Survey Reports

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

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