Posted by: orcaweb | April 27, 2016

Sunfish, Sperm Whales, and 21 Fin Whales!

20th – 26th April

Ruth and myself (Yolanda) boarded the Cap Finistere on Wednesday, and after a presentation and a meet and greet with passengers, headed up to deck 10 for our first deck watch of the week. Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) proved elusive, probably because we were sailing through relatively shallow water in the Channel. However, we knew that on Thursday morning’s deck watch, we would be sailing above deep pelagic water (over 4 kilometres deep) and then over the Torrelevaga trench (full of squid and therefore very attractive to squid-feeding cetaceans) so we were optimistic about the next day’s sightings.

On Thursday morning, we were on deck at sunrise. The sea was flat and calm – perfect conditions! Over the course of the morning, we saw two fin whales, confirmed by the shape of the dorsal fin, and another probable fin whale. Two sperm whales and a Cuvier’s beaked whale came up for a break from their battles with squid (their favourite food), much to the delight of the passengers (and us!). Three pods of common dolphins came towards the ship, providing passengers with a wonderful close-up of cetaceans, and just when we thought the morning couldn’t get any better a pod of striped dolphins came towards the ship and played in the waves.

SP logging - Biscay WO Cap Finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon 3

Sperm whale

SD with calf - Biscay WO Cap finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon 4

Striped Dolphin mother and calf

Incredibly, the afternoon deck watch was even better than the morning – we saw 11 fin whales and four pods of common dolphins, including a pod of nearly 20! A mother and calf were among the dolphins seen (aww!). We also saw dolphins riding the wave created by one of the fin whales (it’s own bow wave)! Overall, we saw 17 whales and about 50 dolphins on Thursday (we lost count towards the end), making it my best day so far – my personal record  over a 48 hour period! (Keep reading to find out why…!)

FW Biscay WO Cap Finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon (6)

Fin Whale

On Friday morning, we found ourselves in fog so thick that we couldn’t even see the ship’s funnel, so our hopes were not high for spotting cetaceans. Once again, we were pleasantly surprised – a pod of 7 common dolphins were attracted towards the ship, and came splashing towards us out of the mist! We also saw several sea birds including gannets and a greater black backed gull.


A Greater Black Backed Gull glides over the water

The deck watch on Saturday morning got off to a very rainy start, but after about an hour the weather cleared and (fittingly) we saw a sunfish floating a few metres away from the ship. After that, the sightings just kept coming! We saw a large whale (probably a fin whale) in the distance, two pilot whales, and a sperm whale. Three pods of common dolphins and a pod of striped dolphins, including a mother and calf, were also attracted towards the boat. As there were so many sightings, the talk was moved back to help more people see the cetaceans. This proved to be a good decision as it meant over half the people in the talk had seen a whale or dolphin that morning!

sunfish - Biscay WO Cap Finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon

Sunfish seen directly below the boat

We had another fantastic deck watch in the afternoon, with lovely sunny weather, excellent sea conditions, and lots of passengers. We saw three more pods of common dolphins, another pod of striped dolphins, a pod of bottlenose dolphins, and a probable minke whale. However, by far the most exciting sighting was of two fin whales, seen just 20 metres from the ship!

FW Biscay WO Cap Finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon (4)

Fin Whale

On Sunday morning we were once again back out on deck. We didn’t see any cetaceans, but we saw lots of gannets and had a beautiful view of the French coast as we sailed into the channel. After our presentation, we then had an arts and craft session with three really lovely children, where we made paper plate seahorses and some paper plate whales – a new creation! We finished the day with an ORCA quiz – congratulations to our winners ‘the blow holes’!

Monday was sunny, but the sea was quite rough with lots of white water, making it harder to spot signs of life. However, we saw two pods of common dolphins, and lots of sea birds including a wading bird, likely a golden plover.

Golden plover - Biscay WO Cap Finistere April 2016 - Ruth Coxon (2)

A Golden Plover migrating to the UK

On Tuesday, we had our final presentation of the week, after which we went up on to deck 10 for one last deckwatch. We saw four pods of common dolphins and four fin whales – a great end to a fantastic week!

CD attracted to Cap Finistere - Biscay WO April 2016 - Ruth Coxon

A Common Dolphin approaches the ship

Sadly we won’t be sailing again for a fortnight as the Cap Finistere is in port for a refurbishment. However, you can read all about the Pont Aven’s adventures in the meantime, and the Cap Finistere team will be back on the 13th of May with more updates on the 18th on cetaceans, sunfish, and sailing!

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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