Posts Tagged ‘Whale Watching


The day of the Petrels

I tried it several times so I know it holds true. On the Island of Gran Manan it didn’t matter where we were if I raised my bins to watch the sea for a minimum of 60 seconds I would see at least one Harbour Porpoise break the surface, often it would not be alone.

On one particular day however we had sailed out beyond Gannet Island with its distinctive lighthouse and had crossed a particularly rough patch of water called the devils half acre. I stared through my optics in disbelief; it didn’t matter which direction I turned all I could see from the boat to the horizon were Wilson’s Storm Petrels… in their thousands; a never ending cast of tiny dark dancing seabirds pitter-pattering across the waves. It was as if the whole scene was orchestrated by a million puppeteers. There seems to be good reason why they are often said to be the world’s most numerous bird. These birds are small no bigger than a sparrow and spend much of their life far from land on the ocean. Small and fast they were easily the most difficult bird I have ever photographed.

Each individual ‘walked’ on the water as it picked up copepods from the surface of the sea. Called Petrels from the similarity with St. Peter and the walking on water miracle  … a miracle indeed.

Wilsons Storm Petrel

Each dot on this photo among and beyond the humpbacks is a Wilson’s Storm Petrel

Wilson's Petrels




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


A mouthful worth waiting for

We watched the water in silence. The only sound was the water rhythmically lapping the side of the Zodiac. The sun was hot even out at sea and it cast diamonds of light on any imperfection on the oily surface.

It’s always like this Whale watching. 50% of your time is travelling and 45% waiting. The remaining 5% is the best; when cetaceans show themselves. We were waiting to see a Humpback in the St Lawrence, Quebec. It had dived somewhere in this area 10 minutes earlier.

Sometimes they can come up from the deep far from where they went down. But sometimes, just sometimes …. they can come up real close.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Mar 2023


%d bloggers like this: