What is the best time and place to spot cetaceans when crossing the English Channel?
On this third week on-board DFDS Seaways ferries from Dieppe to Newhaven, the weather continued to surprise us with some days extremely windy with choppy waters, others foggy with very little visibility, to finally resemble a true summer by the time the weekend showed up. Last week I talk about what made the English Channel so special and mentioned some of the wildlife that can be encountered here. The second most often question I get asked by passengers is about the frequency and the localisation of the sightings; is there a better time and a better place to spot cetaceans along the crossings?
The go-to response would be “anytime, anywhere”, however, we believe you could sight them at different parts of the Channel depending on the time of day and their behaviours. The International Rail crosses the Channel in its middle with a significant amount of container ships, cargos etc. As a rule, cetaceans tend to avoid those massive boats being a major acoustic disturbance to them, and are therefore pushed on either side of the Rail. After talking with the Officers and Crews and the data collected, a pattern seems to emerge; most of the animals appear to be spotted between Dieppe and the Rail. 3 unidentified dolphins were sighted from the Bridge on Friday late morning in this area, being coastal species, dolphins and porpoises remain generally close to the shore while travelling.
Birds are also great indicators of cetaceans nearby because this means there might be fish. High activities on the surface with birds flying and diving quickly in the water, greatly increases the chance of spotting dorsal fins as cetaceans would likely be hunting as well in the area. Crews and Officers have confirmed the presence of dolphins and porpoises close to fishing boats, which are permitted throughout the entire English Channel, in the International Rail too, making sightings rare but possible even in the busiest place.
Keep in mind though that the most important factor to encounter those majestic creatures is of course, the weather. As soon as you start getting a sea state lower than 2, so no white caps and very little to inexistent wavelets, the chance of seeing them greatly increases. Sometimes, they surprise you by appearing somewhere you would not have expected, and isn’t that the true beauty of it? To end on this mysterious note, I want to share with you that a passenger recorded seeing 2 blows on Saturday on our way to Newhaven. Based on the description given, it most likely could have been two minke whales travelling North. Minke whales are the smallest of the rorquals with a maximum length of ten meters, and that would be a first since we started the programme on the DFDS Dieppe-Newhaven crossing!!!
Stock image of a minke whale. Credit: Eve Englefield
Stay tuned and keep your fingers crossed for more sightings!
ORCA Wildlife Officer -The English Channel