Posted by: orcaweb | March 30, 2016

A stripey season start

The wildlife officer season has officially begun and after a wonderful couple of days training with our colleagues, myself (Lucy) and Ruth are left to get the ball rolling with a meet and greet for the new passengers boarding in Portsmouth. This gives us a great opportunity to speak with people about the vital research work we do on board as well as the times of our informative presentations and educational kid’s activities.

We were eager to get out on deck, but first we had a presentation aimed to enable the passengers to spot and identify any of the amazing species we often see in the bay. From the presentation we went straight out on deck where we began our watch as we sailed through the English Channel. As always when dealing with nature and wildlife things don’t always appear where you want them to. As Ruth and I kept a look out on the starboard side of the ship, patiently waiting for a sighting, we were informed that a pod of common dolphins were giving passengers a real performance on the port side of the ship.


Common Dolphins

As the sun set over the Channel we retired to bed with a heavy swell rocking us to sleep. An early start on Thursday meant a good morning for sightings as we sailed across the deep pelagic and over the trenches which run through the Spanish coast line. These trenches are full of squid and often where we find our mysterious beaked whales and the mighty sperm whale. The deck watch started with a surprisingly great sea state two, perfect for cetacean spotting and we were soon accompanied by both common and striped dolphins. Both species were seen with calves in tow, swimming in sync with their mothers in perfect unison. Striped dolphins are somewhat more acrobatic than their common cousins, giving us a real display of high jumps and twists and turns as they disappeared into the wake.

SD and calf 2

Striped Dolphin mother and calf.

Our arrival over the trenches was confirmed when, peering over the side of the ships railings we saw a squid sauntering just below the water’s surface. It is unusual for squid to be seen this exposed near the surface at daylight as they generally migrate here from the deep during the night to feed on fish and small crustaceans. This may be an indication that the squid we saw was either injured or unwell, it definitely sparked excitement in us however as we held out for any glimpses of our beloved beaked whales.

We were not left waiting too long. A fin was sighted rolling over the water’s surface and we immediately identified that this was not the usual dorsal or behaviour of a dolphin. A beaked whale had finally made an appearance, giving us our fourth cetacean species of the year.

Cameras snapping at this mysterious creature and data being recorded, we desperately tried to get a solid ID but even after much conversation and referencing from our guide materials we were unable to pinpoint exactly which of the beaked whale family this animal was. If you have any ideas from the photo below as to the species please do get in touch, we’d love to hear from you.

unidentified beaked whale

Unidentified beaked whale.

An afternoon presentation by Ruth was graced with a surprise visit out of the windows. Dolphins, leaping through the wake of the ship, an excellent round up to a most enjoyable day on board for both wildlife officers and passengers alike.

leaping SD

Acrobatic striped dolphins

Friday began with an early morning deck watch through the Channel as we made our return journey back to Portsmouth, a very quiet morning with no sightings. The day continued in this fashion but we knew this was quite literally the calm before the storm. Saturday brought with it over 200 children bursting with excitement for the Easter weekend.

The weather had started to worsen but we were able to distract many bright young children from the swells with an interactive presentation. From here we were joined in the children’s play area for some fun whale and dolphin themed activities. We were even able to measure out the full length of a blue whale on the deck, an incredible 33 metres which amazed the children and some of the grown-ups too. With everyone’s minds full of cetacean facts we headed back out on deck for the journey into Spain. Common dolphins guided us into the coastal water and warm winds signaled it was time to say adios to a really great group of kids.


Common Dolphin

Sunday morning after a very choppy return, all decks were closed but this did not stop us from making the most of our time on board. We delivered a presentation to a very attentive audience and then proceeded with some children’s arts and crafts, making all manner of marine life out of recycled materials with a lovely pair of children who were also able to help us with our Spanish. We ended the day with a fun fact filled quiz. Meanwhile, storm Katie was making her presence known.

Stronger winds and rougher seas meant that our usual scheduled stop in Roscoff had to be changed. Instead we headed for Cherbourg and remained in dock there for two days with the rest of the crew as the last of the passengers had disembarked. This gave us plenty of time to run some important wildlife officer errands and we even had time for a short trip into Cherbourg.

After a week of unexpected sightings and weather alike, we now head into week two hopefully for more wonderful wildlife and lovely passengers. Please come back next week for the latest update from Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere.


A beautiful sunset over the Bay of Biscay

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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