Posted by: orcaweb | June 22, 2016

Random Rissos and Pretty Pilots

Welcome everyone to another blog update from the Cap Finistere. I (Lucy) find myself sharing a final week with my wonderful colleague and friend Ruth before she leaves on many more sea faring adventures and we start to welcome the season’s interns for some intensive and rewarding skill sharing.

Myself and Ruth were determined to make the most of our final week together and shared an elevated level of enthusiasm for the weeks sightings. It is fair to say we’ve had a real mixed bag of cetacean spotting. Wednesday saw us once again leaving Portsmouth for an evening’s deck watch through the English Channel. Whilst there were no cetaceans for us to marvel over we were joined by a variety of sea bird species including fulmars, Manx shearwaters and our loyal companions the glorious Gannets.

gannet legs

A gannet showing us his feet

Thursday mornings early deck watch brought with it seven pods of common dolphins and one pod of striped dolphins twisting and turning in the air as we sped through the Bay. The weather was unpredictable that morning with a varying sea state 3-6 and intermittent showers but this did not deter our new members of that day as well as several other eager passengers from joining us out on the blustery deck.

The rest of the day turned into some unexpected but greatly appreciated recuperation time. Our usual presentation was replaced with the Euro 2016 England vs. Wales match and the afternoon brought with it such bad weather conditions that the outside decks were off limits under instruction from the captain. We used this precious time to catch up on our administrative tasks and get an early night.

breaching CD

A pair of Common dolphins

Saturday soon came around and our morning deck watch saw the return of our beloved common and striped dolphins. Our presentation was particularly busy that day with a packed out Planets Bar full of keen wildlife enthusiasts signing up as members to ORCA and purchasing vital whale watching accessories such as hats for keeping the sun out of their eyes and bags to keep important materials safe from the seas salty spray. Very recently we have added a new line of ethical whale and dolphin inspired merchandise to our catalogue, if you’d like to support the protection of these amazing animals get your gear here With everyone kitted out for the evenings deck watch we had a bustling crowd with great discussions taking place, however the sea state had worsened since the morning and conditions were not ideal, common dolphins were still sighted despite the mighty waves.

CD mother and calf

Mother and Calf Common dolphins

Sunday mornings deck watch saw an early appearance from a mixed pod of Risso’s dolphins with bottlenose leaping out of the water towards us. It was a great sight with the Rissos tall falcate dorsal fins and blunt faces leaping towards us as well as the appearance of a Bottlenose dolphin mother and calf. This led us to contemplate what leads certain species to associate with others and how the relationship may benefit each party. Later on we saw some harbour porpoise as the sea state severely calmed around the Brittany coast line but as is usually the case with harbour porpoises, they did not hang around for long.

RD back and dorsal

Rissos dolphin

BD mother and calf 1

Bottlenose Mother and Calf

On Monday, after another popular presentation and some arts and crafts with four lovely young girls, we headed out for a deck watch over the northern shelf in the upper most part of the bay. We were disheartened when we saw the fog of previous weeks had returned, visibility was poor and the sea state wasn’t working in our favour either. Determined not to let this ruin our chances, we persevered and we were definitely rewarded for our determination. A minke whale! Right next to the ship, seemed to appear as if out of nowhere, so close we could clearly see the colouration on its back and its lovely little dorsal fin as it seemingly rolled towards us. We eagerly watched hoping for another sighting and as we watched the ships wake saw this sneaky character breach fully out of the water as if waving us farewell.

As the evening rolled on and the fog came and went and came back in again we were joined by our reliable common dolphins once more. Seeing both calves and melanistic darker forms too. We watched the sun set over the ocean and went to bed that night very grateful for all that we had seen.

Tuesday, mine and Ruths final day together on board the Cap Finistere. We made sure we were going to get the most out of the day and got up extra early for the sunrise on the sail into Bilbao. It was little short of spectacular and the full moon on the other side of the ship really added to the dramatic effect on the water’s surface.

sunrise 21st June (4)

Summer Solstice Sunrise

The deck watches for the day were different from the usual to say the least. Our first watch of the day started at the edge of the Santander canyon and we were soon joined by common dolphins and an ever playful pod of striped dolphins too. Then shortly following the dolphins we saw the sun reflecting off the backs of 3 beaked whales, Cuvier’s, making their way across the squid filled canyon. Another beaked whale sighting, this time a pair was also seen minutes later and brought to our attention once again by the sun reflecting off their backs at the surface.


A pair of Cuviers beaked whales

The second deck watch was quickly compromised by the re appearance of the dense fog we hoped we had escaped. Not to be disheartened we approached the railing and squinted into the mist, hoping for something, anything. Suddenly I was taken aback by more common dolphins emerging from the eerie fog. Their surprise appearance then alerted us to the slight lift of the fog and the fact that we were now surrounded it seemed by our finned friends. We counted over the next quarter of an hour over 100 common dolphins coming in from all directions. A super pod!

CD 3 attracted to ship

Common dolphins

After alerting passengers to the activity and marvelling in the sheer number of dolphins who were still ever present we saw something different amongst them. Something less energetic, larger and darker, pilot whales! Mine and Ruth’s favourite cetacean species had finally made an appearance to give us the perfect ending to an eventful week! Males and females being obviously distinguishable by their dorsal fins, we watched excitedly as they rolled on by as if oblivious to the common dolphins frolicking around them.

pilot whale surfacing 4

A male Pilot Whale

We now find ourselves half way through the wildlife officer season. I cannot believe how quickly time flies when staring at the waves. As I say goodbye to Ruth I’d also like to thank her for sharing with me not only this amazing experience but all of her knowledge and insights on cetacean species and her endless supply of fantastic photography. A great sea faring companion and friend, I hope her final week on board with Yolanda is full of exciting sightings, make sure you stop by next week for her final blog post! We then welcome on board the start of our internships and three new ship mates, each undertaking a 4 week placement where I hope to share with them the wonders held within the Bay of Biscay.

sunrise 21st June (1)

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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