Posted by: orcaweb | July 20, 2016

Wandering whales

The wildlife officer season sails on on-board the Cap Finistere and here you will find myself (Lucy) joining Mary for her third week as a trainee wildlife officer. As we left Portsmouth I could see that Mary was really starting to take things in her stride and had become used to the busy routine we undertake each week.

With the summer holidays approaching the number of families with small children boarding were starting to increase. With a mixed crowd for my presentation that evening, I gave the audience a choice. Would they prefer a lecture style presentation on cetaceans and the Bay of Biscay or a child friendly fun packed interactive talk? The room unanimously agreed on the later of the two and I was pleased to see people of all ages taking part in answering the questions posed to them.

The evenings deck watch through the channel presented us with a non-too favourable sea state 7 and upwards. This meant lots of white water and resulted in no sightings that afternoon. We did however find time to install our new habitat/species correlation charts. This has been designed to help passengers understand which species they are most likely to see at various points within the crossing. So far this has made a great impact on peoples understanding of why the Bay of Biscay is one of the best places in the world to see whales and dolphins.

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Admiralty map and species poster on deck 10

The following morning as we awoke over the abyssal plain which reaches over 4.5km at maximum depth we were greeted by sea states we were able to successfully survey in. We saw a handful of common dolphins to get us started. We didn’t have to wait long either for the large whale blows to make an appearance. Probable Fin whales but Sei and Sperm can also be seen here as well as the mighty blue whale.

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A fin whale surfaces

As we crossed the deep sea canyons within the Spanish coast line, two large beaked whales were seen close to the ship, but such a quick sighting meant that many features had to be taken into consideration in a very short space of time. The animals were noted as probable Cuviers beaked whales, the deepest diving marine mammal on the planet, reaching depths of up to 3km, known to frequent these particular waters.

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The back of a beaked whale as it swims away

On returning that afternoon from Bilbao we conducted another deck watch over the same canyons and abyssal plain and it was as though we had been followed. As the ship turned itself around we were soon surrounded by large whale blows. Many seemed to be travelling in pairs and there was one blow right on the horizon which was much taller and much denser than any of the others, a possible Blue whale perhaps? Many passengers had joined us and were mesmerised by the mighty blows that continued to appear as the hours passed. One lovely young lady named Lauren who was a keen animal lover and very excited by whale watching was very happy for her first sightings, she hoped before bed time she would see some dolphins too and she was not left disappointed. By the evening common dolphins had found us and a future conservationist was left inspired.

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A pod of common dolphins

Friday soon came around in the English Channel. Species within the channel vary widely and despite popular belief the channel (as Mary proved last week) is rich in wildlife. Within moments of getting out on deck and feeling joyous at the low sea state we spotted Harbour Porpoise, swimming away as fast as they could. Then as if out of nowhere, a minke whale! Often referred to as the stinky minke for their terribly fishy breath, I think a kinder name might be the sneaky minke as they do have a tendency to take us by surprise.

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A minke whale

Saturday morning brought with it dolphins common and striped, and a large whale blow over the shelf.  After a busy kids presentation with some really bright young people we did some activities in the playground with views of the open ocean as our back drop and the budding new marine biologists were eager to get back outside for the second deck watch of the day. Unfortunately our eager companions were left as disappointed as we were when the sea state that awaited us was extremely high. Mountains of white water rose and fell all around us and we soon became completely covered from head to toe in salt spray. It’s fair to say nothing else was seen in the Bay of Biscay that evening.

The next morning is was as though the previous evening had been nothing but a bad dream. A mirror! Our favourite sea state over the northern part of the bay. These shallow waters gave us several sightings of the always beautiful common dolphins. Inspired by calm conditions, Mary gave then her first presentation to the ship’s passengers and she did so well. I was really proud of her, engaging a full room and enthusing about cetaceans. The following day, Mary then did another presentation, this time aimed at children and it’s fair to say the kids were thrilled. Well done Mary, you’re a great Wildlife Officer!

The deck watch that day found us once again on the Northern shelf and after the success of the presentation lots of young children and their families joined us out on deck. Almost immediately common dolphins gave us a show and there were cheers from the audience all along the railings. Then blows, several large whale blows really got the crowd going. These large blows were almost certainly that of Fin whales and then we saw our friend with the ‘V’ shaped blow again. This animal was again seen in conjunction with a fin whale, the two swimming past together as seen twice last week. I really would love to know the story behind the usual blow, perhaps a common cold torments our wandering friend.

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Two whale blows including our friend ‘Mr V’

Tuesday came around very quickly and it was a fun one with lots of interesting activity in the Bay as we left Bilbao. Sperm whales, beaked whales, common dolphins and an excited pod of bottlenose were all seen within our first couple of hours out on deck. Just as we went off effort for kids activities and a lunch break the sea state started to look far from good. When we returned to the deck things weren’t looking any better, a sea state 6 just low enough for us to accurately survey in. With my eyes on the water I had begun to describe the appearance of whale blows to a curious passenger when as if hearing my explanation a blow appeared! It couldn’t have been timed better, exactly what I had been describing demonstrated in real time before our eyes! It’s fair to say, all that witnessed it were in awe.

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A pod of excitable Bottlenose Dolphins

The sea then began to calm and to our relief all the white water disappeared and the sea was flat once more. Here we saw lots of common dolphin until just an hour later a thick, dense fog rolled in and we were forced to go off effort.

I now leave Mary for the final week of her placement on board with Yolanda. I am immensely proud of all the obstacles she has overcome to become a confident and successful wildlife officer and I have no doubt she will get some brilliant sightings in her final week. Thank you Mary, you’ve been a real pleasure to work with and I do hope we will get the opportunity to work together again, looking out for whales and dolphins.

Gannets

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!

Posted by: orcaweb | July 13, 2016

Whale Watching Heaven in the Channel

 

Hi, I’m Mary a trainee wildlife officer and after my first exciting week aboard the Cap Finistere with Yolanda and the ecstasy of spotting orcas, Lucy joined me for my second week. What a start, a mirror calm channel and minkw whale, blue shark, ocean sunfish and numerous harbour porpoise were enjoyed by all out on deck on Wednesday evening’s deck watch – it was whale watching heaven.

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mirror calm reflection

On Thursday, our first morning in the bay produced several pods of common dolphins and a close encounter with a fin whale, after Lucy’s presentation on leaving Bilbao, right on cue, as if scripted from the rear window we enjoyed 2 pods of dolphins leaping in the wake, the first common and the second acrobatic striped dolphins.

