Posted by: orcaweb | April 6, 2016

Cuvier’s Beaked Whales up-close and first Fin Whales!

March 30th – April 5th

Cuvier’s Beaked Whales up-close and first Fin Whales!

Week 3 on board Brittany Ferries’ Cap Finistere began with a meet and greet, where Ruth and myself (Yolanda) welcomed people on board and let them know the times of the marine wildlife presentation and the deck watches. After the presentation, delivered by Ruth, we went up on deck to look for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the evening. Despite a high swell, the sea was very calm, making it much easier to spot whales and dolphins. Although we were only on deck for a couple of hours and in quite shallow water, we saw several pods of common dolphins – a fantastic start to the week!

Good CD surfing wave

At the beginning of Thursday morning’s watch, many small passerine birds (the latin classification for some types of small songbirds) were seen flittering past the ship. Some were even seen taking refuge in the empty swimming pool or on the railings, taking a breather from their long migrations to the UK. Among these were blackcaps, chiffchaffs, willow warblers and meadow pipits! While we waited for marine mammals to make an appearance, we also spied a cormorant amongst a couple of gannets, some terns and a couple of Manx shearwaters. We also saw a surprise oceanic sunfish bobbing along at the surface.

blackcap on railing

Eventually, our patience paid off and the cetaceans came! We saw multiple common dolphins, some on their own and some in small pods. A blow was also pointed out by a passenger towards the back of the ship. It was about 800 metres away – fairly close for a whale sighting – and the blow was very distinctive. Unlike the tall column-like fin whale blow, this was very low, rounded and bushy, and appeared from the surface at a 45 degree angle. Although we didn’t see the body of the whale, the shape of the blow means that it was probably a sperm whale.

Common dolphin great

After another meet and greet and my first ever presentation (!!!) we were back on deck for the evening deck watch. By this time, the wind had really picked up and the ship was now battering against the oncoming waves, making it much harder to spot cetaceans. Despite the howling winds, a few brave souls joined us on deck 10 on our search. Over the next half hour, we were rewarded by two separate sightings of the amazing Cuvier’s beaked whale – the deepest diving mammal. These were both very close sightings. The brown colourations of the whales were very noticeable, and in the case of the whale that surfaced three times just 40 metres away, the pale white head was clearly seen. To close the day, just when we were wondering where the dolphins had disappeared to, a pod of 5 common dolphins leapt out of the water towards the ship.

white male cuviers 2

On Friday, we saw one common dolphin and some great skewers in the morning deck watch. We then went back indoors for the children’s activities and a meet and greet.

We had a fantastic morning deck watch on Saturday morning, where we saw a pilot whale, a tuna fish, 19 common dolphins, and, best of all, more Cuvier’s beaked whales! The first sighting of a Cuvier’s beaked whale was even of a mother and calf! A few minutes later, we saw a group of 4 Cuvier’s beaked whales, including one individual that was so old it was almost completely white, due to its scarring. Happily, many passengers were on deck at the time of these sightings so they were able to enjoy seeing these incredible animals.

beaked whale and calf

There was a high turnout for the talk and the children’s activities with the ongoing Easter holidays. We measured out the sizes of various different cetaceans, from the harbour porpoise to the magnificent blue whale. The children were amazed to learn how enormous these animals are, and were full of questions.

In the evening, we went back out on deck for another deck watch. We saw 22 common dolphins in 3 separate pods, all of which were attracted towards the ship – giving us an excellent opportunity to photograph them!

CD leaping in synchrony away 2jpg

After a relaxing but uneventful deck watch on Sunday morning, we gave another presentation, followed by a children’s activity. For the children’s activity, we trialled a new creation of Ruth’s – making seahorses out of paper plates! This proved to be a huge hit with the children and some of the adults too. To finish the day, we held a cetacean quiz to allow participants to put their new knowledge to the test!


Paper plate sea horse!

After another seahorse – themed children’s activity and a presentation on Monday, we were up on deck again. We soon saw 5 bottlenose dolphins – the first ones this season! This was in the distance ahead of the ship, alerted to their presence due to a large flock of circling and diving seabirds! Whilst waiting for the feeding frenzy to approach closer though, an incredible 37 common dolphins crossed our bow to the starboard side! Many passengers joined us on deck to enjoy the cetacean sightings and the first sunbathing weather of the year.

CD underwater

Tuesday afternoon, we spent most of the time on deck 10. We saw the blow of two large whales (probably fin whales) in the distance, and several common dolphins. In the middle of the afternoon we held a children’s activity with a small, but very enthusiastic, group of children before continuing our deck watch. Later on, we saw more common dolphins and three Cuvier’s beaked whales – including two males (one very brown with scarring and the other incredibly white, so much so that it looked like a beluga)!

2 close up cuviers

The weather got colder as the day went on, but just before we left we saw three more common dolphins, including a calf – making us very glad that we stayed out as long as we did!

After a fantastic week on board and having now ticked off 8 species of cetacean, we finally headed back to Portsmouth for Ruth and Lucy to change over. Join us again next week to find out how we get on in week 4 of the wildlife officer season!

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!

Cetacean love,



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