Posted by: orcaweb | July 4, 2017

There and Back Again

Sophie here, checking in from the final week of Wildlife Officers on board the Pont-Aven.

Our last week coincided with the first of ORCA’s Sea Safari trips running this year. It’s my first sea safari, as Andy and I were two of the Sea Safari guides for the duration of the mini-cruise. It was wonderful to be involved and we had a great set of interested passengers booked on for this trip.

Nigel Marven, as one of ORCA’s patrons, also joined us alongside our team of ORCA guides, and Wednesday evening we were able to hear him speak about his travels, work and some of his amazing cetacean encounters during the course of his career. From being towed along with a pod of Belugas to stroking grey whale calves, there were definitely some inspiring encounters!


A fascinating talk by Nigel Marvin with many attentive listeners

Despite rather rough weather as we approached Spain we had a productive trip with 5 different species definitely identified and 312 individual cetaceans counted. We had lots of common dolphins coming into the ship (282 total for the trip) which always delight, and photos afterwards confirmed there were a few striped dolphins dotted about the pods as well. We also had groups of bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins which were spotted by passengers out the restaurant windows! So whenever you’re on board Brittany Ferries, don’t forget to look out the window even when you’re eating, because you’ll never know when you get a great sighting.

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It wouldn’t be a crossing without our lovely common dolphins

Of course, everyone was desperate to see a whale, despite being entertained by dolphins aplenty. While we did have a very distant whale sighting, it was not identified, and it only made us even keener to have a closer sighting. Fortunately, after lots of scanning the seas, the benefit of having so many eyes out looking was clear as we had a fantastic sighting of two fin whales together, clearly visible from the ship.

Unfortunately we had a considerably bumpy night as we sailed back towards the UK. However, the next morning we still had a fun trip heading north, with some dolphins and views of the lighthouses of the islands around the Brittany coast. We also had our ORCA quiz to test our passenger’s whale and dolphin knowledge, with some ORCA cuddly toys and t-shirts for first and second prize. Nigel Marven also added his own tie breaker question for second place. “Which animal has the largest penis in the animal kingdom, relative to body size?” For those of you wondering, it’s a barnacle of course! The length is an adaptation to a stationary lifestyle. So if you need a fun fact for a dinner party conversation, there’s one for you.

If you are interested in joining us on a Sea safari and would like to find out more about them, you can find information on ORCA’s website here, and on Brittany Ferries website here.

As the rest of the Sea Safari guides departed the ship, Andy and I were left for our last crossings to Cork, Roscoff, and across Biscay before leaving the Pont-Aven. We had one last crossing to Cork with a couple of quite large sunfish, which were our first this season for the Ireland crossing. I love sunfish, so I was glad we had a few to say goodbye to.

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This Sunfish was quite a large specimen, at least a meter long!

Our last Biscay crossing was very smooth, and we had many whale blows in the distance, we even had a fin whale blowing some 800m from the Pont-Aven, which we were able to enjoy with lots of Spanish children on a school trip. We also caught one lone Cuvier’s beaked whale sneaking past the ship. The number of whales is picking up, so hopefully there’ll be even more for the upcoming Sea Safaris this year.

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He nearly slipped by, but we managed to spot this male Cuvier’s Beaked Whale

All too quickly however, we have reached the end of the final week and the Wildlife Officer 2017 season aboard the Pont-Aven. Thousands of passengers and cetaceans later, I know I speak for all three of us when I say that we have had a fabulous time looking out for whales and dolphins aboard Brittany Ferries’ Pont-Aven. I have been so grateful for this opportunity that ORCA has given me. These weeks have flown by so quickly and yet it also seems like that first week in April was ages ago. I have learnt so much and had two amazing colleagues to work with on board. And of course I have been able to see such a variety and number of whales, dolphins, sharks and sunfish, and even a dead giant squid. You never know what you might find!


Looking out for whales and dolphins! It’s not ORCA’s motto for nothing!

We all met such a diversity of people on their travels, from professional truffle hunters to Israeli students fascinated by Celtic music to families incorporating cetaceans into their homeschooling. Bikers, families, school groups, business trips and lone adventurers, different languages, different cultures, different political views, we are all one human family, connected to the ocean in so many ways. It’s been great able to talk to and educate so many different people about the importance of cetaceans and their ocean home.

And so, we bid you farewell from the ORCA wildlife officers of 2017, on board the Pont-Aven. You’ll still be reading a few more blogs from me, as I will be moving to the Cap Finistere till September!

From Heather, Andy and I, we wish you safe travels, fair winds and good sightings!

Sophie Tuppen, Wildlife Officer


Farewell from the Pont-Aven Team!



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