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Towards the end of the day, as we approached the northern shelf of the bay we encountered several small pods of common dolphins and recorded splashes as “other” but on examining the photos they turned out to be tuna as seen below.

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Then what appeared to be 3 whales blowing, confusing us with their differing blows as they passed us but on looking at the photos it appears that it was only 2 animals, one a rorqual and the other appearing to have a V shaped blow, maybe you would like to make a suggestion as to the second whale blow?

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Friday we awoke back in the channel, where we saw 2 harbour porpoise and I conducted my first full quiz, which seemed to go without a hitch and participants said they had enjoyed it.

Up early for the northern shelf in the hope of catching a glimpse of the orca, we were invited on to the bridge to be told they had just been spotted on the port side of the ship, such a shame as we were confined to the starboard side but whilst on the bridge we had our first sighting of the day, common dolphins but with a separate larger dolphin, possibly a Risso’s dolphin amongst them.

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At our children’s activities, having just finished measuring out the length of all the cetaceans which can be seen within the Bay of Biscay, to add a final flourish, a fin whale passed the ship giving the children a good sighting before disappearing on the horizon. We finished the day with a pod of striped dolphins feeding in front of the ship and then leaping in the wake and a Cuvier’s beaked whale close to the ship. I was later pleased to find I had managed to capture such clear image of such a beautiful animal.

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The following two days we were able to find several frequent small pods of common dolphins, these sightings were greeted by cheers of delight by the children, one of whom managed to take some lovely photos.

On Tuesday we left Bilbao with rough seas, unable to be on effort for much of the day but this did not stop us finding some striped and common dolphins and a sunfish to the delight of our more hardy passengers and especially a young girl so pleased to have seen her first dolphins.

Looking forward to next week’s adventures!  Bye for now, Mary.

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!

Posted by: orcaweb | July 12, 2016

Orca Alert!

On Wednesday, myself (Yolanda) and our new wildlife officer Mary boarded the Cap Finistere for another week of sun and sightings!  At the beginning of the week, the sea was very rough with lots of white water and we didn’t spot any cetaceans, but we saw lots of seabirds.

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A Great Shearwater.

On Thursday, we were up on deck as soon as it was light. At around 6 am we had a lovely sighting of a pod of 3 pilot whales, including a mother and a calf. After this, things were very quiet in the Bay of Biscay for almost an hour. This was surprising given that we were sailing over the continental shelf – usually the most exciting and diverse part of the bay. However, shortly before 7 am the reason for the lack of sightings became clear when we spotted…

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A very tall dorsal fin…

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A mysterious tail fluke…

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Another view of that strange dorsal fin…

ORCAS!!!!

We saw a pod of 3 orcas casually milling just 500 metres from the ship! We only get a handful of sightings of orcas (also known as killer whales) from Brittany Ferries’ ships every year, so this was a truly spectacular sighting. It was also the first time I have ever seen these amazing creatures! One lucky passenger was also on deck with us at the time and got to see these fantastic animals.

For the next hour, we didn’t see any other cetaceans – probably because they were all keeping out of the way of the orcas! However, as we neared Spain we saw a very tall blow in the distance, shortly followed by a closer sighting of a fin whale.

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A fin whale.

During our afternoon deck watch, we saw lots of common dolphins. However, the highlight of the afternoon deck watch was when a fin whale surfaced just 10 metres from the ship – so close that we could hear it breathe!

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A Fin Whale swimming away from the ship.

After a rather rainy deck watch on Friday morning, we held a children’s arts and crafts session. 7 children joined us to make starfish, seahorses, whales, and even a sunfish out of paper plates. We have some exciting new stock on board – cuddly orcas. These are completely adorable and there is a strong temptation to cuddle them all for quality control purposes but luckily Mary is keeping an eye on me!

On Saturday morning, we saw several pods of common dolphins as we sailed towards Santander.

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Common dolphins racing towards the ship.

After a talk, we then held a children’s activity on deck 10 where we measured out how big whales and dolphins are – it’s always amazing to see how big they actually are! We then went out on deck again, where we saw more common dolphins splashing through the sea towards us.

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Common dolphins swimming towards us.

During our Sunday morning deck watch, we sailed around the Brittany coastline. This gave us a lovely view of the islands, and lighthouses as we searched for cetaceans. We saw a couple of common dolphins and numerous seabirds including cormorants, skuas, gannets, kittiwakes and shearwaters.

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A common dolphin leaping into the air.

After a presentation, Mary then hosted a quiz in the evening. 7 teams took part, and the winners (‘The Minions’) scored a record-breaking 23 out of 28 – congratulations!

On Monday, we had a very well attended talk – many thanks to my volunteer who helped me explain the Sperm Whales’ feeding habits by pretending to be a giant squid! Afterwards, we went outside to try and spot some whales and dolphins. We had a fairly quiet deck watch, with 2 pods of common dolphins, so we went inside for dinner. We came out a couple of hours later to hear that we’d missed about a hundred dolphins and what were probably pilot whales! However, we did manage to spot some dolphins during our second deck watch.

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A common dolphin mother and calf.

On Tuesday, despite sailing over what are usually very exciting waters, we didn’t see a single cetacean, and were starting to wonder if we’d used up all our luck at the start of the week by seeing orcas!  Our final deck watch turned out to be one of the best deck watches of the week. Not only did we see 3 pilot whales, we also saw over 200 common dolphins! We think we must have been going through an area of the sea that had particularly high numbers of fish as lots of the dolphins appeared to be feeding and were more interested in their dinner than in us. However, many dolphins were attracted in towards the ship, giving us fantastic views of these beautiful creatures. Dozens of passengers joined us on deck for this deck watch, so shared these wonderful sightings with us.

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A male pilot whale – look at the large, squashed dorsal fin.

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 to collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Cetacean love,

Yolanda

Posted by: orcaweb | July 5, 2016

The best of Pont-Aven WO season 2016

This is the last blog post from the Pont-Aven Wildlife Officers this season. It is then the best time to summarise our work and life on board, and remind you the most memorable moments. All three of the Pont-Aven Wildlife Officers are completely different, with different backgrounds, experience, interests and character. Because of that, we have different favourite moments of our journey. I thought, that it would be simply not fair, if I wrote the summary alone, so I decided to ask Harriet and Jon for help. 🙂

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We all share the love of wild animals and we feel privileged, that we had so many wonderful wildlife encounters this season. We have spotted whales and dolphins on every crossing through the Bay of Biscay. We have seen basking sharks in the Irish Sea and pilot whales in the English Channel. Wherever we have been, we have had a company of gannets and shearwaters. It is really difficult for us to choose the best sightings of the season, simply because every sighting was special. However, let us remind you some highlights of our trips.

Whilst working with ORCA I have had the opportunity to witness some amazing animals from the Brittany Ferries flagship, the Pont-Aven. I have thoroughly enjoyed seeing the dolphins; especially the huge volume of common dolphins. They are wonderful to watch, they moved so gracefully through the water, and put on displays as they darted underneath the ship and played in the wash.

However, I think my most treasured sighting was the fin whale, that we saw on my last trip to Santander. Ewelina and myself (and many passengers) were watching two whales blow towards the horizon. When I noticed a strange pattern on the water about 100m from the ship. I had never seen anything like it, these three huge perfect circles radiating outwards on the surface. We kept our eyes pinned on the expanding spot, and from the depths of the ocean, out popped a fin whale’s back. It was enormous, as this amazing animal rolled through the water we understood the true size and width of this wonderful cetacean. We could see lots of detail on the fin whale’s back and dorsal fin, which is now imprinted on my memory… it was awesome.

Harriet

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 We had many amazing sightings, but my favourites would be the fin whales. Seeing dolphins is wonderful and never gets old, but seeing the second biggest animal that has ever lived – 120 tons of whale! – within a couple of hours of the European coast is an amazing thing. I was so happy when the fin whales returned to Biscay in June, they seem to be an essential part of the Bay, and I missed them when they moved north for a while. The mental picture I have (oh for a photograph!) of looking directly down onto a fin whale as it swam beneath the boat right in front of us will stay with me forever.

Besides that, perhaps surprisingly, I really enjoyed observing the Manx shearwaters. Along with the always perfect gannets, these beautiful and graceful birds kept us company in the long quieter hours on the Celtic Sea, stroking the surface of the water with their wingtips as they glided alongside the ship.

 Jon

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I like surprises, so I have really enjoyed the most unexpected sightings. For example, one day I decided to go up on deck 10 a bit earlier, before the start of our survey. The weather was beautiful, so I wanted to take some photographs of the Cork Harbour. When I was busy photographing a very picturesque town called Cobh, Harriet alerted me, that she saw something strange in the water ahead. I pointed my camera in that direction and… it was a basking shark! I was so excited, that the passengers around probably thought I was a bit crazy. 😉 But very soon some of them started to share my excitement, because we saw another basking shark and another one, and another one just next to our boat… In total, we managed to spot 12 of these amazing animals feeding in and just outside the Cork Harbour.

Ewelina

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However, our time at the sea wouldn’t be the same without all the fantastic people we have met. As a part of the entertainment team, we were surrounded by musicians, magicians, acrobats and other performers. At the beginning their world seemed really interesting, but completely different than ours. With time we have realised, that nowadays being a biologist has a lot in common with being a performer. Both biologists and performers choose a path of life, in which we put our passion above money. We all love travels and adventures. On the ship we have all worked and slept in very unusual hours and we have all been trying to make passengers’ trips more enjoyable.

Besides that, we have spent a huge amount of time talking to our passengers. During our deck watches and presentations, we have met so many fantastic wildlife enthusiasts! Quite a few times they have surprised us with their knowledge about the underwater world, really interesting questions or incredibly funny comments. Sometimes we can even learn from them, as we have met for example a marine mammal specialist, a shipping traffic coordinator and a submarine engineer. Here, you can find some memories of our best “human encounters”. 🙂

For me there are many memories of my time as a Wildlife Officer aboard the Pont Aven that will stay with me, but if I have to pick my highlights they would be life aboard ship, working with Ewelina and Harriet, the diverse entertainers and the wonderful Brittany Ferries crew. Life on board is simple and focussed, and there is a real family atmosphere; we are all, literally, in the same boat! I already miss my hours standing up on the least windy part of the top deck, communing with the sea.

I remember reading as a boy that life at sea can become part of one’s soul, and can be sorely missed by those forced to stay on land. Years later, I now understand what the authors were writing about, and I hope it will not be long before I too am back on the sea, helping people to understand and value the wonderful creatures that live just a few miles from our shores.

Jon 

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My most memorable human experience on the Pont-Aven was during one particular Meet and Greet. To engage with passengers, I had a few questions to get the conversation flowing. One question being- ‘Do you like whales and dolphins?’ the usual response was, ‘Yes’. However, on one occasion I asked a gentleman this question, to which he replied, ‘I have tried whale once, but I have never had dolphin!!’. It was the first, and only, time this happened to me. I was quite surprised but told the man that I did not have any whale or dolphin meat from him to try. But if he wanted to come to our presentation, we would be able to share some information about the incredible cetaceans. And hopefully see some during the crossing.

Harriet

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For me, the best “human encounters” have been meetings with our passengers, who had never seen dolphins or whales before. Usually, at first they were surprised or even shocked, that it is possible to observe cetaceans while travelling by ferry. Then, they were quite often a bit suspicious, but also curious. Some of them stayed with us on deck 10 and managed to spot the first dolphins or whales in their life. Every person reacted differently. Some people were laughing or smiling, others were shouting with excitement. Some people were speechless, others could not stop talking. It was not uncommon to see tears in people’s eyes and once I even heard a lady quietly saying, that she doesn’t deserve to see something so beautiful… (by the way, she fully deserved a wonderful whale encounter, as she stayed with us on deck for many hours!). It was an amazing experience to help people in realising their dreams about seeing whales and dolphins!

Ewelina

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All in all, it has been a wonderful season on board Pont-Aven. We have learnt a lot about whales and dolphins, we have had a chance to experience life at sea and… we have had loads of fun! The end of the season has come suddenly and certainly too quickly. We hope to meet each other one day, preferably somewhere at sea. 🙂 Good luck to our WO team on Cap Finistere and to the next year’s Wildlife Officers on the Pont! We wish you many amazing sightings and… Bon voyage!

