Survey Reports

2018-05-20 - Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel, Bay of Biscay

Survey start date: 2018-05-20

Number of nights: 2

^ The approach into Santander

The team met in the terminal and we quickly boarded the Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven. After reading about the fantastic sightings the Wildlife Officer’s had, we were all excited to get started. We grabbed a quick dinner before heading up to the bridge.


20 May April 2018: English Channel – Sea state 3/4, fair visibility.


The weather forecast was looking promising.  Our first watch presented us with slightly challenging conditions. With spells of glare, many white caps and moderate to heavy swell, spotting mammals was more difficult. We ended our first watch with no sightings.


21 May 2018: Biscay - Sea state 1/2, very good visibility.


After a good night’s sleep, we awoke eager to get up on the bridge. Within seconds of starting our effort we had the unmistakable blows from two fin whales. Less than 5 minutes later we were treated to a pod of common dolphins breaching 100 meters from the ship. Throughout the morning we had regular sightings of small pods of common dolphins and Striped Dolphins. Going through the canyons we had sightings of more fin whales, common dolphins and unidentified whale blows.


21 May 2018: Biscay return – Sea State 1/2, very good visibility.


We departed Santander and decided to go up on to deck 10 whilst waiting to start the next watch. Within a few minutes, we had our first sighting of a pod of bottlenose dolphins including at least 1 calf.  Once we got onto the bridge we only had to wait a few minutes before sighting a pod of common dolphins. Throughout the afternoon we had regular sightings of dommon dolphins and unidentified dolphins.  About 2 hours into the survey we were lucky enough to observe a pair of breaching fin whales (possibly lunge feeding).  After the all the excitement we wondered what else we would witness. We didn’t have to wait much longer before five fin whales (2 port side, 3 starboard side) made an appearance along with a pod of feeding common dolphins. As the daylight faded, we said goodbye to the Bay and went to bed in high spirits.


22 May 2018: English Channel return - Sea state 2/3, fair visibility.


We awoke refreshed and ready to start our final watch. We had perfect conditions with a sea state of 1 and a light swell. 2 hours into our watch, bird activity alerted us to 3 unidentified cetaceans feeding. Although the sea conditions remained favourable, there were no further sightings.


I would like to thank my hard working team for all their efforts and special thanks to the Captain and crew of Brittany Ferries Pont-Aven for all their help and allowing us to conduct this survey.


We had a total of 365 sightings, consisting of:


Fin Whale: 14


Unidentified Whale: 7


Common Dolphin: 196


Striped Dolphin: 3


Bottlenose Dolphin: 13


Patterned Dolphin: 13


Common Dolphin or Striped Dolphin: 7


Unidentified Dolphin: 105


Small Cetacean: 3


Medium Cetacean: 1


Sunfish: 1


Tuna Fish: 2


Bird sightings (Sea):


Gannets, Manx Shearwaters, Guillemots, Herring Gull, Fulmars, Unidentified Dove.

^ Gannet, Photo Credit: Moira Gainey

^ Sightings map

Survey team members

Cassie Auld, Moira Gainey, Melissa Gouldton, Jenna Silk