This week's blog marks the end of our Wildlife Officer journey on board the Pont-Aven and our final week gazing out from deck 10 embracing the elements in search of cetaceans.
The last three months Kirsty, Kate and I have spent on the ship have flown by and what an adventure it has been! To complete the Wildlife Officer season, we would like to share with you some of the best bits from our experiences with ORCA as Wildlife Officers on the Pont-Aven!
My role as an ORCA Wildlife Officer has, without a doubt, exceeded any expectations I had as I stepped onto the Pont-Aven three months ago. From ocean trotting around the Atlantic, evenings filled with magicians, comedians and acoustic duos, to more importantly, days brimming with cetacean spotting - my time as Wildlife Officer has been an absolute joy. My species list has exploded with new sightings, having debut glimpses of striped dolphins, minke whales, fin whales, sperm whales and those elusive Cuvier’s beaked whales! But by far my favourite, most jaw-dropping, scream-out-loud moment has to be during one of our Sea Safaris when a pod of six Risso’s dolphins elegantly glided their way towards our boat, all in a line, eluding their tall, ice white dorsal fins out of the water. They were the whitest individuals, me and other passengers had ever set eyes on – so white you could see them travelling crystal clear under the water. We couldn’t stop talking about it all afternoon.
However, I can’t sign off my best bits without mentioning one aspect of this role that has made my time truly epic – the passengers. The conversations I have had over the past three months have filled me with hope that change is truly on the horizon regarding the future health of our oceans. Whether this was an anecdote from passengers of their cetacean sightings, questions about our whale and dolphin species or discussions regarding how we can reduce our anthropogenic threat – yes, reducing those pesky plastics. I will step off the Pont-Aven this Tuesday for the last time with a new sense of positivity and faith that, hopefully, I have inspired someone else to look at cetaceans the way I do – with a fascination, wonder and with love.
It’s definitely hard to pick just one best bit! For me the highlight has been getting up and knowing that every day will be different. I've learnt to expect the unexpected, after all I've seen pilot whales (one of my all-time favourite species) spy hopping near Santander, a breaching minke whale in the English Channel and fin whales off Cork! Those lucky close up fin whale encounters will be something I'll remember forever but getting to experience two up close fin whales surrounded by a pod of common dolphins racing towards the boat was a real standout moment. I've also fallen in love with common dolphins, not only for the joy the bring to passengers as the jump out of the water but because they are truly beautiful (if not slightly difficult) to photograph! A breaching Cuvier's beaked whale was another stand out moment for me, as it whistled into the air leaving behind a jet stream of water it looked like a rocket taking off (of course the huge splash afterwards confirmed it was indeed a whale...) I have many truly incredible memories from the past three months and sharing them with Lucy and Kirsty was the icing on the cake - I couldn't ask for two better people to have this amazing experience with.
The highlight of my Wildlife Officer experience began in my second week on board in which Kirsty and I narrowly missed a sperm whale that sneakily crept by the ship whilst we were in the mess! We could see the angular blow, the unsettled sea and commotion from crew at the windows but were simply not high enough to get a decent view much to our frustration! Fast forward a month and on the 28th of May, I was elated to spot another sperm whale a mere 100m from the starboard edge! I initially caught a glimpse of the rounded dorsal fin, wrinkly brown skin and ridges down the back of the animal. It then surfaced a further time, blowing water vapour into the air as the big square blunt head rose out of the water confirming its identity to my excitement. Luck was on my side after our close first encounter and it was definitely a stand out sighting for me! I’ve had so much fun being a Wildlife Officer, seen some incredible animals and have had the pleasure of completing all of that these past three months with Kirsty and Kate. What better way to sail the seas!
To top off an amazing last week, we were joined in Portsmouth on Tuesday by the second Sea Safari of the year, all the passengers eager to spot the marine animals that we have grown to love and familiarise ourselves with from the Pont-Aven’s crossings. Though our trip relatively quiet in terms of abundance, we were all delighted to see a wide diversity of cetacean species from short-beaked common dolphins to fin whale blows on the horizon, a variety of beaked whales, copious pods of acrobatic striped dolphins and those amazing Risso’s dolphins Kirsty spoke of earlier; beautiful white scarring and tall dorsal fins gleaming above and beneath the calm rippling water, passengers, guides and Wildlife Officers looking on in awe..
Because of our efforts during the Sea Safaris and the 165 deck watches that have been conducted with our loyal passengers on the Pont-Aven this season, to conclude our final blog, we have had the pleasure of greeting a grand total of 1047 marine animal sightings to the ship, comprising of 15 species of cetacean; a spectacular 4171 individuals calling these rich and productive waters home!
On behalf of the Wildlife Officers, I would like to thank both ORCA and Brittany Ferries for the fantastic opportunity they have given us encompassing a wealth of experience, knowledge and amazing memories. For any of you thinking about becoming a Wildlife Officer in the future, I couldn’t recommend the position more!
Until next time,
Lucy, Kirsty and Kate
ORCA Wildlife Officers – Bay of Biscay 2018