Posted by: orcaweb | May 31, 2017

A week in the life of a Wildlife Officer

Hello everyone, thanks for tuning in to read this week’s installment of our Cap Finistère Wildlife Officer blog written by myself, Katie. I thought that this week some of you might enjoy finding out about what else Wildlife Officers get up to on board: As well as our deck watches we also run a number of activities that feature on the entertainment schedule, and we even have some down time too, although some of that is still spent out on deck! So I hope you enjoy reading this insight to “A week in the life of a Wildlife Officer”!


This beautiful sunset picture was taken one evening this week when Hazel and I had some time off (yes, we still want to go and look at the sea in our free time!) Can you spot the dolphins?

So each week begins on a Wednesday for us, when we wake up on board with a lovely view of Portsmouth from our cabin window. I went to the University of Portsmouth and lived there for three years so I really enjoy sailing past recognisable landmarks such as the Pyramids, Southsea Castle and Clarence Pier, as it feels like I’m coming home!

Once we docked, I deposited Jess and collected Hazel from the office and we got back on the Cap Finistère to start our week with a meet and greet in the Planets Bar. The aim of these sessions is to make the passengers aware that we are on board, as many of them have never heard of ORCA before and often don’t realise that they could see cetaceans on their crossing. This week, Hazel and I met a lovely couple at our meet and greet who are also marine mammal surveyors! This means they volunteer for ORCA by doing surveys on the bridges of ferries and cruises to collect data on the whales, dolphins and porpoises they see. If you would like to know more about becoming a marine mammal surveyor and when the training courses will be taking place, then check out this link.

One of the other things we do on board is take part in crew drills, which we did on Wednesday and this time had a lot of fun in doing so… These drills are quite serious training sessions for the crew so that they know what to do in an emergency situation and as part of the crew we are required to take part. This normally involves us standing quietly in the corner and doing what we are told, but this time we were approached by the Chief Officer and asked to make our acting debut… Hazel was given the role of a passenger who needed her heart medication and I became a distressed mother who was frantically looking for her 8 year old son. Once all of the crew arrived at the assembly station, myself, Hazel and a number of other “actors” started to kick off. This was a test for the crew to see how they would handle dealing with stressed passengers in difficult situations and I have to say after shouting at everyone that I wanted my 8 year old son  back and making quite a fuss, you will all be pleased to know that the crew did a very good job at calming me down, and locating my son of course. They also helped Hazel and the other actors to solve their problems, so I can safely say that if we were to ever find ourselves in a sticky situation, we know the crew would be able to look after us and the passengers very well!

Now for a sightings update: During Thursdays deck watches we had beautiful weather and saw large numbers of common dolphins, which included a sighting of a 40 strong pod! It was probably the best common dolphin sighting I’ve ever had, as there were so many, that we were able to watch dolphin after dolphin go by for roughly 5 minutes in the wonderfully clear water! I also saw a lovely striped dolphin leap out of the water right next to the ship at the same time, so it must have been a mixed pod. Later on in the day we also saw a pod of 7 pilot whales which Hazel and I always love to see! We were joined by a lovely boy called Sonny who we think brought us lots of good luck as he was very good at spotting dolphins and really enjoyed seeing them. You can see him and his dad pictured with me below!

2Splash 2

Here is a sequence of pictures that Hazel put together which shows one of the lovely common dolphins we sighted!


This is me with Sonny and his dad after they joined us for an afternoon of fantastic sightings.

On Friday I was treated to my first sighting in the channel this season (which is normally a bit of a sighting-free zone), and saw some more common dolphins.  This lovely Great black-backed gull hitched a ride on our slip stream:


Hazel’s picture of a Great black-backed gull enjoying the nice weather.

As well as our deck watches, we deliver presentations nearly every day whilst on board and on Friday Hazel delivered a new presentation for our northbound crossings, which is about whale, dolphin and seal spotting in the UK. This has gone down really well so far, as most people are usually shocked to find out that 25 species of cetacean can be seen around the UK, and so are pleased to learn where they have the best chances of sighting them.

I also developed a new northbound presentation which is all about whale and dolphin intelligence. There are plenty of examples that demonstrate how clever these animals are, but one of my favourites (it is normally a crowd favourite too), is an example of a group of young male bottlenose dolphins who figured out that when agitated, a puffer fish releases a toxin that can give the dolphins a bit of a high! They therefore bite down gently on the puffer fish and pass it round to each other; they are basically the first recreational drug using dolphins ever to have been recorded! To watch this in action, check out this link.

We also run children’s activities for all of the little people on our crossings. On Saturday we joined forces with Tori and Dave, our Entertainment Managers, and had a colouring party with a surprise visit from the Brittany Ferries mascot, Pierre le Bear. Other activities we run include measuring out the lengths of different whales and dolphins, playing marine themed games and “whaley” good arts and crafts. We think it’s important to try and educate the children a bit more about cetaceans whilst also making sure they have some fun!

Saturday’s sightings included large numbers of common dolphins again and even more pilot whales, lucky us! There were also three sightings of beaked whales (woooooh!), but surprisingly these sightings were not over the canyons where we normally expect to see our deep diving species, but actually took place over the shelf where the depth drops from 100 m to over 4000 m. We are not sure what these whales were doing there but perhaps there were a lot of squid around, which is their favourite food.


Here is a picture of some of the common dolphins we saw; there were plenty more hanging out with these two as well!

After our last deck watch we arrived in Santander and we normally get off to have ice cream on a Saturday, because who doesn’t love ice cream?! However we arrived in Spain and it was really cloudy, so Hazel and I decided to stay on board and catch up on some on admin instead. Fingers crossed for more sun (and ice cream) next time!

Sunday came along and it brought a bottlenose dolphin sighting with it! We saw five of them breaching and tail slapping just off of the Brittany coastline and I was pleased that I was the first one to spot them. Sunday is also quiz-day and we have a lot of fun hosting our quizzes. Hazel and I both grab a mic and deliver it together which means we are able to have some banter with both each other and the passengers! They seem to enjoy our cryptic clues, which are often not particularly helpful… Here is an example of one of our quiz questions, see if you can guess the answer yourself: What is the name of the whale that Pinocchio gets swallowed by in the Disney film Pinocchio?


These two fab passengers pictured with Hazel are Chris and Helen; the dolphin pens they are holding was their prize for winning the quiz this week! They are regular passengers on board the Cap Finistère who have joined us for every deck watch on their crossings and it has been lovely to have them!

Monday came around and we found ourselves in Roscoff where we were greeted by a fresh-faced crew who get on board, ready and rearing to go after their week off. Unfortunately we did not get any sightings that day, although we did get some good views of the lighthouses off the Brittany coastline.


This a lighthouse we often sail by called Le Phare de la Vieille, which translates to “The Old Lighthouse”. It is indeed very old as it was built between 1882 and 1887.

On Tuesdays, we always spend some time preparing to get off which includes cleaning our cabin, finishing off any admin and packing. It is therefore a bit of a jam packed day as we also have a presentation, a children’s activity and two deck watches. This week the sea state was wonderful as it was so calm, so we were lucky enough to see three sharks, as well as lots of dolphins and two harbour porpoises!

Other sightings this week included a lovely pair of great skuas, a very large group of Manx shearwaters near the Brittany Coastline, as well as some gannets and even kittiwakes.


Here is a pair of Great skuas, which we saw on Wednesday.


Here are two gannets; one had its mouth open as they were having a chat, awh!

So thanks for reading, I hope you have enjoyed learning more about what we get up to each week. We have a lot of fun interacting with all of the passengers and showcasing our marine life, and I am very grateful to be here!

Until next time,


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!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: