The ever-dynamic Bay of Biscay

Categories // Bay of Biscay

The ever-dynamic Bay of Biscay

In contrast to previous weeks on board the Pont-Aven, our blog this week shows another side to the ever-dynamic Bay of Biscay!

Compared to the 30+ whale encounters Wildlife Officers and passengers have been delighted to see over each of our past crossings to and from Santander, this week the Bay of Biscay has been a little quieter. 

Unfortunately, the sea state for our journeys this week has not been favourable to us, with choppy white caps lining the rolling waves and plumes of haze and fog clouding our visibility. This has led to only a handful of larger baleen whales being sighted, totalling 22 fin whales across the week, which excited passengers gazed upon in awe. This sudden change to Biscay’s recent appearance does lead us to question where have all the fin whales gone? Are they pushing north on their migration to colder seas to feed in the summer months or was the weather hindering our efforts to spot these mysterious creatures of the ocean?

Nevertheless, our trusty common dolphin species continue to keep the Pont Aven company, eliciting enthusiastic pointing and shouts from both passengers and Wildlife Officers alike. Our rule breaking short-beaked common dolphins are often found not in any one specific habitat area like the porpoise and whale species but instead span the entire sea from England to Spain, over to France and up to Ireland, through shallow coastal waters, skirting the continental shelf edge and leaping over the abyssal depths.

Short beaked common dolphins grow up to 2.5 metres in length and are the most abundant cetacean in the European Atlantic. Their streamlined fusiform body shape is long and slender with a characteristic yellow and grey figure of eight pattern on the flanks and a tall curved dorsal fin in the centre of their back. Common dolphins are a very fast paced and energetic species, often being attracted to the sides of the Pont Aven, playing in the pressure waves created and bow or wake riding to catch a free lift. Frequently observed porpoising out of the water, common dolphins can be seen in superpods up to 2000 individuals but in the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, pods are usually only formed of about 20 dolphins, sometimes forming mixed pods with striped dolphins which possess a similar body shape, size and temperament.

This spritely species faces a number of threats and often strands on the coasts of France, Spain and south-west England with the number of strandings increasing alarmingly over the past decade. Many dolphins show injuries consistent with the accidental capture in nets, known as bycatch. Bycatch kills at least 308,000 cetaceans each year and whilst new technologies seek to improve this problem, national and international attention is still needed.

Other marine species that have been sighted this week include basking sharks on our arrival to Cork on Saturday as well as two sei whales and five Cuvier’s beaked whales on our voyage to Santander on Monday.

I wonder what delights the Bay of Biscay will have for us next week?!


ORCA Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer