Whale heaven in the Bay of Biscay

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

Whale heaven in the Bay of Biscay

It was another action packed week for Wildlife Officers and passengers on board Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven!

Following in the footsteps of my first week of sightings on  Pont-Aven, I was hoping my second week would be just as action packed. As Kate, my fellow Wildlife Officer, joined me on board, we both geared up into our thermal and wind-proof layers for our evening deck watch and embarked on our journey from Portsmouth to Santander.

Unfortunately, we were met with a sign to say that deck 10 was closed for the evening due to bad weather. However this didn’t stop us or the inquisitive passengers, eager to know what cetaceans they may be able to spot in the morning, and we were still able to talk to many guests about the Bay of Biscay.

The following day (25th April) the deck was open for business and at around 1.00pm we had our first shout of “whale blow” from Kate on the starboard side, causing all of us to rush over to try and spot what appeared to be a fin whale in the distance.

Minutes later we were met with a group of common dolphins on the port side, leaping and gliding through the water along the side of the ship. Passengers rushed back over to try and get a glimpse of the pod before they swam out of sight before another shout of “dolphins” came from the starboard side, causing us to all scamper back across the deck to catch them.

This carried on for the next hour or so, us and the passengers rushing from side to side of the Pont-Aven - it really could have been a scene from a comedy! Excitingly, later that day we had another two fin whale sightings on the horizon, followed by a puzzling sighting of a brown-bodied whale coming to the surface to blow. Unfortunately, we couldn’t identify the species as most of its body, and more importantly its dorsal fin, did not surface above the water, but it was a special experience for us and passengers to see this whale surface, rest and glide back into the water.

Saturday (28th April) proved another great day for me, Kate and the fellow whale-watching enthusiasts on board the Pont-Aven as we were treated to a group of four harbour porpoises surfacing near the ship. Unlike dolphins, which will leap out of the water and ride the pressure waves of the ship, porpoises are quite shy and elusive in their behaviour making their small triangular fins quite hard to spot - so it was great to get a chance to see this species.

As we left Cork Saturday afternoon we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a basking shark resting at the surface – making this the second sighting of this magnificent animal this week! Saturday’s evening deck watch also enabled me to prove that seabirds really are a whale watcher’s best friend; as I was following a diving gannet through my binoculars I was led to the fin of a bottlenose dolphin circling in the water amongst a group of gannets, both species enjoying some yummy fish!

But the best really was left until last - to say we had some whale sightings is a gross understatement! In total, Kate, I and the passengers were treated to a grand total of 34 whale blow sightings on 30th April, with four identified as fin whales, the second largest whale of the baleen species! Of course the dolphins came to play with a total of seven common dolphin sightings throughout the morning.

However, the ‘cherry on top’ really has to be the gigantic, extraordinary, bushy blow we spotted on the horizon as we crossed the middle of the Bay of Biscay. It was greater than any blow we had ever seen so far, almost taking 15 seconds to dissipate, and it’s very likely what we spotted was a blue whale, the largest animal to have ever lived. The perfect end to my stint at sea!

The sightings we wait eagerly for as we stand on deck 10, wrapped up in our numerous thermal layers, are very exciting for us Wildlife Officers. However, what has really made my first two weeks on board is hearing passengers talk with such joy and awe about cetaceans, sharing with me the encounters they’ve had around the world with these animals. This appreciation, knowledge and awareness for these magnificent animals which I have witnessed these past two weeks really is the only way, together, we can safeguard their future and the health of our oceans.  

See you in a week Pont-Aven!


ORCA Wildlife Officer