The distinct wildlife officer shout of “WHALE” or “BLOW” has become second nature on the Pont Aven this week!
Eager passengers on Deck 10 have run from port to starboard and back again, keen to catch a glimpse of the mysterious marine mammals that lurk below the sea surface. Their binoculars focused on the horizon and cameras poised ready for action…the Bay of Biscay did not disappoint!
It didn’t take long on both of our crossings to Santander before the first whales surfaced; a column of water vapour rising out of the ocean clouding in the sky, a dark shape rolling through the calm waves and low backswept dorsal fin following; the characteristic diving pattern of a fin whale! For many of the passengers that had joined us in the morning spring sunshine, this was the first whale encounter they had experienced. The top deck filled with excited “Ooo’s” and “Ahhh’s” like a 5th of November firework display, others puzzled; “A thin whale? Do you get fat whales too then?” “No, a FIN whale!”
Fin whale blows can be seen on the horizon, reaching up to 8m tall, a key characteristic to identify fin whales.
The Bay of Biscay did not stop there!
Throughout both the morning and afternoon deck watches, more and more people started to become inquisitive of the commotion up on deck and soon enough the edges of the Pont Aven were lined with passengers pointing out splashes, blows and small breaches. Come sunset, with the help from numerous dedicated additional sets of eyes we had recorded 19 fin whales!
Often found solitary or in groups of up to seven, fin whales are the second largest animal on the planet reaching an impressive 25m in length. As we explained to our enthusiastic passengers, the Bay of Biscay is a hotspot for this species of cetacean often found swimming over the deep 4000m pelagic waters and skirting the infamous continental shelf. With a lifespan of 80-90 years, this enormous streamline and elongated animal is a migratory species, moving from warmer wintering grounds to cooler high latitude areas such as the Bay of Biscay to feed in the summer. As a result, there is usually a mini-peak in late May, with a larger peak occurring between mid to late July and September of fin whale sightings; definitely more fin whales to be seen for our passengers and wildlife officers in the coming months, watch this space!
Unfortunately, fin whales are listed as an endangered species partly due to a history of whaling but as one of the world’s busiest shipping routes, the Bay of Biscay poses an incredible risk to fin whales causing ship strike. You can find out more about ship strike and the work ORCA have been involved in to protect fin whales in the future here.
To top things off, throw in the ever-present company of the spectacular common dolphins, a couple of illusive basking sharks ready to confuse passengers with their sharp angular fins and snout protruding through the waves and a sneaky Cuvier’s beaked whale that popped up beside the ship, that completes yet another fantastic cetacean filled week on the Pont Aven!
ORCA Wildlife Officer – Bay of Biscay