Posted by: orcaweb | May 16, 2017

Surveys, sightings and sneaky beakys

Heather here, checking in after another fabulous week aboard the Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven. We started our week with a beautiful Southbound crossing of the Bay of Biscay. Like last week, we were treated to lots of lovely Short-beaked common dolphins. These energetic and playful animals are easily identified by their relatively small (1.0-2.6m) slender body shape. When they porpoise (swimming whilst bringing their bodies out of the water) they show off their distinctive yellow and grey hourglass pattern on their flanks- the light yellow patch bright and clear in the Biscay sunshine. Although, as the name suggests, they are a common sighting, these intelligent and sociable animals never cease to brighten up the long days on deck. Often coming right in to play by the ship, passengers regularly spot common dolphins from the windows in the restaurant, or even from their cabins!

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Common dolphin

This week we have witnessed a lot of dolphin feeding behaviour, often with large groups of dolphins all working together. We watched them twist, turn and circle under the crystal clear water, herding the fish. The Bay of Biscay has fantastically nutrient rich waters creating an abundance of food for the many cetacean species we spot there.

Again this week, we have had some fab sightings of beaked whales around the Torrelavega canyon in the Bay of Biscay. ORCA has highlighted these canyons as a fantastic spot for spotting these elusive whales, which spend much of their time in the deep sea. Of these species, the Cuvier’s beaked whale is the deepest diving that we know of, reaching over 2,992m in depth, diving for over 2 and a quarter hours at a time. This long time spent at depth means that they are a relatively unstudied species, with the Bay of Biscay being one of the best places to see them. One male Cuvier’s beaked whale was spotted quietly sneaking past us this week, less than 250m from the ship! It was easily identified as a Cuvier’s by the light forehead sloping into the distinctive beak.

Like last week, we have not seen many of the great baleen whales on our travels. We spotted our first, and only, this week on our last crossing of Biscay- two very distant whales, we think were most likely an adult and juvenile fin whale. We are eagerly awaiting further sightings as the season continues and we will keep you posted!

We have also had a lovely couple of sightings of the non-cetacean variety, with a turtle dove flying by, over and around the ship on both crossings of the Bay. They are easily identified by their bright orange-brown feathers and graceful flight. These birds spend their winters in Africa before migrating north to spend their summers breeding in Europe. They are a rare sight, as they have been in decline for many years, and are now a species of conservation concern. We were therefore delighted to see them several times this week.

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Turtle dove in flight

Another non- cetacean species we have seen is several sunfish, lazily floating past us, bathing in the Biscay sun. The largest bony fish species in the world, these strange creatures can easily be mistaken for a floating plastic bag as they bask on the surface of the water. They can swim down to several hundred metres, and so perhaps what we saw was the sunfish soaking up some warmth from the sun, before diving back down into the colder waters.

Later in the week we were joined by the ORCA survey team, looking out for whales and dolphins on our routes between Roscoff and Cork. Wildlife officer Andy, unable to cope with a week away from our home on the lovely Pont- Aven, joined the team. We added again to our basking shark tally this week, it is now the fourth week in the row we have spotted them from this route, so it’s always worth a look for fins around these Irish waters!

survey team photo

L-R Lucy, Andy, Sophie, Trudy, Heather & Phil

If you would like to find out more about becoming Marine Mammal Surveyor, to join us on surveys to collect vital scientific data, please visit our website for more information!

Heather

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