Orcas in the Bay

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

Orcas in the Bay

Amazing encounters seen this week by our Wildlife Officer Louise on board the Cap Finistère

It’s Emma back on board and enjoying the start of my next two weeks on board the Cap Finistère and seeing what the Bay of Biscay has to offer! My first week has been really exciting and although unfortunately Laura couldn’t be here, I have been extremely lucky in having plenty of helpers in the form of the entertainment managers, crew and eagle-eyed passengers!

The week began with me waking up to so much fog I could barely even make out the sea in front of the ship, thankfully after an hour the fog began to clear and so I eagerly headed up to start my deck watch! It was still quite foggy when I got up there and I was unsure if I would manage to see any of the animals I was hoping for but after a little while I spotted something coming out of the fog; I shouted to the passengers that there were dolphins and began to investigate. These dolphins were definitely different to any others we have seen in the Bay this season, with some having really tall dorsal fins and really dark black bodies – they were orcas!! As I told the passengers what species they were looking at, the captain came running out of the bridge to join me in my excitement, pointing and shouting ‘ORCA! ORCA!’. After this incredible encounter we resumed to watching out for other cetaceans, and within less than a minute a mighty fin whale emerged right alongside the ship and came up to surface. The passengers were in awe as we watched this whale surface right in front of them with the white side of the right jaw clearly in view, before it then dived into the deep blue. None of us could believe our luck that morning, especially when I told them how rare it is to actually see these animals in the area. Later on this day we also had some lovely sightings of more fin whales, as well as common dolphins, striped dolphins and even pilot whales.

On the crossings on both Saturday and Tuesday there were even more close encounters with fin whales with lots of excited passengers seeing their first glimpse of a whale. The crew have been so helpful on deck watches spotting whales from the bridge way ahead of when they came into our view and letting us know when they were about to appear. The ship even changed course slightly when the crew spotted a whale directly in front of the ship, moving slightly in the opposite direction to that of the whale to give the animal plenty of room. It always surprises the passengers when we talk about how close the whales can get and how it is actually a big threat to the baleen whales. It is always amazing to see these animals close but it can be scary to see this threat almost becoming a reality – thankfully the crew on board are incredibly good spotters and really care about these beautiful creatures. As well as this, I am looking forward to hearing more from the findings from ORCA’s ship strike project that hopefully will bring some good news for this threat in the future.

Byron and Lucy, the entertainment managers this week, have been so helpful and regularly joined me out on deck watch and helped with spotting some whale blows – offering all their knowledge from listening to our presentations daily. As well as keeping me company on deck we have really enjoyed what the Cap Finistère offers on board during the free time we get – even watching a film in the cinema room for the first time!

On Sunday, near the Brittany coastline, many passengers joined me out on deck watching across the lovely flat seas in the sunny weather. We don’t usually see quite as many cetaceans here in the shallower waters, but this day proved that the coastal water can provide a home to so many animals. I first noticed there were lots of gannets diving, a beautiful white bird with up to 2m wingspan, suggesting there was lots of food in the area. As I continued to watch I noticed dolphins were also feeding there – more and more began to appear. We continued to watch as the birds and cetaceans fed together in harmony. Along with the dolphins, we saw some porpoise and a Minke whale – a very eventful deck watch!

It’s safe to say I’ve had an incredible week on board, but I’m mostly looking forward to welcoming Laura back on board and the wildlife encounters the next week will bring us on board the Cap Finistère.

Cap Fin