Friday, 26 August 2011

Back in the Bay of Biscay 16th – 18th August 2011

The day P&O announced the end of the sea crossing from Portsmouth, England to Bilbao, Spain and back, across the Bay of Biscay on the Pride of Bilbao, was a sad day for those of us who were regular travellers on the trip. So, when I was offered a chance to co-guide on a trip from Portsmouth to Santander, Spain on Brittainy Ferries’ Pont – Aven, I jumped at the chance. The Pont – Aven is a much younger ship than the old P&O workhorse, the facilities are more modern and the ship is much faster. But the most significant change is that the ship departs from Portsmouth and returns from Santander to Plymouth, England, which presents immediate logistical problems. 

The ferry set sail from Portsmouth at 17:00, and by the time we had boarded and had something to eat, it was time for an early night in preparation for a full days whale-watching/birding on the following day. The 17th began with a 06:30 start up on deck 10, the highest deck on the Pont–Aven, in search of seabirds and cetaceans. The faster speed of this ship meant that we were already south of the Brittainy peninsula and in good cetacean waters by dawn, but unlike the old Pride of Bilbao, the Pont-Aven offers no opportunity to view directly forward and crosses the whole of the bay in one day, travelling over both the northern and southern shelf edges of the abyssal plain before arriving in Santander.

Common Dolphin, Bay of Biscay

Our encounters began with a group of over 20 common dolphins coming into the bow to play..

Common Dolphin, Bay of Biscay

....before moving down the sides to play in the wake...

Common Dolphin, Bay of Biscay

......and  excite  our 70 clients, who had opted to travel on this whale and dolphin adventure.

Cory's Shearwater, Bay of Biscay

Over the last couple of years the numbers of seabirds recorded in the Bay of Biscay have been low, and this trip seemed to be following this pattern. Although we still managed some good views of Cory's Shearwater, Sabine,s Gull, three Great Shearwater's and a hand full of British Storm-petrels. Northern Gannets and Great Skuas provided constant interest......

Great Skua, Bay of Biscay

....with the occasional Arctic Skua make up the supporting cast.

Sun Fish, Bay of Biscay

Those lucky enough to looking over the side of the ship were rewarded with a view of an Ocean  Sunfish as the ship steamed by.

Fin Whale, Bay of Biscay

But the most notable feature of this trip was the return of the Fin Whale, the second largest mammal in The World!!! This species has been absent from the bay for the last few years, but this year there has been an increase in sightings, although not back to the numbers of the mid 1990s. In total we recorded 34 large rorqual whale blows, meaning either Sei, Fin or Blue Whale, seven of these we were able to confirm as Fin Whale, the remainder were left unidentified.

Fin Whale, Bay of Biscay

Among the Large Rorqual sightings we also encountered three Sperm Whales, two were very distant, but one provided close views, and revealed its distinctive short, sideways, bushy blow and small unobtrusive dorsal fin. Unfortunately we sped past this encounter and were unable to see the whale dive and show its tail flukes.

Sperm Whale, Bay of Biscay

In February 2005 I was fortunate to be travelling in New Zealand and encountered several Sperm Whales off Kaikoura, South Island. In the Bay of Biscay there are only three species which show their tail flukes whilst diving, Hump-backed and Blue Whale are very rare, although the latter was seen this year and photographed.

Sperm Whale Diving, New Zealand 2005

Of the three, the Sperm Whale is the the most likely to be encountered, and this trip proved to be no exception.

The return from Santander to Plymouth produced a good numbers of Common Dolphins and  Harbour Porpoises, with seabird sightings including more Great and Arctic Skuas, Manx and Balearic Shearwaters and a handful of British Storm Petrels.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Uncle Trevor. We like your photos. We won a prize for naming canadian birds from photos. We didn't let on to the lady that we had learned alot of them from the BEST!


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