Posted by: orcaweb | June 29, 2016

Biscay’s beaked whale bonanza

22nd – 28th June 2016

Hello everyone and welcome back to hear all about another exciting week on board Brittany Ferries’ Cap Finistère. Having spent the best part of three months here this year and having lived on it again back in 2014, regretfully I disembark for the last time. As this has been my last week on board, sadly, this is my last Wildlife Officer Blog. What a way to finish though, keep reading to hear what myself (Ruth) and Yolanda saw.

Our first deck watch in the English Channel unfortunately presented more fog, which has seemed to follow us over the past few weeks, lingering like a bad smell. Thick, dense fog yet flat calm seas below made for an eerie sight. Still optimistic, we were joined by a number of passengers who shone some apprehension on the situation. Contently though, we watched gannets appear out of the mist as well as flocks of Manx shearwaters flap close to their reflections below them. Enjoying momentary mirror conditions, I looked down alongside the ship to see a purple thing catch my eye, a tiny bluefire jellyfish!

Eventually, we watched as the fog receded almost back to the horizon. Whilst this occurred, we were asked what we had seen during the day, but before we could reply a couple of harbour porpoise bobbed up in the distance and appeared a number of times as they swam further away! What perfect timing! Before the end of the deck watch another porpoise appeared as did the rain and thunder, promptly ending the deck watch.

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Harbour porpoise

Starting the following day in dim light, due to the shortening daylight hours, we watched the sunrise during a quiet morning into Bilbao. Only a few pods of common dolphins broke the tranquillity that morning, but a pleasant sight nonetheless. Surprisingly, our most exciting encounters were of a heron and then a racing pigeon that tried to land on the deck railings, giving us a good view of its pink highlighted under wings – probably for easy recognition.

You will be glad to know, that the return journey from Spain was much more exciting for whales! Not long into the deck watch with optimistic passengers joining us following our talk, we saw a beaked whale only 40 metres from the ship! With a very rounded head, brown body and pale head it could have been a Cuvier’s beaked whale or a northern bottlenose whale, but when it surfaced again, we could see its very bulbous melon, highlighting it as likely a northern bottlenose whale!

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A likely northern bottlenose whale alongside the ship

Despite the scarcity of sightings, they kept us entertained throughout the evening, from a pod of common dolphins which appeared under our noses as they had just swam from under the ship from the port side, to a pod of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the distance.

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Common dolphin attracted to the ship

Despite flat calm sea conditions, thunder and lightning overcame the Bay of Biscay and we were advised to go inside to avoid the storm, closing the decks in the process.

The deck watch through the Channel on Friday morning brought news of the UK leaving the EU, and likewise, whales and dolphins seemed to desert us as well with little to be seen except some lonely sea birds. Manx shearwaters were among the most common here.

It was a fresh start on the Saturday though, as normally one of our best days, meaning that we were optimistic, starting the new day with a fulmar following the ship for over an hour before our first sighting. By using the ship’s movement to give it uplift, the bird was able to fly along effortlessly – normally a behaviour exhibited by gannets and gulls.

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A fulmar soaring above us

Sightings started to pick up as we neared the continental shelf edge, with common dolphins bounding towards the ship. A mixed pod of common and striped dolphins were also encountered, with a striped individual really making itself known with its high leaps. The next thing to appear was a large oceanic sunfish that literally appeared below our noses next to the ship.

Watching the horizon closely though, at around 9 am, as we were coming to the deeper edge of the shelf, something on the horizon caught my eye. Looking through my binoculars, I could see that there was what appeared to be a small concentrated puff of white dissipating above the surface. Intrigued, at first thinking this to be pollution from a small vessel, I watched on. In doing so, I saw a whale blow a number of times, but very different to that of a fin whale! It was not tall and column-like but smaller, bushier and most prominently ‘v’-shaped! Puzzled, knowing this was different I watched intently to see if I could glimpse the animals back but it was simply too far away. Could this have been a humpback whale? What seemed like minutes later, a flurry of whale activity livened up the decks as numerous large tall whale blows shot up towards the skies. Some were further away, others in line with each other and others were very powerful blows considering our long distance away. We estimated that there were probably five whales there – likely in a good feeding area, most likely fin whales, but impossible to certify without the confirmation of their fin shape.

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V-shaped blow from a whale

Throughout the morning, we witnessed more common dolphins as well as a few likely pods of bottlenose dolphins, displaying their more rotund grey bodies and fast swimming through the water at quite some speed. Pelagic bottlenose dolphins can even reach burst speeds of 40km/h! The way into Spain however, over the deep sea canyons proved quiet after our exciting morning, with a few more common dolphin pods to keep us entertained on our sail in.

Surveying around the Brittany coastline on the Sunday and Monday brought a mixed bag of sightings. Despite, a rather overcast day on Sunday, we encountered three separate oceanic sunfish bobbing at the surface, one being particularly large! A harbour porpoise topped off the morning deck watch, as it surfaced underneath the bridge. Monday’s deck watch however, was a rather quiet one. A small pod of dolphins did eventually appear, but far off in the distance, only highlighted by some diving gannets as they were likely to be feeding. Flocks of birds seem to litter the waters at times though, keeping us company. Our last sighting was a surprise common dolphin sneakily surfing the waves created by the ship just alongside us.

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Large sunfish

After dinner we decided to venture up on deck again as we were nearing the continental shelf edge, a very productive area. As the sun was setting a pod of common dolphins appeared with a calf in tow and just as we were about to call it a day, a pod of large offshore bottlenose dolphins appeared – some swimming under the bow, whilst others swam alongside! One rather energetic individual breached numerous times displaying its amazing white underbelly as it crashed back onto the water’s surface in an almighty splash.

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Common dolphin mother and calf

Leaving Bilbao on my final day, I couldn’t believe the immensely calm conditions – a sea state zero! After an emotional final presentation to passengers, we eagerly arose up to deck to begin surveying in the mirror calm seas. Within the first half an hour, we had a pod of five beaked whales swimming along in the distance, a small breaching sunfish and a pod of common dolphins! What a great start!

 

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Breaching sunfish

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Beaked whale surfacing

The next few hours brought more beaked whales, including a group of three close by and a very old male, apparently travelling on his own. With a general pale complexion, he seemed to be more of a sandy colour than the typical copper brown of most Cuvier’s beaked whales.

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Pale Cuvier’s beaked whale

After the excitement of going over the canyons and the squid feeding animals within them, the bustle died down with a large pod of striped dolphins breaking the quiet as they swam in a very close-knit formation – some with tiny calves in tow.

