Sunday, 21 April 2013

A day in the Bay of Biscay

The deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean stretched to the horizon, mirrored by a blue sky that was a just a shade lighter. The sea rolled, the occasional white cap broke the surface, small dark waves rippled. The ferry steamed ahead, leaving a path of pale turquoise and white water. Once again I am back heading across the Bay of Biscay.

After a quiet morning, with only the occasional adult gannet swooping by, finally comes the shout of dolphins. Common dolphins sweep past the vessel quickly reaching her wake. Surfing through the waves, they start to leap, clearing the waters surface by meters, as exuberant as those onboard watching.

Common dolphins 


The wind picks up, more white horses are scattered across the deep blue. Still we stand, still we watch, we wait. Then from the depths… a tall, ephemeral jet of vapour, the telltale sign of a whale, followed by a large, dark, sleek body that slices out of the waves. Not just any whale. A fin whale. The second largest animal on the planet, a few hundred meters from the ferry. Again it surfaces, heading in the opposite direction, before after the third time it is lost from view.

Fin whale!

We resume our watching but it is not long before something else catches our eye. A dark shape beneath the waves… a huge dark shape beneath the waves, but not breaking the surface. This time it is the second largest fish on the planet, a basking shark! As the ship passes, the tip of its dorsal and tail fin breaks the surface, before it is also lost beneath the waves at the stern.

My head turns back to look ahead, and once again I see that ephemeral wisp of a whale blow. But where is the whale? It must be close…then whoosh! not one but two whales, an adult and a juvenile!

Adult and juvenile fin whale

Through the hazy cloud the Spanish coast comes into view, mountains still capped with snow, towering over the rocky coastline. Our whale watching adventure is almost over for the day, but not quite with one final sighting of long-finned pilot whale. They surface close together, a tight-knit group, black bodies gleaming in the sun and topping off yet another brilliant day in the Bay of Biscay.

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