Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

2019-10-27 - Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel, Bay of Biscay

Survey start date: 2019-10-27

Number of nights: 2

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

27 OCTOBER 2019: ENGLISH CHANNEL – SEA STATE 2   GOOD VISIBILITY.


The weather forecast was reasonable for the outward journey but the winds were forecast to increase for the return leg. Clocks had gone back the night before so we wouldn’t have a very long first watch.  We got up to the bridge for 5.15 p.m. but the light was fading fast and we only managed to get in 30 minutes before the light was too bad for surveying.  However, we did get one sighting of common dolphins bow-riding in that time. Pont Aven was doing a straight return trip to Santander and going slower as it was only running on 3 engines.  So with good conditions forecast for the following day we hoped for good surveying conditions in the morning.


28 OCTOBER 2019: BISCAY - SEA STATE 3  GOOD VISIBILITY.


The day started with increased swell and sea state but it calmed through the morning.  It was sunny with glare most of the watch.  We were already over halfway across the bay, level with Bordeaux, in the deep waters.   We had 3 sightings, an unidentified whale, some distant common and some striped dolphins.


28 OCTOBER 2019: BISCAY RETURN


We didn’t board for the return trip until 4.30 p.m.  Unfortunately, it was already too dark to survey by the time the ship was clear of Santander. 


29 OCTOBER 2019: BISCAY RETURN – SEA STATE 5 - 8   moderate VISIBILITY.


At 6.30 am we were south of the Iles d’Ouessant but sea conditions and visibility were not good. Before going to the bridge we had seen goldfinch, robins and an unidentified warbler on the deck outside reception.  Once on the bridge there were several birds on passage mostly thrushes, redwing, fieldfare, redstart. The conditions worsened as we passed the islands and turned to the north-east with wind speeds touching Beaufort 8 on occasion.  We only managed to survey for 2 hours before retreating to the cafeteria but in that time we did have sightings of bottlenose and common dolphins.  The weather continued to deteriorate with walls of water hitting the bow windows in the cafeteria.



Our thanks as always go to Brittany Ferries, Captain Alexandre Noël and his crew.


Sightings


Marine Mammals


Bottlenose Dolphin         5


Common Dolphin           10


Striped Dolphin               1


 Unidentified Whale         1


Birds


Gannet


Lesser Black-backed Gull


Greater Black-backed Gull


Kittiwake


Black-headed Gull


Sandwich Tern


Cory’s Shearwater


Great Skua


 Common Scoter


Little Egret


 Redwing


Fieldfare


Redstart

Survey team members

Philip Dutt, Graham Wild, Tony Chenery, Stephen Hedley

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2019-06-16 - Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel, Bay of Biscay

Survey start date: 2019-06-16

Number of nights: 2

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

16 June 2019: English Channel / South West Approaches sea state 4 with fair to poor visibility


Our weather forecast looked promising for the next few days. A high-pressure front was expected to move into the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel giving everyone a break from the rainy start we’ve had this summer.


Due to the Pont Aven schedule change we commenced our survey just after 18:00 hrs. We were faced with long waves, frequent white caps, moderate to slight swell, intermitted glare, haze and mist which made spotting mammals more challenging for us. Although we had no sightings the collection of effort and weather data is just as important.


17 June 2019: Bay of Biscay sea state 2–4 with excellent to poor visibility


After a good night’s sleep, we awoke keen to get on watch; this was after all, the area all Marine Mammal Surveyors love – the Bay of Biscay.


The waves and swell had settled overnight to small wavelets (ideal spotting conditions) and we had a clear view all the way to the horizon. Within 24 minutes of being on watch, we had our first sighting of a pod of 3 fin whales. Within 20 minutes another sighting, this time common dolphins, followed by distant whale blows (unidentified whales), more common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins – what a start to our day.


Although the sea conditions and visibility started to deteriorate, we had a steady flow of sightings; fin whale, Minke whale, pilot whale with a calf, lots of distant whale blows, common, bottlenose dolphin and even a 2-metre shark. Wow what a day, as you can imagine we could not wait to get back on board and commence our next watch.


17 June 2019: Bay of Biscay return sea state 3-2 with moderate visibilty


We departed Santander a little later than scheduled. During our time ashore, the waves had subsided and the high-pressure front had created misty conditions – never mind, you can’t have everything! 


As soon as we started our watch, we sighted common dolphins, heading towards the ship; common dolphins are attracted to ships as they like to bow ride, play/show off in the wake and we were lucky to have numerous sightings of small pods making our evening watch go too quickly.


As the light faded, a whale breached in the distance, it was definitely a large baleen whale, though the fading light meant we could not make a positive identification on the species.  A couple of minutes later, a large blow and body roll – a beautiful fin whale; what a way to end our watch.


