May02

The week the whales came

Categories // Bay of Biscay Wildlife Officer

The week the whales came

Another fun-filled week in the Bay of Biscay aboard the Cap Finistere

Hello again, it’s Laura, here to give you a roundup of the latest news on board the Cap Finistere.

Once again I’ve had a cracking week, with regular sightings of three different dolphin species (common, striped, and bottlenose), a potential minke whale, and several beaked whales (including the Cuvier’s beaked whale)! However, one group of species has dominated my latest week on board the ship……..and that is our large rorqual species, in particular the mighty fin and sei whales!

We were barely an hour into our first deck watch on Thursday morning when Heather spotted a large blow on the horizon, a classic indicator that a large rorqual is about. These blows are formed as the cetaceans exhale, expelling the water just above the blow hole into the air in a cloud of breath and water vapour. Because of the sheer size of these animals, they produce very tall, distinctive column-like blows, and we usually see several of these blows before the animals dive down again. Thrilled at our first whale sighting of the week, the two of us barely had time to recover before we spotted another large blow….this time much closer, and there were two of them! The animals were so close that we were able to clearly make out the white blaze and jaw discolouration that meant these two individuals were fin whales, and a mother and calf pair to boot! They seemed to cruise past the ship, barely acknowledging our existence, however it was a wonderful experience for myself and Heather, and also for the enthusiastic passengers who had joined us on deck at 6:30am! These encounters set the standard for a week that was littered with numerous large whale sightings, both close to the ship and further afield.

May02 BOB blog FW
A fin whale spotted on our way back from Bilbao

Whilst these close-up sightings of large whales are naturally exhilarating, the animals’ proximity to the ship can give us cause for concern. The whale’s large size, and tendency to feed in the first 200 metres of the water column puts them at an increased risk of being hit by large ships, which is obviously something we want to avoid.  Additionally, the western edge of the Bay of Biscay is one of the busiest shipping routes in the world, meaning the whales have an even greater risk of coming into contact with these large vessels. Because of this increased concern, scientists at ORCA have been investigating the affect that ship presence may have on large whales, and trying to develop mitigation measures targeted towards minimising the risk ships pose to large whales. Crucially, ORCA  are hoping to build upon the data collected  as part of last year’s ship strike project (more information can be found here), using a new camera-based methodology in collaboration with SMRU.

So that’s it from me for this week, hopefully Heather and Sam will have some wonderful sightings to share with you all next week!

Laura