Signs of life!


We are delighted to welcome Sasha De Jong to the ORCA team this summer! Sasha is joining us as a Research Scientist, working across the Bay of Biscay on board the Brittany Ferries’ Galicia. Below, Sasha gives us an introduction to his new role at ORCA and the groundbreaking research that he is doing.

This blog is going to follow the development and testing of a method to observe and record whale behaviour and movements from large ferry ships in the Bay of Biscay. This project has been the result of collaboration with ferry company Brittany Ferries and a small group of highly passionate people at ORCA who have allowed me to join in on this effort.

A little bit about me first: My name is Sasha, I discovered my passion for marine mammals a few years ago through the field of underwater acoustics. This transitioned into a general interest in animal behaviour but still retaining that fascination for marine mammals. I have a fairly technical background which allows me some rare opportunities such as this, where the tools have not yet been fully developed.

The goal of this project is to be able to study how large marine mammals (predominantly fin whales) behave in close proximity to large vessels and, more specifically, how their behaviour changes relative to distance between them and the ship.

In order to do this, a number of cameras will be used to capture the position and behaviour of species such as the fin whale, sei whale, sperm whale, and maybe even blue whale.

There are three main components to the system, namely:

  • A fixed system;

  • Mobile system;

  • and a logging system

These should work well together and not conflict, and this is where I come in. My job is to make sure that the equipment allows us to collect the data we need (even in unexpected situations), that the systems are easy to operate/handle, and that there is as little room for error as possible.

In the past weeks, we have had some exciting sightings with more common dolphins and striped dolphins than I could dream of, a sei whale briefly popping its head up, a couple of Cuvier’s beaked whales, and a particularly energetic Sowerby’s beaked whale.

The conditions have not always been the best, with visibility sometimes dropping below 200 meters, but I am looking forward to what other surprises will come out of the deep, and I will take you along for the journey into the incredible waters of the Bay of Biscay!

Keep an eye on our blog pages for updates throughout the summer on the developments of this fascinating research.