18 June 2019: Return South West Approaches / English Channel sea state 2 - 4 good visibility  


We awoke refreshed and ready to start our watch. Overnight the waves had settled and our visibility was good. We were just north of the continental shelf and all was quiet.


Two hours into our watch, we had a sighting of common dolphin, shortly followed by a single unidentified dolphin; then back to being quiet. After a few hours, birds feeding in the distance, and right on cue more sightings of common dolphin. Feeding birds are a good indicator and just one of the cue’s that surveyors will look for, as quite often cetaceans will also be seen feeding. 


Then the rain was back… However, this did not prevent further sightings of common dolphin and unidentified dolphins. Just before the end of our watch a Minke whale travelling from starboard to port, body rolled in front of our ship; absolutely beautiful and a memorable end to our survey.  


Cetacean and fish sightings:
Fin whale x6 
Minke whale x2
Unidentified whale x17 (distant whale blows, no body seen)
Pilot whale x4 (including 1 calf)
Common dolphin x 217
Unidentified dolphin x4
Bottlenose dolphin x15
Shark x1 (may have been a blue shark looking at identification after survey)


Bird sightings from sea and land: 


Herring gull, cormorant, manx shearwater, juvenile gannet, adult gannet, storm petrel, great skua, great black-backed gull, lesser back-backed gull, guillemot, hen harrier, swift and, sparrow.


A very big thank you to Brittany Ferries, the Captain and crew on the Pont-Aven for allowing ORCA and surveyors to conduct our survey. 

Survey team members

Jayne Dobner (Team Leader) Hannah Ramsey-Smith, Andrew Anderson and Chris Wardle

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2018-09-18 - Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel, Bay of Biscay

Survey start date: 2018-09-18

Number of nights: 2

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

16 September 2018: English Channel - Sea State 4 Good Visibility.


The weather forecast was reasonable for the outward journey but the winds were forecast to increase for the return leg. We got up to the bridge for 5 p.m. and were made most welcome by the bridge crew. The visibility was good with a reasonable sea state so we were hopeful of a sighting to get us off to a good start. We managed to get in 2.5 hours before the light deteriorated and after 90 minutes were rewarded with our first sighting of 4 bottlenose dolphins on the starboard side. We had had regular sightings of great shearwaters throughout the watch and from reports off Cornwall of large numbers of them we were expecting to see even more in the bay. We left the bridge feeling upbeat about the following day’s prospects as we were expecting good conditions.  


17 September 2018: Biscay - Sea State 2 Good Visibility


The day started with a relatively calm sea, no white caps and just a slight swell. It became very sunny with glare for the whole watch. We were already over halfway across the bay, level with Bordeaux, so we were already in the deep waters. We had 2 whale blows close together on the starboard side which proved to be fin whales. The first blow was huge, the other somewhat smaller so possibly an immature individual. For the rest of the watch there were fleeting sightings of small numbers of unidentified dolphins but none with very good views until 5 striped dolphins appeared close to the bow shortly before the end of the watch. We disembarked for a cafe lunch in brilliant sunshine and 25 ºC .


16 April 2018: Biscay Return - Sea State 2 Good Visibility


On leaving Santander we still had really good spotting conditions apart from glare and some distant haze on the horizon. Just before 4 pm we got a brief glimpse of a medium sized whale going to starboard but not long enough to make a confident identification. 40 minutes later a group of 3 Minke whales passed on the same heading. At about this time we kept seeing small patches of disturbed water which we fancied might be herded fish with a gaping rorqual about to appear from under them. 


We noted our course seemed a bit more westerly than usual and it transpired that the crew were expecting heavy weather from the south at about midnight. The plan was to keep the wind right on the stern to make for a more comfortable night.


3 hours into the watch we started to see large blows ahead and we had 3 fin whales one of which did show itself reasonably well. They were so close that the bridge officer announced it to the passengers. After that it was fairly quiet but there was one more blow just before the end of the watch but we couldn’t identify the whale.  


18 September 2018: English Channel Return - Sea State 4  Good Visibility.


The rough weather didn’t seem to arrive until 2 am on the Tuesday morning. At 5.30 we were off the Iles d’Ouessant and the sea conditions seemed better than we had feared. We were allowed on the bridge at normal time and although there was a huge, long swell the sea state was only 4. The ship was yawing with the stern of the vessel rotating  so the wake looked like a serpent. However it was not uncomfortable. We did have one bottlenose dolphin sighting and some interesting birds with sooty shearwater, storm petrel, swallows heading south and a small wader, possibly a grey phalarope. 



Our thanks as always go to Brittany Ferries, Captain Gilles Marre and his crew.


Marine Mammal Sightings:


Bottlenose dolphins


Fin whales


Striped dolphins 


Minke whales

Survey team members

Hannah Ramsey-Smith, Kate Bettley, Philip Taylor, Philip Dutt

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