ORCA Wildlife Officers not only sail to and from Santander, but weekly journeys also include a trip to Cork in Ireland!
This particular part of the Pont-Aven’s voyage traverses through an area of the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Ireland, giving wildlife Officers and passengers the opportunity to see what incredible wildlife lives in the Celtic Seas and the chance to find out what marine life calls these Irish waters home.
The unpredictable waters on our way from Roscoff to Cork over the last few months have greeted us with a mixture of choppy waves, white caps and visibility where you couldn’t see your hand if you stuck it out in front of you but in complete contrast we’ve had glorious sunshine, mirror calm mornings and plentiful spectacular scenery. This week, we struck Irish luck with the later and awoke to bright and peaceful everlasting views with virtually no wind, a rarity on the Pont-Aven crossings and conditions perfect for spotting marine life!
As the Pont-Aven cruised along on Saturday morning in the sun a handful of small black dorsal fins appeared and vanished in the blink of an eye. On each occasion, a few moments later the small shy animals resurfaced once more leaving a circle of unsettled water whilst Kirsty and I stared on, bemused by the fleeting sightings. After discussion, we decided that the sightings were the smallest species of cetacean and only porpoise species living in Europe, the harbour porpoise.
Harbour porpoises are commonly seen along the coast of Ireland and in other shallow waters but are often easy to miss without still seas lacking swell, so these conditions were ideal. The brief encounters with our harbour porpoises showed textbook behaviour of this species; a triangular dorsal fin surfacing a couple of times is all this undemonstrative little species usually shows of itself.
Approaching Cork port, the Pont-Aven is welcomed to Ireland by a picturesque coastline of rural greenery and waves crashing against the jagged cliff face where land meets the sea, lined with colourful happy houses and undulating hills.
Our final treat topping off a terrific day in the Celtic seas came just as our Wildlife Officer’s thoughts turned to what delicious food would be on offer in the crew mess that evening for dinner; the dark slim streamlined body of a whale rolled high through the water…a minke whale. Whilst the smallest of the baleen whales, minke whales still reach up to lengths of 10 metres and possess a flat pointed rostrum, subsequently nick named the pike head whale. Unlike the minke whale we saw in the English Channel earlier in the season, this individual did not breach but instead leisurely surfaced to show the growing group of children glued to the viewing windows its tall sickle-shaped dorsal fin. The minke popped up three or four times to breath to a chorus of excitement from the children below on deck nine before swimming away into the distance.
Elsewhere this week, the English Channel has remained eerily quiet sightings wise, meanwhile the Bay of Biscay has continued to provide us with endless streams of dolphin pods leaping into action, some as big as one hundred individuals. The charismatic common dolphins and striped dolphins have danced their way towards the Pont-Aven to the delight of passengers, crew and wildlife officers alike. Here’s to hoping my last few weeks on board are as active as the last!
ORCA Wildlife Officer – Bay of Biscay
Library photo, credit: Eve Englefield