The not so calm Bay of Biscay after the storm…

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

The not so calm Bay of Biscay after the storm…

The week started off with some rough conditions for our Wildlife Officers on board Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven, but they were rewarded with sightings of sperm whales, Cuvier’s beaked whales, Risso’s dolphins and more!

First things first, my name is Lucy and I am one of the three Bay of Biscay wildlife officers on board the Pont-Aven for the 2018 season. As my first two weeks as a Wildlife Officer draw to a close, it’s time to look back at this week’s sightings and goings on. Trust me, it’s a good one!

Setting sail from Portsmouth, thoughts turned to what spectacular marine wildlife might grace us with its presence on our way to Santander. These dreams suddenly came crashing down as the Pont-Aven rolled in huge waves, with picture frames swung from their corners. Bad weather through the night caused the ship to be delayed by 5 hours so we presumed all hope was lost of seeing those enchanting creatures crossing the bay.

However, come lunchtime the swell subsided, the sun began to shine and our spirits lifted as passengers started to join us out on the top deck. We were now in prime Biscay location, crossing both the northern and southern edges of the continental shelf in the same day and it didn’t take long for our first cetacean sightings to come in; a whale blow on the glistening horizon followed by several more taking our total to four suspected fin whales. Common dolphins and a few striped dolphins weaved through the water and played in the pressure waves from the ship frequently spotted by enthusiastic passengers on deck with us and those soaking up the afternoon rays below.

Leaping common dolphin

Contrary to popular beliefs, wildlife officers do not watch the waves all of the time, so as we sat down in the mess for our evening meal and rested our eyes, relaxation took over. Ten minutes later, excited conversation filled the room with whispers of “dauphins” and “baleines” between the French crew. Ever dedicated to the sea, we rushed over to the window to catch a glimpse of a blow 200 metres from the port side of the Pont Aven. This wasn’t any blow, but an angled blow coming from a large brown logging animal; a sperm whale! Luckily a fellow ORCA volunteer and devoted passenger who had joined us cetacean spotting all day was in the perfect position and managed to get this fantastic shot of the resting sperm whale as it slowly cruised and replenished energy at the surface from its deep 2,000m dives.

Logging sperm whale, resting from those deep sea canyon dives. Photo credit: Paul

As if this wasn’t enough, three Cuvier’s beaked whales emerged towards the end of a busy day rounding off a remarkable day of deck watching and helping passengers observe 99 different cetacean individuals!

Cuvier’s beaked whale seen on both the northern and southern Bay of Biscay continental shelf

The remainder of the week that followed continued to surprise us including four Risso’s dolphins feeding as we were docked in Roscoff harbour, a curious yet playful seal staring up in wonderment at the Pont Aven leaving Cork and finally a dozen basking sharks as we made our way back to England, leisurely lapping up the last of the day’s sun.

All in all – an action packed week.

Lucy – ORCA Wildlife Officer