Whales have returned to the Bay of Biscay and Wildlife Officers were even treated to a rare sighting...
Whale, whale, whale… this week has dolphinately been an exciting time for us Wildlife Officers on board the Cap Finistère! We have had the return of our large whales with plenty of blows out on the horizon.
On Thursday, we even managed to watch humpback whales surfacing in the distance, which is a rare sighting in the Bay. The two we saw, appeared to be feeding as we saw their mouths coming up above the surface as they take huge mouthfuls of food. It has also been a few weeks since we have last seen the enormous blows of our usual large whales in the Bay that we had got used to earlier in the season, which made it even more exciting on Saturday morning when Louise shouted ‘BLOW!’ across the deck. We managed to identify some of these blows as likely fin whales, with 12 large whale blows in just one day!
As you may have guessed the average day in the life of a Wildlife Officer can be unpredictable, we never know when and where these incredible animals may show up. Most of our days on the Cap Finistère involve early mornings; thankfully, the cetaceans tend to reward our efforts with some lovely sightings as we are up on deck. One day this week as Louise and I sat sleepily in the crew mess eating our cereal and sipping our cups of coffee, we looked out to see a beautiful sunrise across the Northern Bay. Then, as we were admiring this incredible view, we spotted some dolphins dancing through the water towards the ship and playing in the orange glow of the waves. Of course, this was the perfect wake up and we swiftly rushed up to the deck to continue watching these animals from a better viewpoint and not through the lifeboats that line the outside of the crew mess.
Out on deck is where we spend the majority of our days, staring out into the vast blue ocean for hours looking for any splashing, blows or unusual activity. No two deck watches are ever the same; these animals continue to surprise and impress us with every encounter. Our dolphins tend to be regular visitors to the ship, coming in close showing off their agility as they swim in the waves. We have also been able to see plenty of birds and truly improve our identification as we chat to lots of bird enthusiasts out on deck. This week we also got a good look at the unusual looking sunfish floating along by the side of the ship in the warmer surface water, a species that is a frequent visitor to the Bay of Biscay.
Our presentations are another part of everyday life as a Wildlife Officer – a much more consistent part than the cetacean sightings! We are always so thrilled to be able to inspire people about the amazing life in our oceans, talking to them afterwards and answering all their whale and dolphin questions. We also get to hear many incredible stories of passenger’s cetacean encounters and even watch plenty of videos to identify the animals playing around boats.
The last crossing back to Portsmouth this week was a windy one, but through the many white caps on the sea surface, we still managed to see lots of common dolphins jumping from the top of the huge waves smoothly back down into the sea. In lots of these pods, there were many calves and some of which were so tiny they must not have been old at all.
It can be tougher to spot animals when the sea state is less calm, and often our eyes play tricks on us, imagining shapes amongst the waves. Therefore, when I saw what I thought was two huge brown logs bobbing along the surface it took a second to realise that these were actually real animals in the form of Cuvier’s beaked whales! These incredible animals were riding along the waves, bringing their scarred bodies and pale heads right out of the water as they spent some rare time at the surface.
I am off home for a week now, so I will be wishing Louise & Trina luck and hopefully many more whale sightings for the next week!
ORCA Wildlife Officer - Bay of Biscay