Sightings, storms and sunshine

Categories // Bay of Biscay

Sightings, storms and sunshine

An experince that is fun for one, is science for another! 

Welcome to the Bay of Biscay! While a blustery weather-front jostled whitecapped waves across the sea and gale force winds whip around the outer decks, there’re just a few more minutes before the outer deck is closed for safety. The surging waves that pulse past the ship seem to get wider and wilder; surely nothing could be spotted in these conditions? Debating the joys of a good storm with a passenger we see, distinct from the sea surface, the great PUFFFFF of a whale exhaling near the horizon. Researching cetacean behaviour in rough weather is inherently difficult as it’s hard to spot and track the animals. When a storm hits, some studies have found whales to leave an area and head for deeper, calmer waters. However, as their blowhole is located on the top of their body, they can spend relatively little time at the surface to breath before diving away from the turbid water and thus stay where it’s still stormy. Back on the ship, feeling very satisfied and not quite so alone in the southern Biscay, we whooped and hope for more.

Taking joy from one whale blow or a single porpoise splash seems to be a common quality amongst us Wildlife Officers and thankfully many passengers. Though, as soon as one species is sighted, there’s often a demand from all, young and old, to see another type! One northbound crossing from Santander fulfilled our expectations.

To set the dreamy scene, I had the rising sun solar-powering my neck, some lovely passengers to chat with and the Iroise Sea islands drifting past. Common dolphins had already been spotted shuttling their way across the surface, presumably feeding on fish, nonplussed by the 184m long ferry. Shortly after, a minke whale broke the surface, glided into a dive then immediately popped up again! Elated, the fun of whale watching (luckily) transcends languages and with my new Spanish frassingers (friend-passengers?), we recounted the experience to all those interested.

My question of the fortnight was in response to a mother suggesting their middle-school child tell their biology teacher about the whale we were watching blow, not 100m from the ship. The child then asked, “But how is this science?!”. To them, I suppose the experience was for fun not education, and therefore not of interest to the biology teacher, despite our discussion about whale behaviour and habitat being wholly scientific. Since then, I’ve tried to emphasise the purpose of a deck watch to passengers and give them the most enjoyable scientific field trip ferry crossing they’ve ever had!

For the final few days I was joined by a superb sea-legged ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor team led by Kerry as part of ORCA’s OceanWatch! Their aim to gain a snapshot of ocean health was smashed, with some cracking dolphin and whale sightings from the Bridge. It was wonderful meeting you all and together witnessing the feisty Biscay Bay!


ORCA Wildlife Officer – The Bay of Biscay

190730 MMO can be seen it the bridgeORCA Marine Mammal Surveyor team on the bridge of the Pont-Aven