2019-09-15 - Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Survey details

Survey route: Plymouth-Santander-Portsmouth

Company: Brittany Ferries

Sea region: English Channel, Bay of Biscay

Survey start date: 2019-09-15

Number of nights: 2

Bow riding dolphins and an interesting sighting in Biscay

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

The survey team met up at the terminal building in Plymouth and after quickly settling in to our cabins were welcomed on the bridge of the Pont Aven and surveying shortly after leaving port. We had a short amount of survey time before sunset but it was a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the survey protocol and get used to the bridge. There were not too many white caps and we managed to get a couple of sightings of common dolphins before the end of the watch.

The next morning saw us on the bridge just before sunrise once again with a reasonably good sea state and our position just south of the northern shelf drop-off. It wasn’t too long before a whale blow was recorded followed by occasional small groups of common dolphins and striped dolphins as we entered deeper water. The further south we went the better the sea state became with further sightings of striped dolphins and several groups of dolphins that had to remain unidentified. Whilst dolphins were being recorded on the starboard side an interesting observation on the port side of two possible false killer whales occurred.

Moira Gainey takes up the story: -

‘I saw two animals surface about 20m in front of the bow and ride through the waves ahead of the bow for several seconds. I saw them break through the surface a couple of times. The impression I had was that they were larger than anything else we had seen, quite robust animals and uniformly black. I don't recall seeing a noticeable melon. The dorsal appeared to be set back, possibly centrally, falcate but streamline.’

A shark sp. was picked up close to the port bow and then a group of bottlenose dolphins and as we continued to get closer to Santander several small groups of common dolphins were recorded.

After enjoying an ice cream in Santander we were back on the bridge and surveying shortly after leaving port. The sea state was good as we sailed over the canyons but we had very few cetacean sightings however, we did enjoy seeing a tuna feeding frenzy with the fish leaping out of the water chasing prey. We had almost reached the end of the watch when a single Cuvier’s beaked whale was recorded.

The next morning we managed to record groups of common and bottlenose dolphins as we sailed between the islands off the Brest peninsular. A feeding frenzy ahead and slow speed of the ship resulted in a group common dolphin bow riding for several minutes with us enjoying watching this spectacle from the bridge wings. After the excitement we recorded a couple more groups of common dolphins which were to be our final sightings as the sea state worsened as we approached Plymouth.

Our thanks to Brittany Ferries, the Captain and his crew for their welcome and help. 

Marine Mammal Species:

Bottlenose dolphin 13

Common dolphin 77

Striped dolphin 32

False killer whale 2 (possible)

Cuvier's beaked-whale 1

Unidentified dolphin 20

Unidentified whale 1


Common scoter, gannet, great skua, guillemot, lesser black-backed gull, manx shearwater, meadow pipit, mediterranean gull, petrel sp, razorbill, sabines gull, skua sp and yellow-legged gull. 

Survey team members

Emma Howe-Andrews, Moira Gainey, Chris Whitell, John Young