Posts Tagged ‘Orca



22 Mammals recorded on the recent mammal tour around the UK as well as over 100 bird species. Next May’s tour is now available for booking.

Badger – Scottish badgers are so much smaller than their English counterparts

Red Deer – Taking a cool dip on one of the very warm days we experienced

One of the Chillingham Wild Cattle – You wouldn’t want to get in the way of this big boy!

Wood Mouse – from the large to the small … we saw lots


Port bow

We weren’t far off entering the South Pacific. Sailing north west in the Chilean Fjords offering fantastic midday views of the Isla Campana. We would pop out into the open ocean quite soon. An ideal place to see Orca. As if by magic a few splashes distantly off the port bow morphed into a matriarch led pod of around 12 animals as we caught up with them. Always good to see this was our second encounter in as many days with this enigmatic cetacean.



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



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


Top predators

I’ve recently been contributing to the Wildlife Photography Challenge on Facebook. As a result I‘ve been digging out and reviewing a few old photos. I thought I’d post this one here. A pair of Orcas off Iceland in early 2012. Wonderful beasts these that stir emotions when you get close and can hear as well as see them! One thing the photo doesn’t convey is how damn cold it was.

2012 02 24 Orca Off Grundarfjordor Iceland_MG_1177




Sat in the repository of the Museum of Zoology in Cambridge is a box. It’s not an unusual box, nor is it very large. It’s much like any of the many thousands of others in the building. In the box is a little lady. For the moment let’s call her C.95.G. Not a catchy name by any standards but it’s the only one she has ever had. Her providence unknown; all that is attributed to her is she heralded from the coast at Great Yarmouth over a century ago. Pretty she isn’t; but beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

Some months ago I acquired a book. Arthur H Patterson wrote ‘Notes of an East Coast Naturalist’ in 1904. The book was written by this amateur naturalist in a time when collecting was done with a gun rather than careful observation. On page 271 sandwiched between notes on Mole behaviour and observations on Toads is trapped a story; the story of our little lady.

Arthur Patterson was taking a walk along the quay at Great Yarmouth on the cold morning of the 14th November 1894 when he saw something that grabbed his interest; a seven foot 5 inch Grampus. A Grampus was a seafaring name formerly applied to any small whale or large dolphin. The Grampus was being exhibited by two quiet, well behaved fishermen that had dragged the carcass from Lowestoft after it had been caught offshore in a Herring drifters net. They were apparently doing good business from their impromptu exhibition. Cetaceans always carry an enigma that is difficult for the public to resist.

It was four days later when Arthur Patterson purchased a similar Grampus on the fish wharf in Great Yarmouth. This animal was similar in every regard to the first, but two inches shorter. It could be said they were peas in a pod! (excuse the pun) Patterson took the Grampus by horse and cart to Norwich Museum where it arrived on the 20th and was inspected by Thomas Southwell a noted Naturalist of the day. Southwell’s description within the transactions of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists Society accurately describe a very young female Orca. The cadaver was however deemed too abraded to be of use as an exhibit at the museum.

A telegram was sent to Dr S F Harmer at the University Museum of Cambridge and at his request the Orca was despatched to Cambridge. Dr Harmer found the teeth had not yet been cut but they could be plainly felt in the upper jaw and there was no solid food content in the stomach. This animal had not yet been weaned.

So the flesh was stripped and the bones crated and until this month that’s where our little lady lay.

Grampus has been incorporated into the nomenclature of Risso’s Dolphin (Grampus griseus) and indeed until the description within the transactions was uncovered, given the small size of both animals, it was thought Pattersons’s notes could have referred to that species. It’s just incredible the skull and bones are still with us.

These records constitute the first proven (so far) proven occurrence of Orca for both Norfolk and Suffolk.

Thanks to Matt Lowe, Collections Manager at the University Museum of Zoology for allowing access to photograph C.95.G and to his kind and considerate staff for their attentions and help during my visit.




On the first morning, looking out over the fjord as the sun rose and light increased I was in awe at the volume of Fulmars, Glaucous Gulls and Eiders that filled the sky as well as the water’s surface. Although I have been to Iceland before I have not experienced such a bio-mass as was laid out infront of me. Birds were beginning to return to their breeding haunts and lying offshore until the spring reached the west of the island.

Even under the waves life wasn’t in short supply. Over three days, Killer Whales, the main target of our intent, were much in evidence. We perhaps saw around forty during our time in the country.

A couple of boat trips out into open water got us within spitting distance of the Orcas. It is difficult to convey the feelings at being close to something adapted so well to the ocean and at the top of its food chain. I felt privileged to share a little of their environment and see how the pod of these so called Killers, gathered around the young in their group. How tender they seemed. How similar to us they are… yet so different. The whole experience will be alive within me until I take my last breath.

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Apr 2023


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