Posted by: orcaweb | July 5, 2016

The best of Pont-Aven WO season 2016

This is the last blog post from the Pont-Aven Wildlife Officers this season. It is then the best time to summarise our work and life on board, and remind you the most memorable moments. All three of the Pont-Aven Wildlife Officers are completely different, with different backgrounds, experience, interests and character. Because of that, we have different favourite moments of our journey. I thought, that it would be simply not fair, if I wrote the summary alone, so I decided to ask Harriet and Jon for help. 🙂


We all share the love of wild animals and we feel privileged, that we had so many wonderful wildlife encounters this season. We have spotted whales and dolphins on every crossing through the Bay of Biscay. We have seen basking sharks in the Irish Sea and pilot whales in the English Channel. Wherever we have been, we have had a company of gannets and shearwaters. It is really difficult for us to choose the best sightings of the season, simply because every sighting was special. However, let us remind you some highlights of our trips.

Whilst working with ORCA I have had the opportunity to witness some amazing animals from the Brittany Ferries flagship, the Pont-Aven. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the dolphins; especially the huge volume of common dolphins. They are wonderful to watch, they moved so gracefully through the water, and put on displays as they darted underneath the ship and played in the wash.

However, I think my most treasured sighting was the fin whale, that we saw on my last trip to Santander. Ewelina and myself (and many passengers) were watching two whales blow towards the horizon. When I noticed a strange pattern on the water about 100m from the ship. I had never seen anything like it, these three huge perfect circles radiating outwards on the surface. We kept our eyes pinned on the expanding spot, and from the depths of the ocean, out popped a fin whale’s back. It was enormous, as this amazing animal rolled through the water we understood the true size and width of this wonderful cetacean. We could see lots of detail on the fin whale’s back and dorsal fin, which is now imprinted on my memory… it was awesome.



 We had many amazing sightings, but my favourites would be the fin whales. Seeing dolphins is wonderful and never gets old, but seeing the second biggest animal that has ever lived – 120 tons of whale! – within a couple of hours of the European coast is an amazing thing. I was so happy when the fin whales returned to Biscay in June, they seem to be an essential part of the Bay, and I missed them when they moved north for a while. The mental picture I have (oh for a photograph!) of looking directly down onto a fin whale as it swam beneath the boat right in front of us will stay with me forever.

Besides that, perhaps surprisingly, I really enjoyed observing the Manx shearwaters. Along with the always perfect gannets, these beautiful and graceful birds kept us company in the long quieter hours on the Celtic Sea, stroking the surface of the water with their wingtips as they glided alongside the ship.



I like surprises, so I have really enjoyed the most unexpected sightings. For example, one day I decided to go up on deck 10 a bit earlier, before the start of our survey. The weather was beautiful, so I wanted to take some photographs of the Cork Harbour. When I was busy photographing a very picturesque town called Cobh, Harriet alerted me, that she saw something strange in the water ahead. I pointed my camera in that direction and… it was a basking shark! I was so excited, that the passengers around probably thought I was a bit crazy. 😉 But very soon some of them started to share my excitement, because we saw another basking shark and another one, and another one just next to our boat… In total, we managed to spot 12 of these amazing animals feeding in and just outside the Cork Harbour.



However, our time at the sea wouldn’t be the same without all the fantastic people we have met. As a part of the entertainment team, we were surrounded by musicians, magicians, acrobats and other performers. At the beginning their world seemed really interesting, but completely different than ours. With time we have realised, that nowadays being a biologist has a lot in common with being a performer. Both biologists and performers choose a path of life, in which we put our passion above money. We all love travels and adventures. On the ship we have all worked and slept in very unusual hours and we have all been trying to make passengers’ trips more enjoyable.

Besides that, we have spent a huge amount of time talking to our passengers. During our deck watches and presentations, we have met so many fantastic wildlife enthusiasts! Quite a few times they have surprised us with their knowledge about the underwater world, really interesting questions or incredibly funny comments. Sometimes we can even learn from them, as we have met for example a marine mammal specialist, a shipping traffic coordinator and a submarine engineer. Here, you can find some memories of our best “human encounters”. 🙂

For me there are many memories of my time as a Wildlife Officer aboard the Pont Aven that will stay with me, but if I have to pick my highlights they would be life aboard ship, working with Ewelina and Harriet, the diverse entertainers and the wonderful Brittany Ferries crew. Life on board is simple and focussed, and there is a real family atmosphere; we are all, literally, in the same boat! I already miss my hours standing up on the least windy part of the top deck, communing with the sea.

I remember reading as a boy that life at sea can become part of one’s soul, and can be sorely missed by those forced to stay on land. Years later, I now understand what the authors were writing about, and I hope it will not be long before I too am back on the sea, helping people to understand and value the wonderful creatures that live just a few miles from our shores.


Photo 2

My most memorable human experience on the Pont-Aven was during one particular Meet and Greet. To engage with passengers, I had a few questions to get the conversation flowing. One question being- ‘Do you like whales and dolphins?’ the usual response was, ‘Yes’. However, on one occasion I asked a gentleman this question, to which he replied, ‘I have tried whale once, but I have never had dolphin!!’. It was the first, and only, time this happened to me. I was quite surprised but told the man that I did not have any whale or dolphin meat from him to try. But if he wanted to come to our presentation, we would be able to share some information about the incredible cetaceans. And hopefully see some during the crossing.


Photo 1

For me, the best “human encounters” have been meetings with our passengers, who had never seen dolphins or whales before. Usually, at first they were surprised or even shocked, that it is possible to observe cetaceans while travelling by ferry. Then, they were quite often a bit suspicious, but also curious. Some of them stayed with us on deck 10 and managed to spot the first dolphins or whales in their life. Every person reacted differently. Some people were laughing or smiling, others were shouting with excitement. Some people were speechless, others could not stop talking. It was not uncommon to see tears in people’s eyes and once I even heard a lady quietly saying, that she doesn’t deserve to see something so beautiful… (by the way, she fully deserved a wonderful whale encounter, as she stayed with us on deck for many hours!). It was an amazing experience to help people in realising their dreams about seeing whales and dolphins!



All in all, it has been a wonderful season on board Pont-Aven. We have learnt a lot about whales and dolphins, we have had a chance to experience life at sea and… we have had loads of fun! The end of the season has come suddenly and certainly too quickly. We hope to meet each other one day, preferably somewhere at sea. 🙂 Good luck to our WO team on Cap Finistere and to the next year’s Wildlife Officers on the Pont! We wish you many amazing sightings and… Bon voyage!


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