Monday, 11 May 2015

Another bit of the Atlantic

The Irish Sea is but a small  if very productive area  of sea connected to the North Atlantic. A couple of years ago Cristina Munilla Frances volunteered with us for six months and came back to us to fill in for Hannah whilst she took a leave of absence .

Cristina is from Santander in Northern Spain. It is possible to take a ferry from Portsmouth to Northern Spain and I have done this several times since 1994, and seen some amazing cetaceans. Other members of our European Cetacean Monitoring Alliance such as ORCA  and Marine Life have  been surveying from these ferries for several years and have built an incredible picture of what wonders the Bay of Biscay can produce.

It seemed a good idea to take the ferry with Cristina to her home town and then see if we could find a boat to go out in and see if we could find some cetaceans on her families doorstep!
So we set off last Tuesday on the "Pont Avon" with a small Sea Trust Team, (Cristina,  Janette, Chris, and myself to do a bit of a recce and also look at how some time could be usefully spent ashore for a few days if anyone fancied returning on a later ferry.

We had not long been on the ferry when we bumped into  Becky and Jess the ORCA   wildlife officers aboard the ship, and although gale force winds were conspiring to upset our mission, we decided to team up with them in the hope of finding some cetaceans. The next day Chris was up early (6 am) watching with Beth and Jess but I decided on a lay in, as a Biscay Storm pounded the ship. The forecast was for the storm to abate but when i went out on deck at about eight, waves that would measure five metres plus were sending spray crashing over the forward facing windows of the bar as I went in to eat breakfast with Janette, at least seventy feet above sea level!

I was not particularly confident the sea would calm down but we were delayed by the storm, giving us longer in the bay. By about three it was still  quite rough but the waves of the  big sea were dying back down and lacked the white crests making cetacean spotting altogether more likely. Cristina and Janette were watching with the Orca group whilst Chris and I were watching from the rear when a Fin Whale came up beneath them giving them exciting views. I managed to catch a view of a blow and Chris missed it entirely such are the vagaries of  cetacean spotting but Beth soon found some leaping Common Dolphins converging on our bows, magical!  

Common Dolphins speeding in to the bow of the "Pont Avon"               
Several pods continued to come in giving some spectacular views as the "Pont Avon" carried us closer and closer to Santander. With only an hour to go I spotted a blow and then a gain. It was small bushy and slightly angled and then we saw the back of a sperm whale emerge confirming my identification of the blow. This was a real treat with the whale slowly making its way on the surface giving everyone a thrill connecting with this deep diving leviathan. Cristina managed to film it so we will add the film when she is back from her days off.

So in the end Biscay delivered the goods  and it was great to meet up with Becky and Jess from ORCA   The sun was shining as we entered the harbour but it was not the end of our  hunt for cetaceans off the coast of Northern Spain. Cristina had also organised a trip in a yacht for us in the hope that we might get up close to some cetaceans.

The sea the day before had been pretty rough and there was still a good bit of swell but there was no whitewater and conditions were pretty much perfect. It took a while and under the hot sun I was beginning to flag a bit but something caught my eye and with the binoculars I spotted some dolphins ahead of us. Alex the skipper followed my directions and we cut a course to intersect their path. After an anxious minute or two they suddenly altered course and came speeding into the boat

They turned out to be Striped Dolphins which was exactly what I was hoping for so all in all a pretty good result!