Posted by: orcaweb | July 12, 2016

Orca Alert!

On Wednesday, myself (Yolanda) and our new wildlife officer Mary boarded the Cap Finistere for another week of sun and sightings!  At the beginning of the week, the sea was very rough with lots of white water and we didn’t spot any cetaceans, but we saw lots of seabirds.

great shearwater

A Great Shearwater.

On Thursday, we were up on deck as soon as it was light. At around 6 am we had a lovely sighting of a pod of 3 pilot whales, including a mother and a calf. After this, things were very quiet in the Bay of Biscay for almost an hour. This was surprising given that we were sailing over the continental shelf – usually the most exciting and diverse part of the bay. However, shortly before 7 am the reason for the lack of sightings became clear when we spotted…

dorsal fin 2

A very tall dorsal fin…

fluking orca

A mysterious tail fluke…

side on view of fin

Another view of that strange dorsal fin…

ORCAS!!!!

We saw a pod of 3 orcas casually milling just 500 metres from the ship! We only get a handful of sightings of orcas (also known as killer whales) from Brittany Ferries’ ships every year, so this was a truly spectacular sighting. It was also the first time I have ever seen these amazing creatures! One lucky passenger was also on deck with us at the time and got to see these fantastic animals.

For the next hour, we didn’t see any other cetaceans – probably because they were all keeping out of the way of the orcas! However, as we neared Spain we saw a very tall blow in the distance, shortly followed by a closer sighting of a fin whale.

fin including blow

A fin whale.

During our afternoon deck watch, we saw lots of common dolphins. However, the highlight of the afternoon deck watch was when a fin whale surfaced just 10 metres from the ship – so close that we could hear it breathe!

fin 6

A Fin Whale swimming away from the ship.

After a rather rainy deck watch on Friday morning, we held a children’s arts and crafts session. 7 children joined us to make starfish, seahorses, whales, and even a sunfish out of paper plates. We have some exciting new stock on board – cuddly orcas. These are completely adorable and there is a strong temptation to cuddle them all for quality control purposes but luckily Mary is keeping an eye on me!

On Saturday morning, we saw several pods of common dolphins as we sailed towards Santander.

common dolphin

Common dolphins racing towards the ship.

After a talk, we then held a children’s activity on deck 10 where we measured out how big whales and dolphins are – it’s always amazing to see how big they actually are! We then went out on deck again, where we saw more common dolphins splashing through the sea towards us.

common dolphins 8

Common dolphins swimming towards us.

During our Sunday morning deck watch, we sailed around the Brittany coastline. This gave us a lovely view of the islands, and lighthouses as we searched for cetaceans. We saw a couple of common dolphins and numerous seabirds including cormorants, skuas, gannets, kittiwakes and shearwaters.

leaping dolphin 2

A common dolphin leaping into the air.

After a presentation, Mary then hosted a quiz in the evening. 7 teams took part, and the winners (‘The Minions’) scored a record-breaking 23 out of 28 – congratulations!

On Monday, we had a very well attended talk – many thanks to my volunteer who helped me explain the Sperm Whales’ feeding habits by pretending to be a giant squid! Afterwards, we went outside to try and spot some whales and dolphins. We had a fairly quiet deck watch, with 2 pods of common dolphins, so we went inside for dinner. We came out a couple of hours later to hear that we’d missed about a hundred dolphins and what were probably pilot whales! However, we did manage to spot some dolphins during our second deck watch.

mother and calf 2

A common dolphin mother and calf.

On Tuesday, despite sailing over what are usually very exciting waters, we didn’t see a single cetacean, and were starting to wonder if we’d used up all our luck at the start of the week by seeing orcas!  Our final deck watch turned out to be one of the best deck watches of the week. Not only did we see 3 pilot whales, we also saw over 200 common dolphins! We think we must have been going through an area of the sea that had particularly high numbers of fish as lots of the dolphins appeared to be feeding and were more interested in their dinner than in us. However, many dolphins were attracted in towards the ship, giving us fantastic views of these beautiful creatures. Dozens of passengers joined us on deck for this deck watch, so shared these wonderful sightings with us.

pilot whale 7

A male pilot whale – look at the large, squashed dorsal fin.

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,

Yolanda

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