Posted by: orcaweb | September 28, 2016

It’s the final countdown!

 

The final week of the Wildlife Officer season on-board the Cap Finistere is now upon us. Yolanda and I (Lucy) are reunited after saying Au Revoir to our final intern Elena. We started the week with a quiet sail out from Portsmouth through the English Channel on Wednesday afternoon. It was a particularly cold and windy deck watch making it clear Autumn was finally with us. Braving the harsh winds we were rewarded with two small pods of common dolphins leaping towards us.

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Common dolphins

Thursday morning as our 6am alarms went off, I peered out of the window and squinting into the darkness I could see that the water was flat…perfect whale watching conditions! We raced up on deck for the beautiful sun rise, knowing we were already well within the bay and hopeful for some great sightings. Eager passengers were not far behind us with their binoculars at the ready. Striped dolphins were the first visitors of the morning. A small pod of roughly five were feeding, only breaching the water’s surface as they became aware of the ships wake.

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A little later on a lonesome unidentified dolphin leapt out of the water, only once. This brief encounter caught us all by surprise and left us without any photographs to try and establish the species, definitely the one that got away. Sailing over the deep abyssal plain we were starting to wonder, had the fin whales left already for warmer waters? Most large whales show some form of seasonal migration and as the Bay of Biscay serves mainly as a feeding ground we wouldn’t expect the fin whales to stick around in large numbers for the entirety of the season. Then, just as the Spanish coastline was coming into view, a blow! A fin whale! As we sailed past this magnificent animal, the passengers that had so patiently waited with us got a great view of the animal as its long back rolled at the surface.

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Fin whale surfacing

After greeting new passengers in Bilbao we set sail once more and were not disappointed. Within minutes of being out on deck we witnessed three fin whales who were acting rather strangely. They were incredibly close together, there were large blows and even bigger splashes made by the animals. I was anticipating a possible breach as they were clearly very excitable however not one of them came out of the water. With passengers at our sides we watched as the large whales continued to blow and splash out of view. Shortly after this exciting sighting we saw a further two fin whales, a much more relaxed pair, slowly rolling past us through the calm waters.

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Three fin whales splashing about!

As the sun quickly started to set and we were once again reminded of the changing of the seasons a pod of common dolphins were suddenly upon us. A nice end to a lovely day. Friday morning brought us back to the English Channel and again, cold winds to wake us up. Despite this the sun was high in the air and the water was lit up like a beacon by its glare. This didn’t prevent us from seeing two pods of dolphins feeding, accompanied by diving gannets. The dolphins however, framed by the sun were mere silhouettes so we were unable to get an identification of the exact species. Saturday morning, as always was filled with anticipation as this is the one day of the week where we cross all of the different habitat types within the bay and therefore have a greater opportunity to see a variety of species. Common dolphins on the shallow coastal waters of the northern part of the bay were our first visitors. As we made our way towards the continental shelf edge we saw a large whale blow, a probable fin whale. Large waves and strong winds were hiding the animals well but we still saw a few more whale blows across the shelf. As we verged onto the deeper waters of the abyssal plain we saw a mixed pod of both common and striped dolphins. Before we headed back inside for our daily presentation we were lucky enough to see an oceanic sunfish breaching right out of the water next to the ship.

On Sunday, Lucy and myself (Yolanda) were sailing around the Brittany Coastline for the final time. Although it was a beautiful sunny day, the sea was quite rough, with lots of white water. This tends to make it harder to see cetaceans. Luckily, lots of dolphins made it easy for us by swimming towards the ship! We saw 35 common dolphins, including 4 calves, as well as a couple of bottlenose dolphins. It was also a fantastic day for seabirds, with lots of shearwaters, cormorants, and gannets swooping around the islands and lighthouses. Sunday was Lucy’s last day as she disembarked that evening, so it was a lovely end to her time on board.

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On Monday, the sea was even rougher, with lots of spray and a very heavy swell. However, myself and a couple of hardy passengers braved the wind, spray, and occasional rain and were rewarded with 3 pods of common dolphins.

Tuesday was the final day of the wildlife officer season. On my last ever deck watch, three whales (probably fin whales), two striped dolphins, and one lonely common dolphin turned out to say goodbye. I went indoors to say farewell to the crew  – the 2016 wildlife officer season is complete!

So to summarise…

  • 19,353 passengers who attended our activities…
  • 260 deck watches…
  • 156 journeys across the Bay of Biscay…
  • 26 weeks on board…
  • 14 species…

…and 6 unforgettable months!

Both of us (Yolanda & Lucy) would like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to all of the wonderful passengers that have joined us throughout this year’s season – your company out on deck and your enthusiasm for our cause is always greatly appreciated. We would also like to say a massive thank you to Ruth, our fellow wildlife officer and friend, hopefully we will be able to sail together again soon! Our interns, Mary, Katie and Elena, thank you for all of your hard work, we are very proud of you all. To the Boogie Management entertainment teams, thank you for your support and last but not least thank you to Brittany Ferries for giving us the amazing opportunity to study these fantastic animals from your beautiful vessel – we will miss her!

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2016 Wildlife Officers, Yolanda (left) and Lucy (right)

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