Posted by: orcaweb | August 17, 2016

Marvellous members and memories

The weeks keep sailing by here on the Cap Finisteré and in week 20 Katie and I (Lucy) were ready as ever to look out for whales and dolphins. As usual our week starts on a Wednesday with an afternoons deck watch in the English Channel as we leave Portsmouth for Bilbao. The strong winds of last week had not left us yet and standing outside on the exposed starboard side was proving quite the challenge. Persevering we were rewarded with a pod of nine dolphins, unusually they were swimming away from the ship as opposed to towards us which is more usual of dolphin species we encounter. Obviously something else we could not see had caught their attention.

CD mother & Calf

A common dolphin mother and calf

Thursday morning was full of excitement as we woke up in the Bay of Biscay over the deep abyssal plane which reaches depths of around 4.5km. The dolphins were the first on the scene with two pods of striped dolphins and one of common dolphins bounding towards us making leaps and splashes along the way. Then the whales arrived, both sperm whales and fin whales at varying distances from the ship. The mighty blows of the fin whales impossible to miss.


A lovely striped dolphin

As the whale blows kept coming and the passengers kept spotting there was an obvious lack of beaked whales both here and over the canyons running through the Spanish coast line which is where we would usually expect to see them. After further research into ORCAs past data sets its apparent that this lack of beaked whales during July and August is a recurring event and it is believed that they move at this time of year to waters further south, just off the coast of North Western Spain. Seasonal movement of cetaceans is a common occurrence.

FW swimming away

Fin whales moving off into the distance

The second deck watch on Thursday began with a new group of passengers departing Bilbao for the return journey back to Portsmouth. We were left waiting as there was not a cetacean in sight for the first two hours of our watch. Then a blow and as we are seeing lately, where there’s one large whale blow there will usually be several more to follow. The sea around us seemed to fill with whales and passengers on both sides of the ship were calling ‘Blow!’ every few minutes, sometimes even every few seconds. By the end of the day we counted a total of 42 dolphins sighted and 53 whale blows, most of which were the mighty fin whales. Quite the day for all on-board.

FW pair

A pair of fin whales

More striped dolphins and sunfish were our companions on Saturday. Two large pods of striped dolphins which are usually outnumbered by the common dolphins were only just matched by them. Unfortunately the sea state was progressively getting worse and more and more white water was forming on the surface of the waves. This meant that only two whale blows were seen before arriving into Santander where the sun was burning even brighter than last week.


Sunny seas

After a quick stretch of the legs off ship we returned back to the deck for the outward sailing back to Portsmouth. We were glad to see that the sea state had calmed considerably and were hopeful that we would see many cetaceans. Strangely though we only saw fish species. Tuna, Sunfish and smaller fish species all leaping frantically and almost erratically out of the water. This lead us to believe that perhaps apex predators were lurking somewhere underneath the surface. On Sunday as we sailed around the Brittany coast line with calm seas and stunning scenery we were delighted to be joined by many common dolphins. Some simply playing in the water, others seen feeding and some also caught playing around the wake of other small vessels.

CD in wake

A common dolphin rides our wake

That evening we were excited about holding our end of week quiz. A bit of fun for all the family we were joined by the lovely Roper family. Daniel (aged 9) joined ORCA as a member last year after travelling on the Cap Finistere with his family and being inspired by the wildlife officers he met. This year he was as enthusiastic as ever and his sister Sophia (aged 7) was also really keen to see some wildlife and joined ORCA this year as a Fin Friend. Always out on deck with us in the early morning and braving harsh winds the Ropers were great company throughout both their outward and return crossings. It was no surprise when they won the quiz and we were delighted to reward their hard work with some great Brittany Ferries goodies.

The Ropers

The Roper family: Amanda, Neil, Sophia (Age 7) and Daniel (Age 9)

Monday morning found us back at the French islands and as per earlier in the week the waters were absolutely beautiful, crystal clear. These conditions meant we were able to not only spot the dolphins the moment they broke the surface but also we could easily follow them through the water below the surface. Seeing how agile these amazing animals are in their natural environment was a real treat for all on board.


A common dolphin under clear waters

These conditions meant we also saw a variety of fish species including our beloved sunfish and also a variety of sharks. A blue shark swam right past the ship and again we were able to watch as it moved in typical shark zig zag patterns through the water, probably looking for its next meal.


A Blue Shark

Tuesdays first deck watch was relatively quiet compared to previous sailings, a sea state three and a few whale blows on the horizon, we returned indoors for some kids activities with a really fun and lively bunch. We then headed back out on deck for another attempt and saw the sea state calming, the white water was disappearing and there were still a few whale blows to be seen as we sailed towards shallower coastal waters in the northern part of the bay. Then the sea started to turn into a magnificent mirror and the common dolphins arrived as if on cue. There were seen by many excited passengers out in the evenings sun.

CD fly

An acrobatic common dolphin in mirror calm seas

I leave this week having had the most fantastic time on-board with Katie, she’s been a real asset to the ORCA team and I hope that her last week on board with Yolanda brings her many sightings and many more smiles. Thank you Katie for all your hard work, it’s been a blast old sport!

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 collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!


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