Whale, Whale, Whale, what is this?

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

Whale, Whale, Whale, what is this?

The Bay of Biscay always has something extraordinary in store for both the passengers and Wildlife Officers on board the Cap Finistere. 

Hello everybody, Sam here again. Over the weeks we have had a lot of amazing sightings and they are getting harder and harder to beat. Lucky for me the Bay of Biscay always has something incredible in store for us.

We started the week off by seeing fin whales, sei whales and common dolphins whilst travelling through the Bay. We also had another sighting of pilot whales on our Saturday crossing to Santander. This crossing however had a bigger surprise in store as we got to see a rare sight: a feeding fin whale!! At first I wasn’t sure what I was seeing, there was a lot of white water that seemed to be going in a circle. Then I saw a fin, but it was too tall and too thin to be a dorsal fin of any whale…. Suddenly everything changed and I realised that the whale had straightened up! It had been moving on its side and the fin I had seen was its tail fluke!!! This is how the fin whales feed, they turn on their side and open their mouths to get a mouthful of food. The Bay of Biscay is a known feeding ground for our fin whales, so although we have never seen it before it is unsurprising that they would be feeding in this area. Unfortunately, all of this happened very quickly, long enough for me to figure out what was going on but not to get any photos, aah the wonders of hindsight!

In terms of species, this Tuesday turned out to be the best day to fill in that check list! We had a steady stream of animals throughout the day and finished with a total of 4 different species (suspected 5). It all started with our trusty common dolphins being as common as ever, coming to play with the waves the ferry made as it travelled through the water. Next came a whale! Even though it was close enough for us to see its body it decided that it did not want to be identified so its species remains a mystery. A little while later, after another group of common dolphins, there was a big splash in the distance, followed by another and so on for several seconds, judging by the size of the animal and the tail I saw, it could well have been one of our beaked whale species!!

As we got onto the continental slope, this means we were travelling from the deep pelagic waters up to the shallow coastal waters, we saw some pilot whales off in the distance. Not long after, a lone pilot whale, a bit closer to the ship, came travelling past in the same direction, maybe this one had got left behind? We then saw another group of pilot whales, this time closer to the ship, giving us a great view, that made 4 sightings of pilot whales in one week! A record for this year’s Wildlife Officerss on the Cap Finistere.

The fun however did not end there, to the delight of all the passengers on deck, two bottlenose dolphins appeared. Although they didn’t show themselves much as they were sharking through the water, we did get to see them under the clear water showing us their bellies and excellent manoeuvring techniques. Finally, just as we were going to call it a day and count ourselves lucky, a harbour porpoise appeared in the distance. It swam in a nice calm patch and glinted brown in the evening sun, leaving us with a wonderful image before we ended our deck watch. 

Tuesday was World Environment Day and I can’t think of a better way of spending it than watching the sea, one of the most important environments in the world, and all of the wonderful animals that inhabit it. This Friday is World Oceans Day so go out, enjoy the beach, go on a whale-watching trip, look up local activities and join in to show your appreciation for the amazing place that is the Ocean!

As always, Heather and Laura, best of luck spotting this week.


ORCA Wildlife Officer, Bay of Biscay