After months of excitement and anticipation I finally started my placement on board the Cap Finistère as the new and last for this season wildlife guide intern! My name is Elena and even though I do not come from a science or biology background, I am extremely passionate about cetacean conservation. Joining Yolanda on Wednesday was a moment I had been waiting for ever since I heard about the opportunity to be part of ORCA’s program. And so, my journey began!
On Wednesday, we were sailing in the shallow and heavily shipped waters of the English Channel. Having just started my training, I was unsure what to look for when trying to spot wildlife. However, beginner’s luck was on my side and I spotted the first cetacean of the day – an unidentified dolphin jumping out of the water towards the ship!
We started Thursday morning very hopeful as we were sailing over the deepest waters of the Bay of Biscay (reaching depths of 4.5km) as well as the deep sea trenches where cuvier’s beaked whales and sperm whales often feed. As Yolanda and I were discussing the height and shape of different whales’ blows, I saw something in the distance and it did not take me long to realise it was the first whale blow of the morning! The tall, straight blow on the horizon was unmistakably that of either a fin, blue or sei whale. Our persistence on Deck 10 was rewarded with a fantastic sighting of 3 fin whales not too far from the ship. At first, the smaller size of the cetaceans left us wondering if the encounter was actually with the rare sei whales but later examination of the pictures we took led us to conclude they were small fin whales.
Our evening watch on Thursday over the 3km deep Santander trench started quietly but half way through, we had a close sighting of a couple of beaked whales, most likely Cuvier’s, who surfaced only around 50m away from the ship. These elusive cetaceans were spotted by one of our observant passengers, gliding quietly through the water, possibly after a good meal of fresh squid caught deep in the trenches! The rest of our watch was quiet and we finished the day feeling rewarded by the great sightings.
On Saturday, I saw Santander’s coast for the first time and I have to say I was in awe. After a few sightings of common dolphins in Spain’s coastal waters, we enjoyed the foggy scenery that looked as if it was the set of a fairy tale. Sunday & Monday were full of fantastic common dolphin sightings. We spotted quite a few mothers with their calves swimming only around 2 meters away from the ship and luckily, lots of passengers got to enjoy the view!
Tuesday was the most eventful day of my first week – I finally felt ready to assist Yolanda with one of our talks. Our deck watch did not start until the afternoon when we were sailing over the submarine canyons and later on over the continental shelf. We rarely pass by these locations without spotting cetaceans and Tuesday’s watch delivered more than we had hoped for! Shortly after going on deck, we started seeing whale blows all over the horizon, every time closer to the ship. We believe those were the most common rorquals in the bay – fin whales. Almost right after that, we saw everyone’s favourite – common dolphins, racing in the waves on the side of the ship and letting us have a good look at them.
Around 7pm we were already past the shelf and into shallow waters, headed towards Brittany’s coast. We kept seeing dolphins quite regularly, jumping high out of the water far in the distance. We were almost ready to pack up and go inside when a passenger shouted he saw something moving – I looked the way they were pointing and my stomach turned before I could even process what I saw – it was a jet black back rolling through the water with a huge almost completely straight dorsal fin sticking out! By the time I got my camera in position, the animal had disappeared deep underwater but I know that what I saw looked like it could be an orca… The fact I did not manage to take a picture makes me wonder if I can trust my own judgement, but in the same time, I know what I saw! We stayed on deck until sunset staring far into the horizon, wondering if we will get another sighting and questioning what we saw…