Posted by: orcaweb | May 11, 2017

“Nosey” whales and dolphins came out to play!

Hello everyone, it’s Katie again! Thanks for taking the time to read about my fourth week on board, which is the sixth week of our Wildlife Officer season. Get yourself a cup of tea, settle down somewhere comfy, and I hope you enjoy what I have to say!

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Wildlife Officer Katie – feeling very happy to be out on deck looking out for cetaceans!

As always I was sad to say bye to Jess as she disembarked, but happy to be spending this week with Hazel. We began the week with a deck watch in the English Channel and unfortunately there wasn’t very much to see other than a lot of white caps… It was a sea state 5 for most of our deck watch but we were not deterred; we got up bright and early the following day for a deck watch in the Bay of Biscay and we were rewarded! We had a number of common dolphin sightings throughout the morning which included some pods coming to play with the waves caused by the ship, as well as a couple of sightings of them feeding!

Later that morning, a group of bottlenose dolphins were spotted by a passenger and we noticed that they were also feeding. We think that these were the pelagic ecotype of this “nosey” species as they were much larger than their relatives which live in coastal waters. In fact their dorsal fins looked so tall we felt we needed a closer examination of the pictures we took to properly identify them. After looking at these, we soon realised that they were bottlenose dolphins but that there was another dorsal fin in that group which looked different to the others! We do know that sometimes other species will hang out with them in mixed pods, such as Risso’s dolphins and this is what we think we managed to capture. This is exciting because it was our first Risso’s sighting of the season, although I am hoping for more to come!

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Here you can see five bottlenose dolphin dorsal fins on the right, but on the far left you can see a different dorsal fin- we think it belonged to a Risso’s dolphin!

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Bottlenose dolphins

The other fabulous cetacean species that we got to see in this deck watch was another “nosey” species. It was none other than, wait for it… The northern bottlenose whale!!! I have been waiting to see one of these all season so I was very pleased when we got a sighting that was a mere 100 m away from the ship! It was moving away from us so I only got a quick glimpse of its bulbous forehead and bottle shaped beak but nevertheless, it was an impressive sighting as we could clearly see its robust looking body. They can be between 7 and 9 m long and the one we saw was even a beautiful bronze colour so it was amazing to see! This species regularly dives to depths of 1,500 m and can hold their breath for up to two hours. They like to hang out in deep habitats where there are lots of squid, which is their preferred food and this correlated with where we saw our whale, as it was sighted over some deep sea canyons that we cross over on the approach to Spain. For anyone who remembers, the whale that unfortunately got stuck in the River Thames back in 2006 was also a northern bottlenose whale. In fact no one is really sure why she ended up there, but given this species’ preference for deep water habitats it was certainly a memorable stranding and unlikely to happen again.

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Unfortunately this photo is a bit blurry, but it is evidence of our northern bottlenose whale sighting!

On Thursday afternoon we were hoping to spot our lovely whale again but no such luck unfortunately, as by the time we sailed back into the Bay of Biscay, the sea state had picked up. The hardy passengers we had up on deck with us were pleased to spot some fabulous common dolphins though; we can always rely on them! Unfortunately the conditions seemed to get even worse over night as we woke up in the channel to a sea state 6 with low visibility, heavy swell, glare on the water and lots of wind – a combination of which is pretty much a Wildlife Officer’s nightmare!

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Rough seas. The glare isn’t pictured here, but it was ahead of the ship.  Not great surveying conditions.

The deck watches on Saturday and Sunday led to a number of common dolphin sightings.  I was particularly pleased that a couple who regularly do the crossing and who always join us out on deck also got to see the lovely sight of the common dolphins.

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It is always lovely to see common dolphins, but it was especially nice seeing them on a sunny day!

On Monday we surveyed the northern part of the Bay of Biscay from about 2 o’clock in the afternoon and we didn’t get our first sighting until about 7 o’clock in the evening! Sometimes it can be hard surveying when there are no animals around, however it has certainly taught me how to be a lot more patient. Our first sighting that day was of the pelagic ecotype of bottlenose dolphins and after that we had a number of pilot whale sightings!

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Here you can see the distinctive pilot whale dorsal fin, which looks a bit like a smurf’s hat.

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Here are two more from another pod. You can really see the variation in the shape of their dorsal fins compared with the previous photo!

We have indeed seen many birds this week including a large number of guillemots in the north of the bay, kittiwakes, storm petrels, shearwaters, gannets of all ages, and a fabulous great black backed gull, whom I caught a picture of as he caught his dinner!

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Here is a photo of a lovely juvenile gannet which looks like it is in its second year, due to the mottled colouration on its back and wings.

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Check out this great black-backed gull catching his dinner- a little fish!

Our final deck watches of the week were unfortunately cancelled due to a high sea state, and I even began to feel a little sea sick! But despite this, I have had another great couple of weeks on board the Cap Finistère; it’s not always going to be breaching fin whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales everyday (as featured in my last blog), but I still really appreciate every sighting we get and I’m so pleased to be here! Thanks for reading, until next time…

Katie

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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