ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors recorded 1,604 and 23 confirmed species as they travelled round Canada on the Saga Sapphire!
On the 13th May 2019 a team of four volunteer ORCA Marine Mammal Surveyors boarded the Saga Sapphire in Dover, ready for a mammoth trans-Atlantic itinerary visiting Newfoundland, Montreal, Quebec, Halifax and returning to Dover via the Azores.
One of ORCA’s longest running partnerships is with Saga and since 2007, teams have been on board selected cruises, inspiring passengers and collecting vital scientific data on any whales, dolphins and porpoises sighted during their voyage. In 2019, ORCA teams are joining 11 exciting itineraries but the ‘Emerging Canada’ cruise proved to be one of the most impressive ever with 1,604 sightings and an incredible 23 confirmed species.
The trip started out with sightings of fin whales, beaked whales, common dolphins and even a mighty blue whale in the mid-Atlantic! Blue whales are the largest animal on our planet reaching to lengths of 33 meters and weight up to 200 tonnes. They are mainly solitary animals and have a worldwide distribution, with some populations migrating between low latitude winter breeding grounds and high latitude summer feeding grounds. But this was just a small taster of what was to come.
As the trip continued around Canada, white-beaked dolphins were recorded with one even spy-hopping, which is an unusal behaviour for this species! And there were many more encounters of the blue kind with a young blue whale even popping up right next to the ship!
Half way through the trip the team didn’t think it could get any better, but the incredible sightings just kept coming, with highlights including 129 beluga whales seen in just one day in the St Lawrence River! Belugas can be seen from the sub-Arctic to high Arctic waters but seasonal distributions are related to the presence of ice packs – spending the winter months close to and around ice packs whilst spending the summer months around estuaries, inlets and coastal bays. They are particularly social and inquisitive animals spending their time in groups of 5-20 individuals and often approaching divers and boats. An incredible 202 individual beluga whales were recorded during the 30 days on board the Sapphire including some calves which are born a brown/grey colour but fade to pure white by the time they are 10 years old.
The cruise just kept on giving and the sightings continued. As the team returned through the Atlantic, they had some superb sightings of Cuvier’s beaked whales, the deepest diving marine mammal on the planet and huge fin whales near the Bay of Biscay!
We would like to say a big thank you to Saga for inviting us on board for this sensational cruise. The data our volunteers collected will help us to understand more about the range, distribution and density of the species recorded. It will also contribute to our annual report ‘The State of European Cetaceans’ report, which shows just how important citizen science data is.
We still have lots of teams heading out in 2019 to inspire passengers across the seas and record vital data so do keep an eye on our social media channels and news page for updates on their sightings.