The mysteries of the English Channel

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The mysteries of the English Channel

Do you really see whales in the English Channel? YES - dolphins, porpoises and even minke whales if you're lucky! 

In 1848 my great great great grand uncle became the first person to ever swim across the English Channel, making those seas proud host to my greatest claim to fame. However, I have consequently grown up believing that the most exciting creature to have ever crossed the Channel was a thrashing Brit in a swim cap.

A lot of passengers are surprised that we look out for marine life in the Channel at all. As we stare out into the vortex of grey, almost every person on deck eventually asks us, ‘Do you really expect to see whales in this water? The answer is always, ‘Yes! Yes, we sometimes see dolphins. We sometimes see porpoises. You can even see minke whales if you’re lucky! The bigger whales? Well, it’s not as likely but crazier things have happened. After all, it’s all one ocean… right?’

Although we say these things almost routinely every day, it kind of caught us off guard when we realised that what we were saying was absolutely true.

On the first day this week, in the middle of the Channel, we saw the blow of a whale, stretching metres into the sky! Only a ginormous whale could have lungs that powerful! The unexpected, that we had always half expected, had arrived, quite unexpectedly, in the form of a giant whale.

I wish I could tell you more. I wish I could tell you just what type of whale it was. But seeing only the blow, we wouldn’t dare say anything for certain. Although I can certainly tell you, my great great great grand uncle is no longer the most exciting wanderer to have found their way into the Channel.

We had to add it to our growing pile of mysteries, in an ocean with too many mysteries to count. The Curious Incident of the Channel whale was not the only sighting that captured our curiosity during the weeks first crossing.

As we drew near to Bilbao, we spotted a tight pod of dolphins travelling together.

Bottlenose dolphins!’ Emma exclaimed, at the very moment that I confidently shouted ‘Pilot whales!’

We stopped to look at each other for a moment in confusion before turning back to see that were both in fact right.  We were looking at a mixed group of both bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales.

It was a whole new mystery. 'The Curious Companionship of Unlikely Friends’. Watching the sea is a great way to test your imagination.

Too add to it all, as we passed by the trenches, we saw two Cuvier’s beaked whales, which are notoriously enigmatic and extremely deep diving. If you’re looking for mystery, look no further than the beaked whales. As so little as known of them, to see them catching their breath for just a few seconds, before they plunged down to their secret world felt like just something else.

You may be wondering why this entire blog was focused on only a few moments from the week. I don’t mean to be dramatic, but for the rest of the week, Emma and I experienced thunder and lightening. The swell was so big that it would make a blue whale look small. The swell was so big that it could easily conceal all of its mysteries.

Cap Finistre blog wk6

After a week in the heart of the storm, I think it is time that I returned to land, where one can watch storms, from the window.

I can’t wait to hear what mysteries Emma and Louise encounter whilst I’m gone.

Trina Davies

ORCA Wildlife Officer - The Bay of Biscay