And there we have it...the end of the Brittany Ferries season. And what a fin-tastic season it has been! Magical sightings, fascinating conversations, brand-new talks and activities all of which combine to inspire passengers about the wonders of our waters and help bring everyone together.
Most whale activity in the Northern part of Biscay, ranging from minke whales to the migrating fin whales and their youngsters. And of course numerous pods of Cuvier’s beaked whales spotted over the canyons. The Bay of Biscay continues to be a fantastic place for cetaceans to thrive.
We spoke to this season’s ORCA Ocean Conservationists to see what their favourite and quirkiest moments were, and this is what they had to say:
I didn’t think anything could surpass the sight of two Cuvier’s beaked whales with a calf, breaching close to the ship. I went to tell passengers on the other side, only to find two more breaching on that side as well! This was an amazing sight which brought excited screams from the many watching passengers. Still, it didn’t end there because my favourite moment came soon afterwards when a pod of 6 Cuvier’s, including another calf swam along the port side. It was magical.
I was giving my presentation in the bar area and had been explaining what to look out for on our crossing; in particular identifying common dolphins and to look out for splashes. Whilst doing so I could actually see splashes through the window opposite the presentation area. Not only could I refer to the slide, but I could also point to live examples as well! It was a pod of 50 plus common dolphins appearing as if on cue.
There was nothing quite like making the trip for a small child who had not seen a whale before. A couple of crew members and I pointed out a whale spout to a child and his family who had been looking out for them all night. The child's face went from sad to filled with wonder and excitement within seconds!
During a deck watch, I observed a whale slap its tail against the sea. As this happened, another smaller cetacean jumped out of the water! It was almost as if the larger whale's tail slap propelled the smaller animal out of the sea!
What a wonderful ending to a 12yr career as a Marine Biologist, here onboard Salamanca (5 Star Hotel at Sea); truly a luxurious way to "Bow" out (excuse the pun). I would like to thank Kate & the team at ORCA for giving me this wonderful opportunity.
My highlight of this adventure with ORCA has to be that my faith has been totally restored in the youth of today. The high standards from my little ‘Mermaids & Pirates’ have been truly mind-blowing, with us having wonderful out-of-the-box chats during the class/talks on deck 8.
It has to be when I spotted my first fin whale! It was a beautiful sunny day, the sea was mirror-calm and I was about to finish my deck watch to go in and prepare the talk. Sure enough, in the distance popped a tall spout, followed by the back slowly rolling out. It blew 3 more times after that, which gave me a good chance to take it all in. It was an amazing sight, but even more impactful was knowing that the whale season was upon us, and it would only get better from then on.
This happened during a conversation with one of those especially dedicated passengers that stay out on deck with you for the whole crossing, and he was well equipped – a long-range scope set on a tripod, a scribbled notebook. After a long time talking to someone I assumed was a knowledgeable wildlife enthusiast, I realised I had been talking to a senior professor of zoology at a renowned British University. You can bet the old jitters from the classroom days came back! I ended up learning a lot about land mammal acoustic monitoring and bats’ bio-sonar.
Holly, Pont Aven.
During my first Sea Safari, our incredible sightings had already left us in awe, but we all held out hope of reaching the satisfying milestone of 950 animals. Leading up to our arrival in Plymouth, everyone's attention remained fixed on the sea. We just needed 7 more animals. Finally, several dorsal fins broke the surface. “Common Dolphins…and there’s 8 of them!” We all rejoiced! This was a moment of sheer delight and accomplishment that perfectly crowned this unforgettable Sea Safari experience. Shortly after, more common dolphins arrived, boosting our final count to 958.
Passengers and I eagerly waited for our morning's first sighting. An hour had passed, yet our excitement continued to mount with every passing moment. Then…dolphins! “5 common dolphins” I cheered. A passenger chuckled and echoed my words, singing them in the melody of "5 gold rings" from The Twelve Days of Christmas. Another passenger added, “4 breaching fin whales”. This ends precisely as you are thinking! We then created a whole parody titled “The Twelve Sightings of Cetaceans.” My favourite line had to be…”and a porpoise is never porpoising.” A fact from my presentation that had clearly stuck!
Daisy, Pont Aven.
As much as I thoroughly enjoyed watching marine life myself, meeting passengers on board who have never seen cetaceans before in their life and being with them for their first sightings of these animals in in the wild is one of the best feelings for an Ocean Conservationist; thank gooodness for the Short-Beaked Common Dolphins who always put on a wonderful show!
Working on the Pont Aven overall has been an opportunity of a lifetime, filled with quirky moments. But the one that stands out to me the most was getting passengers to lie down on Deck 10 so they could be measured compared to the size of a cetacean. If there were a variety of similar species, I let them choose their favourite! Was entertaining yet informative!
I was always delighted by the support that we got and touched by the number of people that stood out on deck with me, in all weathers, daring not to leave less they missed something magical – and magic happened a lot! Whales and dolphins are without doubt some of the most charismatic creatures on the planet, and seeing them can be quite a profound experience. Beaming smiles and squeals of delight would turn to excited chatter following any encounter and on more than one occasion, I was informed that this had been the best moment of someone’s life. Need I say more?
It was about 9.45pm and despite the fading light a handful of passengers had remained on deck with me. We were all buzzing after a wonderful evening of whale sightings and a flawless sunset.
A voice rang out “What’s that, there? A bird?”
Just 10 feet below us something was flying alongside the ship.
“No, it’s a bat” I muttered in utter amazement “and there’s two”
We were smack bang in the middle of the Bay of Biscay, miles from the coast and you could have knocked me over with a feather. To slightly misquote quite a famous saying ‘Wildlife is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get’ and never a truer word was said.
Within an hour of being in the beautiful Bay of Biscay, Santona was surrounded by over 300 dolphins; three different species! It was wonderful experiencing such a magical moment with such excited passengers who were just as mesmerised as I was. A mixed pod of 120+ common dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins, followed by a feeding frenzy of 80+ common dolphins and bottlenose dolphins. There were dolphins in every direction – a magical moment that will stay with me always.
I was super excited thinking I’d spotted something; I was jumping up and down like an excited child in a sweet shop, gathering nearby passengers to share said excitement. However… it turned out that what I was excited over, was in fact the reflection of my shoe. ‘Embarrassing’ doesn’t quite cut it! It became a little story that I’d include in my talks. What I was not expecting was for a small boy, no older than 10-years old, to prank me out on deck.
Filled with excitement, he goes, “ooooh what was that? Did you see that?....oh wait, it was just your shoe”.
Word of advice: if you do ever see anything, shout it out! It’s always better to call out and it be a shoe, then to not call out and it actually be a dolphin - it’s the enthusiasm and excitement that counts!