Today marks my final day on board the Cap Finistére after four weeks of working as part of ORCAs Wildlife Officer programme. It has been an absolute pleasure and I would like to thank both ORCA and Brittany Ferries for having me on board. Yolanda and Lucy, the senior Wildlife Officers, have taught me so much and have been a joy to work with!
As much as I have enjoyed every minute of being on deck, looking out for cetaceans and running kids activities or giving presentations, there is one thing that I must confess I have been disappointed in; and that is all of the rubbish that I have seen in the ocean. As part of our presentations that we give to kids on board, we discuss how pollution and litter in the oceans can affect marine life. It is estimated that 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds die each year due to marine pollution, and this is a fact that normally astounds both the kids and their parents alike. After spending a month sailing backwards and forwards across the Bay of Biscay, I can definitely say that I have seen my fair share of litter in the water. From plastic bags and bottles or bottle caps, to plastic trays and balloons; I’ve seen wooden pallets, a door and yellow bleach bottles too. I even saw an inflatable dolphin, not the kind of dolphin we wanted to see!
Although I have been shocked by the sheer amount of rubbish in the water, I have also been pleasantly surprised at how quickly children are able to tell us things that they think they could do to help. Putting litter in the bin, recycling correctly, not buying plastic bags and trying to raise awareness of cetaceans and the problems they face are all brilliant ideas that the children frequently suggest. I also noticed that after watching our presentation, where we express how important it is to reduce, reuse and recycle, the children would frequently point out rubbish in the ocean to me on our deck watches. Although it is terrible to see so much litter, it is encouraging to see the children taking note of this and being inspired to take action.
Fortunately, it’s not all rubbish… We have had a great week of sightings and seen a considerable number of dolphins alive and well compared to those of the inflatable kind. Last Wednesday we had a surprisingly good channel deck watch because the sea was nice and calm which meant we got a number of common dolphin and harbour porpoise sightings.
The following day we woke up in much deeper waters and therefore saw sperm whales and even the Cuvier’s beaked whale, probably because they like feeding on squid that live in deeper regions. I was very happy to see the Cuvier’s beaked whale because there haven’t been very many of them around in the last month. We also saw a number of fin whales, which we have been seeing a lot of in the bay during the last couple of weeks. Unfortunately Friday and Saturday brought about some bad weather which meant that our deck watch had to be cancelled on Saturday morning as we were not allowed on deck. In the afternoon the swell had subsided enough for us to get out on deck and we saw yet another fin whale. However this one was seen a mere 5 miles from off the coast of Bilbao; a place that we would never have expected to see them, because they normally inhabit much deeper waters!
On Monday it was Yolanda’s birthday, (Happy 23rd Birthday Yolanda!) and it brought us good fortune in the form of a 20 strong common dolphin pod! It was quite quiet after that until the sun began to set, when we then saw another fin whale. This time it was just 30 m away from the ship! It was so close that I could clearly see the splash guard around its blow hole! This definitely made it into my top 5 sightings of the month.
Yolanda has also grown rather attached to the cuddly orcas we give away with Fin Friend memberships on board and she happened to mention this in her presentation that day. This meant that a very lovely lady kindly insisted that Yolanda have her cuddly orca after joining as a member. So I think Yolanda ended up having a great birthday, although I’m not sure if she was more excited about the sightings or the cuddly toy…
Finally Tuesday came around, which sadly was my last full day on board but I think some of the cetaceans must have realised and come to say good bye. At the very start of my penultimate deck watch, some of the passengers started pointing and shouting at something up ahead and just as I ran to the side of the ship I saw a Cuvier’s beaked whale shoot out from underneath us! I could clearly see its white head and rotund brown body. Seconds after, we saw another swim out from under the ship and it seemed to be very agile as it darted around and then disappeared in the same direction as the first one. If I had to take a guess, they may have been a mother and an older calf as the second whale was smaller and more olive-brown in colour. However they were not swimming right next to each other in the typical way a mother and calf do, so they may have just been friends.
The latter deck watch that we did on Tuesday was my last deck watch, but in true Bay of Biscay fashion, it did not disappoint! Of course we saw more fin whales which I have come to think of as being rather underrated. They are after all the second largest animal that has ever lived! We could see five of them exhaling all at once across the horizon; a pair in the north-east and a group of three in the south-east. One of the three also seemed to be a juvenile as its blow was much smaller than the other two. Both groups seemed to be swimming towards us and I got a lovely view of some of their backs rolling through the water through my binoculars. I was also lucky enough to see one last pair of fin whales up close and personal for my final sighting of the month, when yet again we saw a fin whale no further than 50 m away from us and then another popped up right next to it!
I am going to miss the journey back and forth across the Bay of Biscay as it is a lovely one, despite a little swell every now and then. It brings with it lovely views of the Brittany coastline, sunsets and sunrises, rainbows and clear blue skies too.
It has been a month of fabulous sightings for me on board, and an experience that I will remember forever. I am in awe of these animals that we share our planet with and I hope that I will continue to have opportunities to see them in their natural environment for many years to come.
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