Straight to the headline news: The Pont Aven passengers were treated to an absolute spectacle this week!
Under blissful weather, some unusually calm water disturbed the surface, then from the deep azure a great and graceful white and grey body over 15m long emerged into view, rolling to the left before breaking the surface. Speechless and utterly floored, we were hardly prepared for the explosion of water that erupted further out to sea some 15 minutes later. BREACH! We yelled, willing it to happen again. Well, it did. The great baleen whale breached at least 15 times before it slid from view in the hazy horizon. We whittled the species ID down to a Fin or Sei whale; unfortunately, the dorsal fin (a decisive ID feature) was not in clear enough view.
Other amazing highlights was seeing small blue sharks from deck, and several sunfish!
While Biscay is one of the top five places in the world to see cetaceans, I always start the day assuming the tally will account of gannets and gulls. In fact, the animals we see are distributed according to a concoction of variables; their prey, the tide, sea temperature and depth amongst many others. While we can predict the rough distribution of a species, our daily surveys show that our predictions are only broadly true. For example, on Monday morning, as the dawn light illumined the Northern Biscay, we crossed the continental shelf with seemingly endless groups of common and striped dolphin, and (a first for me!) pilot whales. On Wednesday we cross the same area at the same time, this time without the dolphin flotilla. Common dolphin often make a beeline towards the ship, though on that Wednesday morning their attention was evidently drawn elsewhere. Connecting the dots between the behaviour of cetaceans when we spot them, oceanographic processes (the tide, currents etc.) and the physical environment (such as depth, sandiness of the sea bed etc.) help improve our understanding of how the Biscay has become such a hotspot for sightings.