Whale, whale, whale, what a week it has been on board the Pont-Aven!
We have had an absolutely incredible start to the Sea Safari season, with excited passengers (and wildlife guides!) lining up to spot the breath-taking wildlife of the English Channel, Celtic Sea and the Bay of Biscay.
The week began much in the same way as all weeks do, with eager holidaymakers boarding the ship, anxious to get their vacation underway, many of whom were unaware that we were in for an astonishing show of wildlife, courtesy of the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay.
Upon arriving on the top deck for my evening deck watch I was greeted by a general buzz of excitement as ORCA Wildlife Guides, Sea Safari guests and general passengers milled around awaiting the ships departure. The sun was shining, with not a cloud in the sky, and the sea was flat calm with not a white cap in sight; the perfect start to an unforgettable voyage! Not twenty minutes after having set sail, we had already had our first sighting. A few harbour porpoises swimming slowly through the placid water, their perfectly equilateral triangle-shaped dorsal fins glinting in the evening sun, cutting a smooth, waveless path through the ocean, leaving no trace that they had passed through.
It seemed like nothing could escape the keen, experienced eyes of the ORCA Wildlife Guides as over the next few hours the top deck played host to an almost orchestral rendition of “SIGHTING!!”. By the time the sun was setting we had spotted bottlenose dolphins, who had swum almost sedately past the ship, common dolphins, whose graceful leaps and bounds always cause excitement, and even a few minke whales, whose short bushy blows and sickle shaped dorsal fin are instantly recognisable. Overall not a bad start to the journey!
The next day began with an early start; up, ready and raring to go at 5 o’clock on top deck, binoculars and cameras in hand, met by the picturesque rising of the sun which, in my eyes, will never get tiresome. Getting up to be on deck at 5 o’clock meant that we were perfectly positioned just north of the continental shelf so that we would hopefully be treated to an abundance of sea life as we crossed over it. As the water depth drops from 200m down to over 4000m it causes huge upwellings of nutrients, bringing with it lots of phytoplankton and fish and in turn lots of dolphins and lots of whales. We were lucky enough to spot several pilot whales quite early on whose calm demeanour during the day, idly resting at the surface, is a direct result of their nocturnal feeding habits. Further on through our trip we were fortunate in that we caught glimpses of many large fin whales, their mammoth blows (which can reach 8m!) standing out plainly on the horizon.
As we approached Santander and got closer towards the deep sea, squid-filled canyons, we had the unmistaken glimpses of Cuvier’s beaked whales, gently rolling along the surface of the water. The deepest diving marine mammal on the planet, they are always a sight to see, and we were privileged enough to have them surface within 200m of the ship!
With the expert eyes of the Wildlife Guides, BBC presenter and ORCA Patron Nigel Marven and an excitable array of passengers by the time we had reached Santander, we had recorded over 305 common dolphins, 19 Curvier’s beaked whales, 21 fin whales and 22 unidentified whales! What a journey! It certainly would not have been possible without the enthusiasm and dedication of all the ORCA team who were on board, they were incredible!
Let’s hope this week is just as good!
ORCA Wildlife Officer – Bay of Biscay