From porpoises to people

Bay of Biscay


It’s been a whirlwind of the first two weeks on the Brittany Ferries Pont- Aven, but it has been an amazing experience, and I’m so glad this is only the beginning!

It started with a sunny sailing from Plymouth and a porpoise to welcome me onboard and get me used to logging sightings on the fabulous ORCA OceanWatchers app. It was a tie between myself and the two girls chasing each other around the deck, as to who was more excited! They happened to pause just as it popped up so they could see it too!

On the first crossing, the Bay of Biscay also treated us to a Cuvier’s beaked whale, which might now be my favourite marine mammal. I have no idea why they’re not featured in mainstream nature documentaries because, as the deepest diving mammal, they are incredible creatures! They can dive down to 2,992m and have been recorded holding their breath for 3hours 42 minutes (breaking their own record of 2hours 27 minutes from a few years before)!

The Bay of Biscay has fast become my favourite route, offering numerous dolphins, and even on one three hour deck, watch over 100 dolphins (we were at 98 for quite a while hoping to break triple figures, and fortunately ended on 105)! Most were common dolphins, but there were a few striped to challenge my ID skills. All passengers agreed with me that it was always magical to see dolphins, but many really wanted to see a whale, some even having gone on dedicated whale watching trips in the past and had never seen one. Very few people realise just how much marine life it is possible to see in the waters between the UK and Spain. And the pod of eight Risso’s dolphins very close to the ship proved this as they were seen over the continental shelf not very far from Brittany.

My final full day, which included two trips over the Bay of Biscay, was an excellent send-off, with a sperm whale in the morning and bottlenose whales in the afternoon, a creature I hadn’t even heard of before taking this job. So the possibilities of sightings have definitely got me hooked.

But the passengers on the Pont-Aven have also made my time onboard magical. From enabling someone to see and maybe even identify their first common dolphin, hearing a little girl tell you she wants to be a marine biologist and beam with pride when someone calls her my deputy, watching someone’s face change as you tell them a mind-blowing fact, or seeing someone at the back of the bar during your presentation, who didn’t think they were interested in whales or dolphins, join you on deck, it is all a real privilege.

It is unusual to live on a ferry for two weeks at a time, but what I tell passengers is true: it’s a weird but wonderful job, and I can’t wait to do it all again!

Ocean Conservationist Joanna (The Bay of Biscay)