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Large pod of striped dolphins with some calves

A lull in sightings took place then, simultaneously with the increased wind speed and abundance of white water, making spotting a tad more difficult. However, a number of common dolphins eventually came out to play as they bounded towards the ship, almost in a race. As we were going over the continental shelf edge, we encountered our dependable pilot whales that we have been seeing here recently. The final sighting of the day though, just as the heavy rain and deteriorating weather was coming in, was a lovely pod of common dolphins and some bluefin tuna!

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Bluefin tuna creating a disturbance

That concludes our week’s sightings, but I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has joined us on deck and to our presentations and really made these past three months infinitely enjoyable. I would not be here if it were not for ORCA and their partnership with Brittany Ferries, so thank you for this amazing opportunity and thank you to all the lovely crew and entertainment teams on board who made us incredibly welcome. Lucy and Yolanda, it has been a pleasure working with you and I wish you abundant cetaceans for the remaining three months. As I disembark, the first intern of the summer, Mary will take my place and begin a new adventure on the Cap Finistère.

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!

Au revoir!

Ruth

Posted by: orcaweb | June 28, 2016

Do you have what it takes to be a Wildlife Officer?

Our Wildlife Officer season is slowly coming to an end. We have one more week left to enjoy the life on board Pont-Aven and to find some more amazing animals. This week we have had a lot of fantastic sightings, even more than usual, because we have had some guests from the first I-Spy trip this season. Thanks to them we had not two, but six pairs of trained eyes and 26 guests looking out for whales and dolphins! Together, just in two days, we spotted almost 700 animals from 10 different species. The highlight of this trip was a sighting of Cuvier’s beaked whales. We saw a mother with her calf swimming slowly on the surface along the port side of our ferry. Just take a look at this photograph to see the whale mummy!

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However, this time we are not going to write about our sightings. We have recently heard, that some of you are thinking about volunteering for ORCA and even considering becoming ORCA Wildlife Officers next year. We would like to help you decide if this is a job for you! After reading all the posts published this season, you probably don’t need any more encouragement and assurance, that the work of Wildlife Officers is fun. However, living and working on the sea can also be hard work and you need a certain set of skills to enjoy it. In this post, we will tell you more about skills and qualities, which you should have as a Wildlife Officer. Some of them may be easy to guess, others may be a bit surprising. 🙂 Do you have what it takes to become one of us? 🙂

You are an ideal candidate for becoming a Wildlife Officer, if:

  • You are passionate about marine wildlife – Your passion for marine life and sound knowledge about it is really important. As a Wildlife Officer, you will talk to people about whales and dolphins every single day. Passengers also ask many questions relating to biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals… but this is not all they ever ask! Quite often we get questions about sharks, birds, climate change, diving, ships or even submarines. Of course, it is not possible to know everything, but it is crucial to be willing to look for the answers and learn.

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  • You don’t mind waking up early in the morning – It may be surprising for some of you, but Wildlife Officers need to be able to wake up early in the morning. Let’s be honest… ridiculously early in the morning! Four days a week we are up as soon as the sun is up (currently at 5 am!). On the other hand, we have a chance to see beautiful sunrises and dolphins in the morning. We can also enjoy a calm and quiet atmosphere, so unique on a busy ship.

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  • You can resist cold During our deck watches it can be very cold, even if it looks sunny. Be prepared to wear many layers of clothes, hats, scarfs and gloves. However, at the same time remember to put sun cream on your face, as you may get sun-burned easily. Just to give you the idea… The picture below was taken shortly after leaving Cork harbour. In Cork we experienced typical summer weather. It was 25 degrees and very sunny. We walked around the city in sandals, shorts and T-shirts. We were convinced, that we could stay dressed like that on our deck watch. Why not? Only 15 minutes later, due to a cold wind, we had to put on so many layers, that we looked like we were heading into the Antarctic. 🙂

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  • You have a good eye for spotting wildlife – Good spotting skills are definitely an advantage in this work. All in all, if you want to show marine animals, you need to spot them first! If you are not confident about your spotting skills, you can practice them, not necessarily on dolphins. Go to the beach and try to find some crabs or recognise some birds; take a walk in a forest and find out, if you can see some deer, foxes or hedgehogs; visit a park in your city and try to spot squirrels. Of course, it is not the same as looking for dolphins, but you will learn to be patient and to pay attention to details.

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  • You are eager to educate others – Our main task on board is to engage with passengers and educate them about marine animals and their conservation. We regularly run educational presentations for people of all ages, from the youngest to… the most experienced passengers. We also organise games and activities for children. What is more, during our deck watches we always try to spot whales and dolphins and show them to as many people as possible. Once passengers see these amazing animals, they always have thousands of questions, so we simply try to answer all of them. In this way, we not only educate people, but also make their dreams about dolphins or whales encounters come true!

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  • You are dedicated to collect accurate scientific data – Every hour of our deck watches has to be documented. We collect data about environmental conditions and about sightings we have. We note GPS coordinates of places we see animals, species we see, the number of animals and what they do. We used to write it all on paper forms, but this year we have started to use electronic data collection system. We have a tablet with special software, which allows us to easily input all this information directly into our database. But regardless the system we use, it is important to pay attention to details and collect as accurate data as possible.

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  • You are patient – To survey the seas you need to be patient… sometimes extremely patient.  Whales and dolphins never wait for us with welcome banners. It is us, who need to wait for them and find them. There are days, when finding cetaceans is easy, but on the other hand, sometimes the animals are simply not there. Long hours without sightings can be frustrating and they may make you doubt your spotting skills. The only thing you can do is to be patient, keep calm, keep looking and never give up! Sooner or later you will find some fantastic animals.  No sightings is still very good data.

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  • You are not scared of public presentations – As Wildlife Officers we give public presentations on board our ferries. On the Pont-Aven presentations take place in the main bar, the most “public” place on the ship. We have access to a projector and a big screen on a stage. As the bar may be a bit noisy, we also use microphones to present. The number of people in the audience differs a lot. Sometimes we present for around 20 people, but other times we have over 70 people listening to our stories. Usually the audience is fantastic, easy to engage and really interested in marine life. However, sporadically we also present in a bar full of people rather interested in a football match on TV… Therefore, it is important, that you can somehow deal with such situations and deliver a great presentation.

