May21

Dashing Devonshire Dolphins

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

Dashing Devonshire Dolphins

This week kicked off in its usual fashion on the Pont-Aven with many passengers having one common interest - dolphins!

This week has been a variety show for us Wildlife Officers. We kicked off in our usual fashion, meeting and greeting the hundreds of travellers that board the ship, ranging from the nomadic soul-searchers to hardened cyclists, preparing to cycle their way through the natural parks of Spain. Many have one interest in common: dolphins! Two retired Royal Artillery pilots helped illustrate an oddly quiet crossing from Santander with their Far East tales, and we were delighted to return the favour by spotting two common dolphins (a mother and calf no less!) when passing Plymouth’s Eddystone Lighthouse. Together, we revelled in our luck, with the emerging sun finally warming our windswept waterproofs.

The pilots joined an encouraging crowd of passengers to listen to our presentations on Biscay wildlife. Did you know that the fin whale has a top speed of 23mph - almost as fast as a cruising Brittany ship? As they can grow up to 27m long, if one breached (leapt) from the water they would be eye to eye with the top deck - over 24m above sea level!

Mid-week, the Pont-Aven required some attention from the engineering team. As they worked hard to prepare the ship for her next sailing, we spent a few days ashore in the pretty French port of Roscoff, where Brittany Ferry runs a daily service to. The lively town was in the midst their annual Onion festival which is twinned with Bridport, so we had met many attendees on our crossing from Plymouth. We took the marvellous opportunity to continue conversations from the survey deck and meet locals, many of whom remember the birth of Brittany Ferries. They were delighted about the partnership with ORCA and loved sharing their thoughts about the ocean.

Many were acutely aware about marine litter, with concerns raised about fishing nets that have torn from the boat and then continue to entangle marine life (a process known as “ghost fishing”). Whales, dolphins, porpoises, and turtles are particularly vulnerable to ghost fishing as their need for air forces them to repeatedly travel to and from the surface where much of the floating material drifts. Entanglement can lead to an animal drowning, though there are many success stories of whales being cut free from fishing gear by conservationists.

The onion festival-goers and Brittany travellers were fascinated by the diversity of life ORCA has spotted in the Channel and Biscay, and recounted to me stories of sunfish, common dolphin and porpoises that peppered their summer holiday memories. I love hearing these tales and feel immensely privileged to stand on deck with a small army of new citizen scientists, waiting to see what’s behind the next wave.

Perhaps you’d like to join us too? If you’re planning a crossing soon, why not combine it with one of our Sea Safaris? Join wildlife experts and us, the Wildlife Officers on the top deck, cameras and guidebooks at the ready, to make some thrilling sightings this summer!

Rebecca Lyal

ORCA Wildlife Officer - The Bay of Biscay