Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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Bay of Biscay Wildlife

Beaked Whales

Plymouth - Santander 4th of April, 2011

I've seen plenty of dolphins on my trips from Spain to the U.K. Mostly Short-beaked common, Delphinus delphis, playing catch-up alongside the ferry's bow waves or leaping through the wake at the stern. (Do they appreciate the extra oxygenated water I wonder?)

This trip, armed with my new camera, I was determined to improve on my previous photos of the species, which shouldn't have been too hard! Here's a dismal, distant shot from May, 2010.

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The timing of the sailing didn't seem promising as we'd be sailing through the deepest, most interesting part of the Bay during the night so I was out on deck at dawn to make the most of the daylight hours. I saw three pods of dolphins but the speed of the Pont Aven and their distance from the boat prevented any photos (oh, excuses again!) Wishing I was back on the small Bretagne, or even deck 4 of the Val de Loire, at around 08.30 and about three hours short of docking in Santander, I saw what I first took to be another dolphin pod but realised they weren't behaving in a dolphin-like manner. This group of 4/5 cetaceans weren't clearing the water or even arching, rather they were just clearing the water slowly showing a well set-back, small dorsal fin.

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It's hard to get a fix on size out at sea when there's nothing else around to compare an animal to but as I first thought these were dolphins I'm discounting what is probably the most common beaked whale species seen in the Bay, Cuvier's, Ziphius cavirostris, because they are relatively large. Also, their heads are more rounded than other species and these appear more pointed. The whales were 200+m away from the ship and I didn't get a good view of their beaks so no counting or seeing position and amount of teeth here I'm afraid but I'm leaning towards Sowerby's, Mesoplodon bidons,  of the Mesoplodon species that have been positively identified in the area.  In my poor photos I think I can see the protuding melon and a fairly deep dent where the blow is situated on the further animal. The nearer of the two appears to show an elongated beak but the distance, movement of water and sun glinting off the body conspire against any real identification help for me.

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Other possibles are Blainville's, Mesoplodon densirostris, Gervais', Mesoplodon europaeus, and True's, Mesoplodon mirus, in (my) descending order. I'll probably never know but can't wait for my next trip!

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