15 Aug 2018

15 Aug 18: Return To Biscay: Cuvier's Beaked Whale

I had already seen good numbers of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, at least half a dozen Fin Whales (plus more blows), a Minke Whale, as well as, large numbers of Great Shearwaters & a handful of Cory's Shearwaters during the first few hours on the first morning on the Pont-Aven while I was looking from the front of the top deck. After checked with the Orca team, I realised that despite the rear top deck being more open it was actually a bit more sheltered as the deck was narrower than the front of the top deck. There was also the benefit that with observers on both sides of the deck, then it was possible to quickly hear if there was something good seen on the other side of the deck. The reality was often there was a shout & all we heard was Dolphins or Whale with no identification. Still I hadn't been getting any news of sightings from my initial possible near the front of starboard deck, so overall it seemed the rear of the top deck was a better viewing position.

About 10:00 UK time, there was a shout for a Whale on the port side. I crossed over to look for it & only had a brief view of a medium sized Whale. Unfortunately, I didn't get onto it again & it remained unidentified, but it was either another Minke Whale or a Beaked Whale (it had been a very brief view). I'm not sure if anybody else figured it out either. As it was more sheltered on the port side, I decided to stay there. About fifteen minutes later, another medium sized Whale was picked up close off the port side. I quickly got onto it & as it looked interesting, I very quickly swapped to the camera to grab some photos. Through the camera, it looked medium sized, dark & slim-bodied with a noticeable curved-backed dorsal fin. It appeared several times, but every time I picking up with my naked eye & then raised the camera to get as many photos as possible. I never saw it again with the binoculars. Finally, it disappeared & I was starting to check the photos when I heard it had been identified as a Cuvier's Beaked Whale. As I zoomed into the photos I could see the head & front of the body was off-white & heavily scarred and I was happy I had just seen my first male Cuvier's Beaked Whale. I had hoped we would see one or two, but hadn't expected to see one so soon at the Northern end of the continental shelf drop off. It was a good job that we did see it, as there weren't any Cuvier's Beaked Whales seen later in the afternoon as we got closer to the final canyon off Santander. The reality is when Beaked Whales dive then can be down for quite some time & therefore, if they dived a mile in front of the ship they would next reappear well behind the Pont-Aven.
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. The first photo shows the pale front of the body & the extensive scarring
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. It quickly put the front of the body underwater & looked noticeable darker in appearance
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. The vertical white scar on the dorsal fin must be distinctive enough to allow this individual to be easily recognised
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. It seemed to sink in the water, rather than roll forward & dive whilst showing its tail
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. With just the dorsal fin showing it wouldn't be possible to identify it on this view
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. When it came up again it was possible to see the large white melon & the dip in the head shape after the melon which is another of the features for Cuvier's Beaked Whale
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. It is just possible to see the dorsal fin & the melon together in this shot
Cuvier's Beaked Whale: Male. Looking at the photos, it's easy to see why I didn't see the white at the front of the head & the scarring when I was using my naked eye before quickly switching to the camera. Once I press the button to start taking photos, it's not possible to see anything other than the general shape of the subject 
I was glad to have finally seen a Cuvier's Beaked Whale on my fifth trip through Biscay in the autumn. I had also hoped to have seen one on the Atlantic Odyssey or West African Pelagic, but the only one seen was a short sighting by Marijke from the other side of the Plancius as we passed through the Canaries. This was my 38 species out of 90 extant species of Cetaceans.