The 2019 Wildlife Officer season on board the Pont-Aven has come to an end! Find out about AJ's final week on board...
Unfortunately, it has come to the end of the Wildlife Officer season on board the Pont-Aven; with a heavy heart I have set aside my blue ORCA hi-vis jacket, camera and binoculars for the last time. The past six months have flown by at record speed, it seems like it was only yesterday that I was departing Portsmouth onboard the Cap Finistère for my initial training, but what an absolutely incredible season it has been! I have seen sights and had experiences that will forever hold a special place in my memory and I’m sure I will be talking about for years to come!
From breaching minke whales in the English Channel to breaching fin whales in the Bay of Biscay the sheer abundance of marine life I have witnessed in my time cannot be understated! I have seen huge aggregations of common and striped dolphins playfully bounding alongside the ship, basking sharks and blue sharks gracefully cutting through the water, sizable pods of pilot whales peacefully resting at the surface. I have watched as small groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales and the occasional northern bottlenose whale have broken the surface of the water emerging after a long, deep dive. Throughout all of these astonishing sightings, I have had the absolute pleasure of being surrounded by enthusiastic and captivated passengers who have been eager to learn more about the stunning wildlife that exists so close to their homes.
Regrettably my final week on board the Pont-Aven coincided with, shall we say, slightly rocky weather; high winds and large swells led to a closure of all of the outside decks on route down to Santander on Tuesday. This was very unfortunate, as it just so happened to be our final Sea Safari of the season! However, this did nothing to dampen the spirits of the fantastic Wildlife Guides with us or the passengers themselves. Taking up residence at the front of the ship in the restaurant, with cups of tea in hand and a determination that the weather wouldn’t stop us we did manage to catch the occasional glimpse of wildlife through the sporadic sea spray hitting the windows. A couple of dolphins and what may or may not have been a pilot whale were spotted! Thankfully the return journey proved a lot more successful in terms of sightings, with the swell diminishing slightly the outer decks were opened up and we were lucky enough to spot a number of common and striped dolphins on our journey back!
The rest of the week continued much in the same vein, with not particularly favourable sea conditions; rain, large swells and high winds deterred a lot of passengers from coming out onto the decks. Those passengers who did brave the elements were however rewarded with a few sightings. A small group of harbour porpoises was spotted just north of the Plymouth Breakwater on Sunday afternoon, and a multitude of common and striped dolphins were spotted the following day. A number of Cuvier’s beaked whales were reported by some passengers as we were approaching Santander, I unfortunately, had chosen the wrong side of the ship on which to do my deck watch and missed out on the opportunity to see these amazing creatures! Alas, I was rewarded in my perseverance in sticking with the starboard side when a group of bottlenose dolphins popped up as we entered into the slightly shallower waters around Santander!
Well now it is my time to sign off for the last time but first I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has helped out and been a part of what has been a wonderful season! To all the incredible volunteers who have helped out with Sea Safaris, with whom, it has been an absolute pleasure working alongside, their dedication and enthusiasm has been truly inspiring. A huge thank you to all the incredibly hard working people in the office, without whom I think all of us Wildlife Officer would be a little bit lost! And of course a massive thank you to all the passengers who have really made this season something special!
ORCA Wildlife Officer – The Bay of Biscay