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  • You have some experience with social media and fundraising – As you know, every week we write blog posts about our sea adventures. This is why Wildlife Officers should have some experience with using social media. It is easy to write about a week full of sightings, but what would you write about, if you saw almost nothing for the whole week? With a little practice it gets easier to come up with some ideas. Besides that, it is good to have some experience in fundraising. ORCA is a small charity and we rely on our supporters. Without their help ORCA would not be able to survey the seas. It is important then to let people know, that they can help and how they can do it.

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  • You are always positive and enthusiastic – Bringing good humour and enthusiasm on board our ferry is extremely important for many reasons. Firstly, you will have to work very closely with other Wildlife Officers. You will spend long hours together conducting deck watches, giving presentations, running activities for children, as well as talking and socialising. You will share many exciting and beautiful moments, but you will also have to support each other, if one or both of you feel sick, cold or exhausted. Secondly, Wildlife Officers are a part of the Entertainment Team, so our job is not only to educate, but also to entertain people. Good sense of humour is crucial to make people interested in our presentations. It fact, most of our passengers are here on holiday, so they are rather interested in listening to fun talks, than serious scientific lectures. Finally, Wildlife Officers live on board the ferry in a small community and this life is a lot better, if you have good relationships with all other members of staff. Being nice, polite and positive seem to be the key to having good relations.

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Posted by: orcaweb | June 22, 2016

Random Rissos and Pretty Pilots

Welcome everyone to another blog update from the Cap Finistere. I (Lucy) find myself sharing a final week with my wonderful colleague and friend Ruth before she leaves on many more sea faring adventures and we start to welcome the season’s interns for some intensive and rewarding skill sharing.

Myself and Ruth were determined to make the most of our final week together and shared an elevated level of enthusiasm for the weeks sightings. It is fair to say we’ve had a real mixed bag of cetacean spotting. Wednesday saw us once again leaving Portsmouth for an evening’s deck watch through the English Channel. Whilst there were no cetaceans for us to marvel over we were joined by a variety of sea bird species including fulmars, Manx shearwaters and our loyal companions the glorious Gannets.

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A gannet showing us his feet

Thursday mornings early deck watch brought with it seven pods of common dolphins and one pod of striped dolphins twisting and turning in the air as we sped through the Bay. The weather was unpredictable that morning with a varying sea state 3-6 and intermittent showers but this did not deter our new members of that day as well as several other eager passengers from joining us out on the blustery deck.

The rest of the day turned into some unexpected but greatly appreciated recuperation time. Our usual presentation was replaced with the Euro 2016 England vs. Wales match and the afternoon brought with it such bad weather conditions that the outside decks were off limits under instruction from the captain. We used this precious time to catch up on our administrative tasks and get an early night.

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A pair of Common dolphins

Saturday soon came around and our morning deck watch saw the return of our beloved common and striped dolphins. Our presentation was particularly busy that day with a packed out Planets Bar full of keen wildlife enthusiasts signing up as members to ORCA and purchasing vital whale watching accessories such as hats for keeping the sun out of their eyes and bags to keep important materials safe from the seas salty spray. Very recently we have added a new line of ethical whale and dolphin inspired merchandise to our catalogue, if you’d like to support the protection of these amazing animals get your gear here https://orca.teemill.co.uk/. With everyone kitted out for the evenings deck watch we had a bustling crowd with great discussions taking place, however the sea state had worsened since the morning and conditions were not ideal, common dolphins were still sighted despite the mighty waves.

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Mother and Calf Common dolphins

Sunday mornings deck watch saw an early appearance from a mixed pod of Risso’s dolphins with bottlenose leaping out of the water towards us. It was a great sight with the Rissos tall falcate dorsal fins and blunt faces leaping towards us as well as the appearance of a Bottlenose dolphin mother and calf. This led us to contemplate what leads certain species to associate with others and how the relationship may benefit each party. Later on we saw some harbour porpoise as the sea state severely calmed around the Brittany coast line but as is usually the case with harbour porpoises, they did not hang around for long.

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Rissos dolphin

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Bottlenose Mother and Calf

On Monday, after another popular presentation and some arts and crafts with four lovely young girls, we headed out for a deck watch over the northern shelf in the upper most part of the bay. We were disheartened when we saw the fog of previous weeks had returned, visibility was poor and the sea state wasn’t working in our favour either. Determined not to let this ruin our chances, we persevered and we were definitely rewarded for our determination. A minke whale! Right next to the ship, seemed to appear as if out of nowhere, so close we could clearly see the colouration on its back and its lovely little dorsal fin as it seemingly rolled towards us. We eagerly watched hoping for another sighting and as we watched the ships wake saw this sneaky character breach fully out of the water as if waving us farewell.

As the evening rolled on and the fog came and went and came back in again we were joined by our reliable common dolphins once more. Seeing both calves and melanistic darker forms too. We watched the sun set over the ocean and went to bed that night very grateful for all that we had seen.

Tuesday, mine and Ruths final day together on board the Cap Finistere. We made sure we were going to get the most out of the day and got up extra early for the sunrise on the sail into Bilbao. It was little short of spectacular and the full moon on the other side of the ship really added to the dramatic effect on the water’s surface.

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Summer Solstice Sunrise

The deck watches for the day were different from the usual to say the least. Our first watch of the day started at the edge of the Santander canyon and we were soon joined by common dolphins and an ever playful pod of striped dolphins too. Then shortly following the dolphins we saw the sun reflecting off the backs of 3 beaked whales, Cuvier’s, making their way across the squid filled canyon. Another beaked whale sighting, this time a pair was also seen minutes later and brought to our attention once again by the sun reflecting off their backs at the surface.

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A pair of Cuviers beaked whales

The second deck watch was quickly compromised by the re appearance of the dense fog we hoped we had escaped. Not to be disheartened we approached the railing and squinted into the mist, hoping for something, anything. Suddenly I was taken aback by more common dolphins emerging from the eerie fog. Their surprise appearance then alerted us to the slight lift of the fog and the fact that we were now surrounded it seemed by our finned friends. We counted over the next quarter of an hour over 100 common dolphins coming in from all directions. A super pod!

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Common dolphins

After alerting passengers to the activity and marvelling in the sheer number of dolphins who were still ever present we saw something different amongst them. Something less energetic, larger and darker, pilot whales! Mine and Ruth’s favourite cetacean species had finally made an appearance to give us the perfect ending to an eventful week! Males and females being obviously distinguishable by their dorsal fins, we watched excitedly as they rolled on by as if oblivious to the common dolphins frolicking around them.

