Thursday, 20 January 2011

Thar She Blows!!!

library images: Rich Crossen

My second Stena Ferry Survey this month, with Ian Martin, Chris Benbow and Stevo Lucas aboard.
Our outward leg from Fishguard to Rosslare featured large concentrated feeding flocks of gulls and auks with odd gannets dotted around Fishguard Bay although no associated cetaceans were seen.
The weather was perfect, calm and clear. None the less, porpoises did show over the first hour and then about halfway across, a pod of about half a dozen common dolphins raced into our bow. We saw no more cetaceans and our survey ended just after a spectacular sunset at about five pm.
Whilst in Rosslare we heard that humpback whales had been seen just north of Rosslare in Wexford Bay feeding on Herring. We looked forward to the mornings return voyage with some anticipation although sadly Stevo and Chris were getting off and would not be with us.
As day broke over Rosslare Harbour, the previous days calm had given way to a choppy, glarey sea. There were large concentrations of feeding seabirds to be seen off our port bow in the far distance but unfortunately we could not make out any evidence of humpback whales. We logged a few porpoises feeding under another smaller closer feeding bird flock, which had us wondering what we might have been able to see had the other much bigger flocks been closer! Things went quiet as we passed on by the Tusker Light and the cold began to bite.
We travelled onwards towards Fishguard with little else showing until I suddenly spotted an immense blow ahead of us, about one point to starboard. The tall columnar blow hung like a suspended shower of tiny crystals in the icy air but as the angle altered, the blow began to get lost in the glare. We grabbed our gear and made for the other bridge wing in the hope of better views. As we passed through the bridge there were two more blows, one larger and one smaller clearly visible through the bridge windows, presumably an adult accompanied by a juvenile...
We stopped to show the crew but by the time we got over to the starboard side the blows had dispersed and despite desperately scanning the sea for these elusive levathians, nothing more was seen.
These were obviously very large Rorqual Whales difficult to be certain but probably Fin Whales . The other possibility given the immense size of the blows would be Blue Whale... (be still my beating heart)... We will plump for Fin, as we saw nothing of the animal and as there are no known records of Blue in Welsh Waters (so far as I know!)
The rest of the passage was uneventful until we reached Strumble and clocked up a few more porpoises but the spectacle of the big blow was etched in my minds eye, a glow of satisfaction brought about by winter "Whales in Wales" spread through my being.
A brilliant start to the New Year, who would have believed the amount of stuff we would see when we started these trips eight years ago?