An amazing season of wildlife watching topped by a sighting of our namesake- Orca!!

16th Oct 2013

The 2013 season has been a remarkable one in terms of the quality and quantity of animal sightings in the Bay of Biscay, Celtic Sea and the Channel Approaches. Brittany Ferries flagship the ‘Pont Aven’ plies regularly between Portsmouth and Santander across this body of water acclaimed for its rich biodiversity of marine wildlife.  Our trips haven’t disappointed- 14 different cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise) species have been observed with a total of 6472 individuals!

Overall Sightings

Species 9-11th July 16-18th July 6-8th Aug 13-15th Aug 20-22nd Aug 10-12th Sep 17-19th Sep 24-26th Sep
Species Total
Fin Whale     9 20 14 21 3 7
Sperm Whale     3 1 3 3    
Orca               3
Minke Whale     4 1 1 1   1
Cuvier's Beaked Whale   1 3 2 2 2   5
Northern Bottlenose Whale   1           5
Unidentified Whale     2 33   28 1 16
Pilot Whale     22 4 3   3 58
Common Dolphin 135 91 179 3000 303 209 201 221
Bottlenose Dolphin 37 3 32 80 1 41 20 35
Risso's Dolphin     1          
Striped Dolphin 217 9 22 13 31 23 52 671
Unidentified Dolphin 13 64 2 48 5 15 13 340
Harbour Porpoise   7 20 5 16 2   9
Total Cetaceans per trip

The most significant of these ironically happened on our very last trip of the season where we were joined by TV presenter, wildlife expert and ORCA patron Chris Packham!   Around 2 hours prior to arrival in Santander Chris and the ORCA guides spotted a bull Orca or Killer whale on the port side very close to the ship with 2 females on the starboard side.  An incredible and rare sighting! You could see the tall dorsal fin characteristic of the male of this species.  

- Orca- Elfyn Pugh (Biscay Sep)

There were other beaked whales too the more familiar Cuvier’s beaked whales again numbering 5 animals and 14 other unidentified beaked whales.

-Cuviers Beaked Whale - Ross Wheeler (Biscay Sep)

In fact on this trip we actually broke the record for the total number of beaked whales seen on any one voyage and that’s a staggering 24 animals! We also recorded a larger number of Striped dolphins seen in the Biscay for some time 671 in total.   On top of this we also saw a high numbers of Pilot whales - 58 to be exact.

Pilot Whale - Colin Fitzpatrick (Biscay Sep)

It has also been a season for amazing birdlife sightings.  The shearwaters, skuas, terns, petrels, gannets, and the occasional passerine that occasionally pass by or stop for a rest on deck.
The Pont Aven passes close to the north Brittany coast on the voyage south and north.  Here there are many lighthouses some with colourful stories to tell of their human inhabitants.  The lighthouses themselves are magnificent monuments to man’s ingenuity.   It’s also exciting too from a wildlife point of view as it is such a good area for common dolphins. During one of our trips in August in perfectly calm seas we encountered what can only be described as a ‘super-pod’ of 2,000-5,000 common dolphins scattered over a wide area as far as the eye could see.

- Common Dolphins- Lisle Gwynn (Biscay Aug)

This season has seen a host of people from all walks of life enjoying whale and dolphin watching, and learning about how we can protect and conserve them and their marine habitats.  We look forward to next year’s whale and dolphin watching adventures with Brittany Ferries!