bilbao, Spain, once again all eight of us gathered on the decks to look out for more marine life. Half an hour in, Anna called “whale blow!” and off towards the horizon, there it was a tall plume of spray signifying the presence of a large whale. A quiet period over the course of the afternoon did not dishearten us as we were still able to spot the odd bird with gannets, greater and lesser black backed gulls making their usual appearances as well as some rather odd ones like the black-tailed godwit, a migrating wading bird.

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Black-tailed godwit

Nearing the continental shelf where the water depth dramatically changes, we started to see those common dolphins that we had been waiting for. In total, four pods, totalling 18 animals, were seen over the final hours, some really leaping out of the water towards the ship. The water was so clear that we could even see the elegant dolphins swimming and gliding under the waves.  Again, another calf was seen accompanying its mother among one of these pods.

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Common dolphins approaching the Cap Finistere

And so we end our training and say fair well to our fellow WOs with Lucy and Ruth remaining on board the Cap Finistere for the first official week of this new and exciting Wildlife Officer season.

  • Ruth Coxon & Lucy Mcleod
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