Back in the Bay

Once again the sea in the Bay of Biscay was tumultuous and restless, although not as fearsome as April when 8 meter swells and a Force 8 bounced the ferry like a child’s bath tub toy. Nevertheless the wind whipped across the waves, topping them with white horses that rolled over each other, sending spray up into an endless blue sky where white cotton wool clouds only occasionally obscured the warm sun.

This time despite the wind and white caps, the wildlife was out to be seen. Flocks of cory’s and great shearwaters skimmed the tops of the waves, almost touching the water before banking up into the wind. Gannets fly with stiffer wings low to the water or circling high up keeping a sharp eye out for fish below the swirling waves. The brilliant white of the adult birds stands out a mile, and at this time of year there are many completely brown juveniles and sub-adults with varying degrees of white and black. A small sabines gull bounces by, creating a ripple of delight through the birders on board. 

Cory’s shearwater 

For those who like their marine wildlife a little on the larger, warm blooded side, there were plenty of sightings of whales and dolphins to boot.

In the morning wave after wave of common dolphins flashed past, leaping clear of the waves before dashing under the vessel. A little later on and striped dolphins appear, the first a rather quiet subdued group hardly breaking the surface, followed by a second more exuberant group doing back flips and leaping clear of the waves.

Common dolphins leaping clear of the waves
Two exuberant striped dolphins

Then there were the whales, tall effervescent blows shooting up before being carried away by the wind. They were mostly fin whales, with a tall upright blow but with the more distant ones it is impossible to say for sure…

As the ferry approached the southern part of the bay, renowned for its under water canyons which provides important habitat for a group of whales known as the beaked whales, the sea was even more choppy and those beaked whales remained elusive and out of sight.

We were however treated to two fin whales creating quite a splash amongst the waves. As they surfaced the pair would thrust their heads out of the water, a little more unusual to see in fin whales but giving a clear view of their white right jaw, a diagnostic feature for this species.

Two fin whales in the southern part of the bay

As we entered the shelter of Santander, surrounded by the majestic mountains whose tops were shrouded in low misty cloud, all that was left to do was disembark and head into town for a tasty icecream, reflecting on a rather good days whale watching in the Bay of Biscay.

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