Posts Tagged ‘Cetaceans


National Whale and Dolphin Watch

Next Saturday 30th July Tania and I will be holding our annual Sea Watch Foundation National Whale and Dolphin Watch. We will be at Weybourne (NR25 7AH) 100m East of the beach car park from 9am to 4pm – everyone is welcome to come and help spot cetaceans. Bring along binoculars and some small change for the car park.


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.



Big Beasts

Processing the last of the photos from the Biscay trip last month I found this one. Two of the 21 or so Fin Whales we saw. Magnificent beasts!



I’m always telling my guests ‘NEVER delete photographs in the camera’. Have a good look at them on a big screen first. It can pay dividends. I’m so glad I listened to my own advice in January of this year when I was in the South Atlantic. Standing on the lower observation deck I could see splashing in the far distance. I couldn’t make out what was the cause but I fired off a few shots to look at later. I then got distracted with shearwaters and Albatrosses. I have to admit I almost deleted the shots as on the face of it they didn’t reveal anything during a quick scan on the back of the camera. It wasn’t until I returned home in February I found something quite startling.

Not a great photo, I have to admit, but there on close scrutiny quite clearly was the shape of a dolphin. A little careful processing and there you have it … an Hourglass Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger) These babies are quite small rarely seen dolphins. First identified in 1824 from drawings; despite years of whaling in the 20th century only three specimens had been found up to 1960. Up to 2010 only 6 complete and 14 partial specimens had ever been examined.


A Change

Change is inevitable. Nothing stops the same. Places change, people change, relationships change and time changes. The time had come for me to move on. I have left Falcon Cottage and have settled into a place at West Runton. I’m sorry to leave the comforting old house and the garden that has attracted so many rare birds; but time moves forward. My new flat a little ways along the coast at West Runton will serve its purpose well for the business. Thanks are due to very good friends Paul and Tony for the help they gave with the move on Monday and a select few others that have given, and continue to give, their support.

West Runton is a place of rarities too and I hope to be able to give the place the time it deserves to find a few. This is my new back garden.


A Mothers Love

Young life is precious. I was on Madeira a couple of months ago. Well, to be accurate I was at sea off the south west corner of of the island. We came across a very young Sperm Whale. It was flanked by two grown up females. Presumably one was it’s mother; the other maybe an aunt or sister.  This is an animal with the largest brain of any organism on earth including ourselves. This complicated and advanced species has a developed social infrastructure. Any which ways it was obvious this young fella was being protected and defended from all comers.


Tarts of the Sea

Some excellent dolphins in Madeira. Four species, Bottlenose, Atlantic Spotted, Striped and Common all put in an appearance. Some are more playful than others. Striped in particular are always boat shy but with a little patience an an excellent skipper good views can be obtained. Spotted however are the real ‘tarts of the sea’. They want to play with anybody.



Madeira is without doubt a beautiful island. Eye popping panoramic views from ear popping montane roads; a warm climate, lush exotic fauna and idyllic azure seas. However, it wasn’t the lure of the islands beauty that took me there last week. It was the promise of a Bryde’s Whale.

This species of cetacean is known to summer around the island each year. I have been on a mission to see and photograph Bryde’s Whales (pronounced Broodas) for some years. This trip was a long time coming.

Upon arrival a word with several boat operators around the island revealed not a single Bryde’s had been seen this season. Not one. I was hoping with seven trips to sea booked that situation would change. However I was to be disappointed. They are late this year and at the time of writing have still not appeared.

However nature has a habit of compensating. It was on one of the seven trip we were to definitely pull something totally unexpected out of the bag.

The spotter situated on the hillside above radioed in to say he had seen a couple of animals that he thought were beaked whales. We were onto them. The skipper, Danial, brought the rib around and plotted a course. We were in the right area within minutes. Now all we had to do was find them. It was easier than I thought.

Around a quarter of all the world’s ninety or so cetaceans are beaked whales. They are deep diving enigmatic species more at home in the cold dark depths of the ocean than they are at the surface. Minutes viewable are usually followed by up to an hour or more kilometres deep. They are rarely observed for any length of time. Some species are almost completely unknown.

As we scanned the sea two fins, a scarred light grey back and a flat forehead meant I had seen my first Blainville’s Beaked Whales. I was overjoyed. These are creatures I have only ever read about and seen in books.

Compensation indeed.



Sailing off the coast of Punta del Este in Chile we were scanning the sea to see if we could pull out another new bird for the trip. The wind was up and so was the swell. However, the little transporter ferry we were on was coping well.

We’ve all watched the U boat movies on telly. The German commander folds up the periscope and gives the order to ‘Fire Torpedos’. The scene cuts to the surface where a trail of white tracks towards the British battleship. Well imagine us on that ferry seeing those torpedos coming straight at us… then another … and another. The missiles broke the surface to reveal their true form. Commerson’s Dolphins are instantly recognisable; piebald streamlined animals moving at warp-neck speed. I so wanted to see this species … and see it well. As they shot under our hull the views were just amazing.





Orca – an organisation worth joining

It’s always difficult to see everything when you go on an organised tour. Inevitably someone will see more than you do and the group as a whole will always see more than the individual. Sharon, Andrew and I travelled down from Portsmouth to Santander last week with ORCA – a worthwhile charitable organisation that takes the care of the seas, whales, dolphins and porpoises to its heart. Their website is worth checking out

Although the group saw more than us, we saw the following:

1 Fin Whale

4 Sperm Whales

2 Cuvier’s Beaked Whales

Circa 200+ Common Dolphin

Circa 20 Striped Dolphin

10+ Bottlenose Dolphin

3 Ocean Sunfish

Cory’s Shearwaters coming out of our ears

Gannets Galore

30+ Manx Shearwater

4 Sandwich Terns

1 Common Tern

2 Cormorant

1 Shag

Loads of Herring Gulls

Loads of Yellow Legged Gulls

2 Mediterranean Gulls

10+ Black Headed Gulls

2 Common Gulls


In our 2 hours in a Santander Park we had

2 Black Kite

Wood Pigeon

2 Swift

4 White Wagtail

Blue Tit

Black Redstart (heard only)


Chiffchaff (heard)


House Sparrow



In terms of what is usually seen it was a relatively poor crossing with low numbers of cetaceans and no Killer Whales or Pilot Whales seen at all along with very few seabird species. However, these cruises take place all summer and numbers do increase later in the year. We’ll be doing at least one next year (in one form or another) so if you are interested in joining the same cruise as Sharon and I let us know.

Cuvier's Beaked Whale 2

Fin Whale Common Dolphin

Sunfish Gannet Corys Shearwater


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Mar 2023


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