7 May 2018

7 May 18 - West African Pelagic - Day Seven: Fin Whale Off The Portuguese Coast

First light saw the Plancius a couple of hours away from the Portuguese coast. We closed a bit, but stayed around twenty to thirty miles off the coast as we headed North. This kept us in deep water, but only one to two kilometres deep. The weather was less clement with more overcast conditions & rain showers during the morning. Before breakfast, we were lucky to pick up a Fin Whale, which passed close down the starboard side of the Plancius. It was only the second one I had seen since boarding the Plancius, with the first being on the first day at sea off the Argentinian coast.
Fin Whale: We had already seen it was a large Whale. With this gently sloping dorsal fin, it suggested a Fin Whale
Fin Whale: The ridge around the blow hole is on the right-hand side of the photo
Fin Whale: There is a lot of back behind the blow hole
Fin Whale: With the blow hole dropping below the surface, the dorsal fin finally appearing
Fin Whale: A better view of the dorsal fin
Fin Whale: It soon disappeared below the surface
Fortunately, it quickly resurfaced again. Fin Whales are the second largest Whale, with Northern hemisphere Fin Whales growing to 24 metres & Southern hemisphere individuals growing to 27 metres. Blue Whales are larger still, growing to 27 metres in the Northern hemisphere & 29 metres in the Southern hemisphere. Blue Whales are bulkier than Fin Whales. Fin Whales can weight up to 120 tons, compared to 135 tons for Blue Whales.
Fin Whale: A view of part of the back in front of the dorsal fin as it resurfaced
Fin Whale: A clearer view of the dorsal fin profile
Fin Whale: A final view of part of the back behind the dorsal fin
We were entering into major shipping lanes for the first time since leaving Ushuaia & saw a number of large ships. Another sign that our time on the Plancius was slowly coming to an end.
It was quite a hazy day at times as this distance ship shows
Gannet: I saw around fifteen during the day
Curlew: This Curlew was the the only Curlew I saw from the Plancius
Bonxie: This was one of two Bonxies that I saw during the day
Arctic Skua: This Arctic Skua raced across the bows & quickly headed away
Lesser Black-backed Gull: We saw several parties of Lesser Black-backed Gulls & Yellow-legged Gulls moving North. There were all flying faster than eleven knots as they steadily overtook us before disappearing into the distance
Lesser Black-backed Gull: After overtaking us, this party then settled onto the water
Lesser Black-backed Gull: An individual from an earlier party than overtook us
Lesser Black-backed Gull: These were the first Lesser Black-backed Gulls I had seen since leaving the UK in mid Feb
One of the less predicted species for the day were a couple of Turtle Doves which appeared around the Plancius before breakfast. They were flying around the Plancius & presumably landing. However, given the number of occasions they were seen in flight, the chances are that some of the photographers couldn't leave them along. I am not a fan of chasing after Birds on boats, as they have generally been forced to land as they are needing a break. Being forced to fly again in these circumstances by uncaring photographers is wrong. I grabbed a few photos on one occasion as they flew past the bridge wing.
Turtle Dove: A female Yellow Wagtail & a couple of Reed Warblers were also seen at various times on the Plancius
Collared Dove: The following day, the two Turtles Doves were replaced by two Collared Doves. They stay aboard for most of the day having arrived off the Portuguese & travelling North to off the Spanish coast (8 May 18)
Striped Dolphin: There were several pods of Striped Dolphins & Short-beaked Common Dolphins seen during the day, but none gave particularly good views. Even these three Striped Dolphins which came close were quickly lost
There were a couple of interesting Fish seen during the day. The first was an Atlantic White Marlin which passed closed down the starboard side. The second a distant Basking Shark & our only one of the trip. This meant I had seen both the largest & second largest Cetaceans, Blue Whale & Fin Whale, as well as the largest & second largest Sharks, Whale Shark & Basking Shark, since I boarded the Plancius in Ushuaia. I had only seen Fin Whales before. Unfortunately, the Basking Shark was too far out for any worthwhile photos.
Atlantic White Marlin: This was identified as an Atlantic White Marlin
Although we couldn't see the land, it was obvious that we had come closer to people, given the increase in marine rubbish.
Large polystyrene rubbish: This will be really bad news for wildlife as it continues to breakdown
A carelessly discarded balloon: Bad news for anything that accidentally eats it, especially when it becomes deflated. This was already twenty to thirty miles offshore
Another deathtrap for any Seabird, Cetacean, Seal, large Fish or Turtle that gets caught in this mass of ropes
The wind got up stronger overnight & increased to a twenty to thirty knot headwind. The sea state also became choppy. We were heading up the Northern Portuguese coast and crossing into Spanish seas. It wasn't as pleasant on deck & with little chance of seeing any interesting Cetaceans in the sea conditions, I decided I deserved a long overdue rest day. I did miss the first Long-finned Pilot Whales which appeared briefly, but we saw those better once we entered the Bay of Biscay on 9 May. I had been spending eleven to twelve hours on deck every day for most of the last few weeks. So, it was a treat to have a long lie in, followed by a day of mainly sorting photos from the Observation lounge & catching up on washing some clothes. There were laundry services on the Plancius which I used for some items, but I wasn't prepared to hand over the more precious Rohan clothing (they are easily ruined if ironed in error). I grabbed one of the seats by the window, which still allowed me to keep an eye on what was happening outside. There were good numbers of Gannets & similar Seabirds to the previous day. At one point, a pod of Short-beaked Common Dolphins came alongside for some bow-waving. The highlight for me was the Collared Doves & the only species I photographed when I went on deck during the afternoon.