Posts Tagged ‘Bay of Biscay


Evasive Action

We saw around 70 Fin Whales last week in the Bay of Biscay. I would add to that 60 something Pilot Whales and maybe 20 or more Cuvier’s Beaked Whales. A decent haul especially when you add-in to that a host of Dolphins; Striped, Common and Bottlenose. However it was one particular sighting that sticks in my mind.

Stood on the upper deck I was conscious of a change in direction of the ship. I was being thrown to the left as the skipper did nothing less than a ‘swerve’ to the right. Clouds were moving fast to the left in front of the ship. I concluded we were about to hit something. Being a long way from land I was guessing a whale had surfaced in front of us. I beckoned those around me to go to the rail on the left of the ship as whatever the skipper was trying to avoid would slide down the port side.

It didn’t take long for two Fin Whales, the second largest animals on the planet, to appear alongside. We were looking straight down their blowholes. Travelling with the ship they rose in unison and blew tall spouts of steam and water, as if to register their position.

A ripple of applause broke over the ship from everyone on deck. Everybody absolutely everybody loves cetaceans. Such a close sighting of these magnificent animals is not usual and always a possibility on these trips.



Leap of faith

When you’re staring down at the sea intently looking for dolphins the last thing you expect to see breach from the surface is a Blue-fin Tuna. However, when you’re in the Bay of Biscay as I was a week or so ago you need to be ready to expect anything!


A lottery

The Bay of Biscay is a large place. Travelling at 25 knots on the French ship the Pont Aven this week it took us 12 hours to cross from the Ushant Isles in the north to the port of Santander on the north Spanish coast. We were looking for whales. We found some.

It has to be said we didn’t find many. However, we’re talking quality here not quantity. We were seeking Cuvier’s Beaked Whales. These denizens of the deep are one of nature’s curiosities. Able to dive and feed at depths we can only imagine, these are the free-divers of the deep seas. One has been recorded at a depth of almost 3km – deeper than any other mammal. Finding one is not easy. They spend relatively little time on the surface compared with the time they forage in the deep oceanic trenches and canyons offshore. Seeing one next to our unstoppable ship close enough to photograph was against the odds. Having a little time with one as it swam with the ship rather than against our direction of travel was asking a lot. Being on the correct side of the ship when one appears you would have to be lucky. It’s a lottery.

Having been on deck since 5am it was now 3:30pm. We had almost given up. We were in sight of the Spanish coast and I was beginning in my mind to plan next year’s trip to Santander.

Then, as is inevitably the case, something happens when you least expect it. Friend Andrew and I were staring down at the rippling sea being parted by the bows when an object rose just below us. As the waves and the gloom parted it became the unmistakable long shape and tan colour of a male Cuvier’s Beaked Whale. It raised its white head from the water revealing the two small tusks at the distal end of its lower jaw and arched its back to show the myriads of white scars from jousting with other males. It was travelling with the boat and gave us opportunity to observe the animal in some detail. What a marvellous sighting.

They say lightening doesn’t strike twice … but it did. Another male rose up from the deep 10 minutes later. Sometimes you do win the lottery.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale


Sunfish in Sunshine

As we sailed back from Spain last week the horrendous seas caused by the tail end of Hurricane Henri started to quell. Looking over the edge of the deck rail I reckon we saw around 20+ Sunfish. This one had just the tip of one fin poking out of the waves.

2015 09 16 Sunfish Bay of Biscay_Z5A8419




Look mum … I can jump just as high as you!

Among the Common Dolphins in the Bay of Biscay last week was this very young animal with parent. Looking at the photo closely it’s possible to see the vertical creases along the body where it was folded in the womb.

2015 09 17 Common Dolphin Bay of Biscay_Z5A8340



A sea unleashed

I’ve been at sea is some rough weather in my time but these waves were the highest I’ve been out upon. A storm force 9 and 8 metre walls of water were tossing our ship around like a cork in a bathtub. Somehow daunting but somehow beautiful. Each wave was topped with translucent green and capped with white spume that vortexed upwards creating a seascape of turquoise geysers.

We were working our way south through the Bay of Biscay earlier this week. The day had started well with crowds of Common Dolphins racing to join us. As the ocean unleashed her swell so the cetaceans became increasing difficult to find. Some distant Fin Whale Blows and a passing pod of Long finned Pilot Whales were punctuated with more rorqual blows. Sea birds fared better with Manx, Balearic, Cory’s and Great Shearwaters punctuated with Great Skua sightings, but even they deserted us at the height of the storm.

On the return leg the sea was somewhat calmer. More Common Dolphins, a host of Sunfish and more shearwaters but not the hoped for beaked whales.

Maybe next year…

2015 09 17 Common Dolphin Bay of Biscay_Z5A8367

2015 09 16 Bay of Biscay_Z5A8189

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Jun 2023


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