Posted by: orcaweb | June 7, 2017

A delightful detour

We have had yet another interesting and whale-filled week aboard the Brittany Ferries Pont Aven. Perhaps feeling a little spoiled by last week’s fin whale sightings, our expectations had been set very high!

As usual, the sun was shining on our first crossing of the week, through the Bay of Biscay to Santander. As we headed south, we crossed over the continental shelf, and headed into deep waters. It didn’t take long for the first whales of the week to appear- directly ahead of the ship! The Pont Aven sails quickly, at 25 knots or faster, so after shouting and waving excitedly, we focused our attention back to the whales now very close to us. We were lucky to be standing with fellow keen cetacean watchers, as the two whales rolled past us through the water on our starboard (right) side. We were intrigued, these small whales beside us: what were they? A beaked whale? Hearing a cry of CUVIER’S from the watching huddle of binoculars was a fantastic feeling, yet surprising.

We’ve mentioned Cuvier’s beaked whale in previous blogs; the elusive species known to inhabit the canyons in the Southern Bay of Biscay. Here we were, in the Northern Bay, many kilometres away, with two of them right by the ship! They were being typically sneaky, rolling stealthily through the water. So of course, I was running around the deck, making sure everybody’s eyes were on these passing whales. All too soon, they were disappearing into the wake of the ship, and I had missed my opportunity for a photo. I vowed that if we saw any more this week, I wouldn’t miss them again!

I thanked the lovely common dolphins for saving the day as I snapped away at the hundreds of dolphins darting towards us, eager to play throughout the day.

Our final trip down to Santander proved to be the best of the week. We rushed (or more accurately stumbled half asleep) up onto deck for 5am, keen to spot some dolphins in the sunrise. We were not disappointed when, at 05:20am, we spotted some distant dolphins leaping clear of the water to say good morning: the perfect way to start a day! We saw similar small groups throughout the day, but it was quiet. We have become accustomed to seeing many hundreds of common and striped dolphins on our journeys, so these often distant groups were surprisingly infrequent. We never lose our optimism however, and we were right not to.


Sophie watching at sunrise

Once again on this trip we were joined by dolphin and whale enthusiasts, including a couple who had done the ORCA marine mammal surveyor training, and as such were keen to spot a whale! I was standing talking to them when suddenly fingers and binoculars were pointing over my shoulder to the stern. Spinning around, I was just in time to catch a glimpse of a distant sperm whale blow. True to form I started yelling, calling Sophie and all the watchers from the port-side to get over here quickly! They all came running over, and a few fast runners were just in time to see the whale blow a couple more time before disappearing out of view. I then had a captive audience and no whale, but nature stepped in to save me, in the form of another whale, this time much closer to the ship. It was a Cuvier’s, clear and bright in the Spanish sun! How fantastically lucky to have so many people, all watching exactly the right place at exactly the right time! Again, I had been talking to so many people, so neglected to snap a picture. I needn’t have worried, for there were plenty more finned friends to come!

As we approached Santander, we had another interesting sighting! Bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Spain! We knew there has been a resident pod recorded, but for the first time this season, we spotted them swimming right past us. A brilliant end to our journey south.

After a quick turn-around in sunny Santander, we were back on board and heading north. We had bad weather forecast, and wanted to get as much watching in before that hit. As we headed out of Santander, we appeared to be taking a different route to normal, heading north-west. We speculated that this detour was to avoid the storm we had been warned about, and looking east, it did seem very dark! However, it was grey on this new route too, standing out on deck with a few passengers, it got quite rough! Despite this, we saw no less than three Cuvier’s beaked whales surfacing in the huge swell. They came right past us, peeking in between the waves. This time I got photos!

3 cuviers

Three Cuvier’s beaked whales!!

We also had large groups of dolphins coming right into the ship, making us all but forget the wind and rain. There was one dolphin particularly that stood out, that we have since concluded could only be a striped/ common dolphin hybrid! I think we should take this detour more often! It was such a delightful surprise and the best way to round off another brilliant week. This week just goes to show, you never know what you will see as these wild whales and dolphins move and explore their ocean home.

Until next week,



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