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A male Pilot Whale

We now find ourselves half way through the wildlife officer season. I cannot believe how quickly time flies when staring at the waves. As I say goodbye to Ruth I’d also like to thank her for sharing with me not only this amazing experience but all of her knowledge and insights on cetacean species and her endless supply of fantastic photography. A great sea faring companion and friend, I hope her final week on board with Yolanda is full of exciting sightings, make sure you stop by next week for her final blog post! We then welcome on board the start of our internships and three new ship mates, each undertaking a 4 week placement where I hope to share with them the wonders held within the Bay of Biscay.

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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 to collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Posted by: orcaweb | June 22, 2016

Happy News – Fin Whales Are Back!

Greetings from the ORCA team on the Pont Aven. Our week started, as usual, on Tuesday in Portsmouth, where we said goodbye to Ewelina (she’s taking a well-earned week off) and Jon was joined by Harriet for the week ahead. If you read Jon’s ‘fog log’ last week you’ll know that conditions out on the sea have been changeable and sightings of cetaceans (our beloved whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the Bay of Biscay have been fewer of late, so we were eager to see how things are developing, and what wonderful cetaceans we might encounter.

The English Channel on Tuesday evening was quiet, but the clouds put on a good show for us as they refracted the evening sunlight into beautiful patterns. The following morning we were up on deck with the sunrise for a full day of cetacean spotting over the Bay of Biscay. The sea was calm and viewing conditions were good, but things were quiet. Our most important sighting of the first watch was a group of large dolphins that appeared to be feeding in the distance; we wondered if they were the Risso’s dolphins, or perhaps the deep-water variety of bottlenose dolphin that can grow up to four metres in length!

Nearly 70 people came to our presentation later in the morning, many of whom then joined us up on deck for the remainder of the day. Even as the presentation was underway, several passengers saw what appeared to be three fin whales swimming past the ship, another passenger got some excellent photographs of a Cuvier’s beaked whale that must be diving in the northern canyons around the edge of the continental shelf, and we heard a report from the bridge that the Captain had seen what he thought were three orcas far ahead of the ship! During the afternoon, although there were some long breaks between sightings, we saw many common dolphins and we saw two bottlenose dolphins performing some pretty advanced acrobatics. Two whale blows were also sighted on the horizon, so clearly there are still some big whales in the bay, and further south we saw a Cuvier’s beaked whale over the deep Torrelavega canyon. Finally the weather closed in as we approached Santander and we were treated to a spectacular storm off to starboard, with ominous looking thunder clouds sending lightning flashes down to the sea.

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Storms over Biscay

On Thursday morning we were again up with the dawn, just as the ship was crossing back over the continental shelf break on its way to Plymouth. We saw many common dolphins around the shelf break, which was a lovely way to start the day, and later on we spotted the back of a whale breaking the surface, though we couldn’t see enough of him to tell what species he was. After breakfast Jon gave a presentation to the passengers, and then we spent a lovely afternoon with many passengers up on deck, just enjoying the sunshine and watching the sea, its smooth surface given some life and depth by a gently rolling swell. The highlight of the afternoon, from a cetacean point of view, was spotting a group of gannets diving into the water (a spectacular sight in itself) and realising that a harbour porpoise was feeding on the surface where the birds were diving.

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Common dolphin riding the waves

The middle of the week is usually quieter, but on our crossing to Ireland we were kept company by lovely gannets and shearwaters, and as we were leaving Cork harbour we spotted a basking shark very close to the ship. Seeing these very large animals – the second biggest fish in the world, close up makes one realise how truly massive they are; thank heavens they are gentle filter feeders! An hour outside Cork we saw two more sharks, probably blues, one of which appeared to be stalking an ocean sunfish, the largest of the bony fish at over 4m.

On Sunday evening we welcomed new passengers from Plymouth and we told them about all the wildlife we might see in Biscay the next day. On Monday we were up early and the sea was amazingly calm. We weren’t disappointed. Our first encounters were with common dolphins, jumping gracefully in to meet the ship, but soon we spotted whale blows and were seeing large whales, almost certainly fin whales, every few minutes. Much to our delight, they have returned to the bay! The highlight was when the two of us looked over the side of the ship, just checking around, and a fin whale swam out from under the ship directly beneath us! Looking straight down onto 26 metres of the second biggest animal that has ever lived is an experience neither of us will ever forget. To seal off a great morning morning, we later saw three Cuvier’s beaked whales, the deep-diving squid hunters of the seas, and the largest pod of bottlenose dolphins we have seen in a long time.

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Bottlenose dolphins in Santander

After an ice cream in sunny Santander we welcomed more passengers aboard.  The sea was a mill pond for most of the afternoon, but sightings were fewer and further between. We saw dolphins, some more lovely fin whales and some distant cetaceans that we are almost sure were pilot whales, but there were long periods of inaction despite the excellent conditions. It just goes to show how much much we need to be in the right place at the right time.

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The fin whales are back!

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, http://www.orcaweb.org.uk

 

Posted by: orcaweb | June 15, 2016

Now you see us, now you don’t…

On Wednesday, Lucy and myself (Yolanda) boarded the Cap Finistere. After a meet and greet and a presentation, we went outside for our first deck watch of the week. Although the sea was lovely and calm, we didn’t spot any whales or dolphins. However, we saw lots of seabirds and met some really nice passengers, so it was still an enjoyable deck watch.

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A seabird glides above the water

The next day, we were up on deck for 5 am to make sure we didn’t miss any cetaceans. When we arrived, it was still too dark to survey but we got to see an incredible sunrise. The sea was calm and the sky was clear, making it ideal conditions for spotting cetaceans.

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Sunrise over the Bay of Biscay

As we were admiring the view, something caught Lucy’s eye – a beaked whale! A few minutes later, a pod of common dolphins came splashing towards the ship. This pod was the first of many – over the course of the morning we saw about 240 common dolphins! We also saw several striped dolphins in mixed pods with the common dolphins, too.

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A pod of Common Dolphins approach the ship

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Striped Dolphins

As we approached Spain, we had a fantastic sighting of a beaked whale. At first glance, we thought it was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale, but when we looked through the photos, we began to suspect it might have been a Blainville’s Beaked Whale!  The photos have been sent to a beaked whale expert for confirmation. Blainville’s Beaked Whales are very rarely seen, so this will be a very exciting sighting if confirmed (watch this space!).

