Summer may be drawing to a close, but that doesn't mean there's any less sightings from the Pont-Aven!
As the days get shorter, the nights get cooler and the seas get slightly choppier it is with a heavy heart that I must accept that the summer Wildlife Officer season is drawing steadily to a close.
After having spent nearly 6 months sailing backwards and forwards over the Irish sea creating incredible memories that will last a lifetime, it feels like I am building up to saying good bye to a particularly well loved family home. My front porch; the expansive deck of the ship, my view; the everchanging English Channel, the Bay of Biscay and the Irish Sea. The sights and spectacles I have seen so far this year have, in some cases, left me speechless, and often filled with a sense of awe, marvelling at the incredible wildlife that exists so close to the UK. Even though the season is drawing to end, it seems, however, like no one has told the wildlife this, as passengers aboard the Pont-Aven have witnessed some incredible sightings over the past week!
Departing from Cork late afternoon brought with it a certain chill in the air, an unmistakable sign that autumn had arrived. Fully expecting the sea conditions to mirror the chill in the air I was pleasantly delighted to arrive on deck to a flat calm sea. Thinking to myself that it would be quite nice to see a harbour porpoise - the conditions the previous week not having been favourable in the locations where you would expect to see harbour porpoises – I scanned the placid water looking intently for any sign of disturbance. The only porpoise found in European waters; harbour porpoises are a very shy coastal species which can be very difficult to spot in even the calmest water. The conditions leaving Cork however were very favourable and low and behold not 10 minutes after having rounded the headland I saw the unmistakable equilateral triangle-shaped dorsal fin of not one but four of these shy animals cutting their way through the water. Not too much longer after this wonderful encounter I noticed a dark shape just below the surface of the water off the starboard side. On closer inspection, looking through my binoculars, I suspected that this dark shape may be the outline of a minke whale sitting just below the surface. Sure, enough not a moment later a characteristic short bushy blow emitted from the water while a sickle-shaped dorsal fin confirmed that it was indeed a minke whale!
On the journey back from Roscoff to Plymouth passengers were greeted into the UK, by large pods of common dolphins and tuna feeding just off the Eddystone Lighthouse, a welcome sight for those return home after holidaying abroad and for those coming to the UK to begin their holidays. Although this was a fantastic return to the UK, the true sighting of the day came later, whilst setting sail from Plymouth to head down to Santander. As I stepped out into the late afternoon, early evening air, eager to begin my deck watch, I was very hopefully we would get some great sightings, the conditions were incredible, flat calm seas and almost no wind. Perfection. After having passed the Plymouth Breakwater and having made our way further out into the English Channel without a sighting, even though the sea was like a mirror, I was slightly disappointed. By now I thought we should have seen something at least, and just as this thought was just starting to enter my head, I turned around to hear ORCA’s Head of Partnerships Steve shouting on the starboard side. Rushing quickly over, to find Steve pointing toward the stern of the ship, I looked in the direction he was pointing and there was none other than a minke whale breaching out of the water! It didn’t only breach the once, however, it kept going, its flatten head and white bands on its pectoral find clearly visible as it lunged out of the water repeatedly!
Safe to say another wonderful week on the Pont Aven!
ORCA Wildlife Officer – The Bay of Biscay