Even something seemingly unmissable like a big whale could easily pass by, unless you're in the right place at the right time...
One of the great things about working for ORCA is that I have been permanently glued to the deck of both the right place and the right time. My name is Trina Davies and I am the third whale fanatic working as a Wildlife Officer on board the Cap Finistère this summer.
After being on the ship for two weeks, I have come to the conclusion that sailing across the Bay of Biscay and looking for cetaceans, is a bit like walking into a Greggs and looking for a vegan sausage roll. You have a very high chance of finding one given the nature and reputation of the location. But sometimes, due to conditions that are out of your control, you may find only crumbs and have to wait until next time.
For the first few days of this week, it is safe to say that conditions were very much out of control. Within just an hour we had already experienced rain, snow, fog, hail, massive swell and even rail (an exciting combination of both rain and hail).
One passenger turned to me one morning and very poetically said, ‘This is a great job that you have, as it means you always get to be hopeful. Even when you don’t see anything for a while, you’re always expecting something good to come your way’.
As the weather improved, we kept on expecting, and more and more good things started to come our way. It started with the common dolphins, appearing out of nowhere to dance in the boats wake. It was as if there was an endless stream of them, multiplying every time we saw them to number more than a hundred or so individuals. Never one to miss a party, the bottlenose dolphins also made an appearance, cutting up the waves with their tall dorsal fins.
Then as we travelled over the continental shelf, the sky started to sing with the blows of the fin whales. One of the whales was so overwhelmingly giant, it temporarily made its own island on the sea, allowing everyone on deck to get a clear glimpse of its body.
Thinking we’d had our whale fix for the season, we didn’t expect to then be treated with the summers first sightings of pilot whales. They swam close by the ship, peacefully ploughing their round heads through the water.
If whilst reading this you are starting to experience tremors of uncontrollable excitement, I may suggest sitting down for this next part. For as well as seeing three species of dolphins and several giant fin whales, we also saw at least five basking sharks cruising right next to the ship. You could clearly see their tail, swishing the green water side to side as they guzzled down plankton.
As you can imagine, there was a great atmosphere out on deck. It was as if Greggs had overstocked by hundreds on vegan sausage rolls and were just handing them out for free. I couldn’t have asked for a more ridiculously brilliant introduction to the diversity of the Bay of Biscay.
But for now I’m off, so I’ll hand over to Emma and Louise, head back to land and of course, have a vegan sausage roll.
ORCA Wildlife Officer – Bay of Biscay