Jul25

Farewell to the Bay of Biscay

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

A library image of common dolphins

This weeks blog marks the end of our Wildlife Officer Alex's time on board the Cap Finistere, adding new cetaceans to her personal spotting list. 

Final blog from me, Alex, at the end of my month on board the Cap Finistere. I cannot believe it, time has flown by. The weather on the whole has been good, which made for nice sea conditions most of the time. I have added new cetaceans to my personal spotting list and have met great passengers along the way that I have introduced to the world of whales and that kept me company during the deck watches. Also I have had the privilege to show and share in some passengers first ever whale or dolphin sighting.

I have just completed my final presentation to a room full of passengers, of all ages, who were intrigued to find out more about whales and dolphins and the Bay of Biscay itself. Like some of the passengers, I myself did not realise how good it was for spotting cetaceans. People are always amazed by the fact that you can see up to one third of the 90 known species of cetaceans along this crossing alone. From setting sail from Portsmouth to arriving on the northern coast of Spain, we cross four diverse habitats.

Starting off in the coastal waters, along the channel, around Northern France. Here the water depth ranges from 100-200m deep. I have been lucky over the last month to see an array of species here. The harbour porpoise, the smallest cetacean in European waters, very shy in nature and measuring only 1.5m. These are far more easily spotted in calm, mirror like waters. Then the fantastic Minke Whale.  I have had the pleasure of witnessing one 7-9m Minke breaching out of the water, having a whale of a time!

After the coastal water we begin to cross over the continental shelf edge of the Bay of Biscay, where the water depth drops from 200m all the way down to well over 4000m deep. Such a dramatic change and I have noted as the weeks past that we do see a lot of activity here. Mostly various dolphin species, common dolphins, that love to play with the boat, either bow ride or surf in the wake at the back. Striped dolphins that love to display their jumping ability. Bottlenose dolphins that cruised past us and pilot whales (my favourite) that graced me with their presence on two occasions.

The pelagic deep sea is next where we find the water depth over 4500m away. This is where are large rorqual whales can be found. We have had several blows spotted off on the horizon, and one only about 800m away from the boat. Luckily these blows can be up to 8m high - otherwise we may not have seen them at all! Sadly we could not definitively identify them, but the likely hood is either Fin or Sei. Great to know that they are here even though a close look was not possible.

Then finally before reaching the northern edge of Spain we come across the deep sea canyons. This is where they cut into the shelf edge going down a steep 3840m very close to land. Prime area to find Sperm whales and the illusive beaked whales as they dive down deep looking for their food, the squid. However, these beaked whales seem less illusive to me as I have been very lucky to see a number of them. Mostly the cuvier’s beaked whale that Sam previously introduced you to in one of her blogs. I have seen a mum and baby pop up right under the boat, very special. Then only the other day we had three greet me as I came up to deck watch breaching right next to the boat. It had everyone on deck 10 staring out the window in amazement as they continued their display!

The Bay of Biscay is really a treasure and one we hope to share, as seeing these creatures in the oceans is truly something very special. A nice way to start ones holiday by going off on a mini cruise spotting these magnificent creatures before relaxing on a beach or taking in some local culture. It has been a fantastic month and one I will defiantly never forget