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Blainville’s Beaked Whale (we hope…!)

Shortly before we arrived in Bilbao, we were treated to a sighting of Lucy’s favourite animals – pilot whales! A pod of about 10, including a mother and calf, were seen swimming slowly through the water – a lovely sighting to end a brilliant deck watch.

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Pilot Whales

After a brief stop in Bilbao, we were back on deck. Over the course of the afternoon, we saw about 250 common and striped dolphins! Although some of these were attracted towards the ship, many were feeding, and were more interested in fish than in us! We also had a fantastic sighting of a tuna leaping out of the water. Lots of passengers joined us for our deck watches, and got to see these incredible animals.

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A Common Dolphin swimming through the water

Our Friday morning deck watch was uneventful, but we had a very enjoyable children’s activity where we made cardboard cetaceans with 3 lovely children. In the evening, we held an ORCA quiz, with 12 teams. There were some fantastic scores – nobody scored less than half marks, and we had 4 winners!

On Saturday, the day began with a deck watch, where we saw several pods of common dolphins. After a presentation, we then held a children’s activity where we measured out the lengths of various whales and dolphins, and then played some whale and dolphin card games.  In the afternoon, we were back out on deck again. We saw several more pods of common dolphins, including a surprise pod really close to the Spanish coastline.

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A Common Dolphin approaches the ship

Sunday morning’s deck watch was very foggy and we didn’t see any cetaceans, but we saw several gannets gliding majestically above the ship. After a very well attended presentation, we then held a children’s activity, where we made paper plate sea horses.

On Monday, we made some more seahorses in our children’s activity, and then headed up on deck. The sea was very rough, making it much harder to see cetaceans, although we met some lovely passengers.

Unfortunately, the sea was even rougher on Tuesday, so our hopes were not high for spotting cetaceans. However, we saw several pods of common dolphins bounding towards us through the waves. Several passengers, including some of the children who had been learning about cetaceans in Tuesday’s children’s activity, also got to see the dolphins, making it a really nice end to the week.

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3 Common Dolphins splashing through the sea

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 to collect our vital scientific data, then please visit our website for more information!

Cetacean love,

Yolanda

Posted by: orcaweb | June 15, 2016

Our new ORCA ‘fog log’

As you probably know, every week the ORCA Wildlife Officers aboard Brittany Ferries excellent ships write a ‘blog’ to record their experiences with some of the world’s most wonderful marine animals. As you probably also know, the word ‘blog’ is a contraction of ‘web log’. This week I shall not be writing a blog; instead I shall be writing a ‘flog’, which you may not know is a contraction of ‘fog log’.

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Fog in the Bay of Biscay

Wednesday is an important day in our weeks aboard the Pont Aven; it is one of our two days each week spent over the rich waters of the Bay of Biscay. Ewelina and I were on deck at 05:30 and staring in disbelief at the thick wall of fog surrounding the ship as we passed Cap Finistere. We are nothing if not stubborn, and after an hour of glaring fiercely at the dense white cloud it got the message that it wasn’t welcome and decided to go elsewhere for the rest of the day. Cetacean sightings were not abundant – there were long quiet periods – but before breakfast we had seen a large pod of Risso’s dolphins, the first time this year we had seen these large squid-hunting dolphins and a very welcome encounter.

Over 60 people joined us for the morning’s presentation, and at least as many joined us on a deck for a very sunny afternoon down to Spain. Barely before the presentation was over a Cuvier’s beaked whale passed the ship; it is very unusual to see one of these deep divers so far north and we wonder what he was up to. The afternoon up on deck comprised long quiet spells of hot sunshine punctuated by visits from common dolphins, sometimes in groups of 30-40 animals, and eventually by another group of Cuvier’s beaked whales, this time in their more usual hunting grounds over the deep canyons of the southern bay.

The fin whales that have become part of our Biscay experience over the past couple of months have disappeared.  I for one will miss their powerful blows that seemed an intrinsic part of the seascape. We wonder who will come to take their place in the Biscay feeding grounds. Orcas perhaps?

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Flying common dolphins in Biscay

By the time we awoke on Thursday the ship was already back over the northern bay. We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise and a quiet couple of hours before we approached Finistere and the fog returned. This time it stayed with us for most of the day as we crossed the Channel to Plymouth, and despite stubborn persistence our spotting tally for the day amounted to one small group of dolphins and, more unusually, a green turtle that passed very close to the ship. The world has warmed up while I have been away from the ship, there is more energy in the system, and the temperature difference between the land and sea has increased. Warm, moist air from the land is spilling out over the much colder sea and all that moisture is condensing into fog. Until the sea warms and the temperature difference between land and sea lessens, fog is likely to be a regular part of our lives.

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Cuvier’s beaked whale in southern Biscay

Our crossings to and from Ireland this week were quiet, but we are always kept in good company by the birds of the Celtic Sea – shearwaters, razorbills and guillemots regularly flew along with us and they are welcome friends. Last week my colleagues saw twelve basking sharks in Cork harbour, so my hopes were high. This week most of the sharks had obviously decided to holiday elsewhere, but we saw one just outside the harbour and as my first ever basking shark he was a very welcome sight.

Sunday morning was clouded by yet more fog in the Channel, but we welcomed passengers from Plymouth with an evening presentation and looked forward to an early start in the Bay of Biscay the following day. Sure enough, visibility in northern Biscay was limited, but more worryingly it didn’t improve until we had traveled a long way south, and the sea was stirred up by strong winds. Still, we were able to see some pods of common dolphins and a Cuvier’s beaked whale. Later, in Santander, we assured our new passengers that the sea might calm down. It might indeed, but it didn’t! Instead the high winds were joined by a four-metre swell from the Atlantic. While we clung to the rail and tried to dodge the spray on the top deck, most of the passengers more sensibly stayed inside, many nursing mild seasickness. We managed to spot a few dolphins that came close to the ship, but anything more than 100 metres away was shrouded by huge waves and spray.  Alas!

Happily I have another week aboard this wonderful ship, joined by Harriet as Ewelina takes a week’s break. Do read Harriet’s blog next week to see if the fog lifts, the seas calm down and perhaps we encounter new cetaceans in the North Atlantic. Fingers crossed!

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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