15 Aug 2018

15 Aug 18 - Return To Biscay: Acrobatic Dolphins In Southern Biscay

The morning on the Pont-Aven in Northern Biscay heading for Santander had been excellent with good numbers of Fin Whales & Short-beaked Common Dolphins & Great Sheawaters, as well as, my first Cuvier's Beaked Whale. However, it all quietened down after we left the continental shelf & entered the deep water. We lost both the Cetaceans & Seabirds for several hours. The lack of fishing boats also confirmed that the fishermen didn't think there were good numbers of fish in central Biscay. The sea state had picked up so while the sea was still calm, there were a lot of white caps on the waves which made it more difficult to pick out a passing Beaked Whale. There were a lot of eyes looking, but with no joy. By mid-afternoon, we could see the distant shape of the Spanish coastline on the horizon, which was getting rapidly larger given the 23 knots we were sailing at.
The Spanish coast appeared in the distance
I picked up the first Lesser Black-backed Gull, followed by the first Yellow-legged Gull, which were the first Birds seen all afternoon & a sign we would be docked in the next hour. Fortunately, a shout of Dolphins approaching went up to liven the afternoon up. I quickly picked up a couple of small groups of Dolphins heading for the ship.
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: The first Dolphin I saw
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: A better view of the back half of the body
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Diving back in after the next jump
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: Another one heading directly for the ship
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
Short-beaked Common Dolphin: The distinctive black V mark is just about possible to see under the dorsal fin
Short-beaked Common Dolphin
I was pleased to see these Short-beaked Common Dolphins as the last few hours of watching had been dire. However, I had hoped they would be Striped Dolphins as there had been good numbers seen on the final approach to Santander a week earlier. Then I picked up another jumping Dolphin further out & could see that was a Striped Dolphin. Unfortunately, they didn't come as close to the ship, but made up for the lack of the close approach with their acrobatics.
Striped Dolphin: A great acrobat which allowed a good view of their distinctive striped appearance & slimmer body
Striped Dolphin
Striped Dolphin: A closer crop of the last photo
Striped Dolphin
Unfortunately, these were the only Cetaceans we saw as we approached Santander. A pity as there had been eight Cuvier's Beaked Whales in the same area on the previous week's cruise. But that is wildlife watching.
The coastline was getting larger & no more Cetaceans were seen
The headland to the East of Santander
Lighthouse offshore of Santander
This looks a posh & expensive hotel to stay in
The beaches were packed, but it was a public holiday
Santander is a reasonable looking city
Santander: It looks a lot better than the grey & run down docks area where the Bilbao ferry docks
One of the things I had forgotten about from the Bilbao trips was the desperate scanning on the surrounding hills for Griffon Vultures. However, one or two of the Birders on the ferry had their scopes up & were scanning the hills & it wasn't long before the shout went up of Griffon Vulture. I hadn't bothered taking my scope & so all I could see were the large dots flying around the hillsides. But given the range, there weren't any other realistic options for what these large dots could be & the guys with scopes confirmed the id.
The hills were several miles away & the Griffon Vultures were flying over the ridge: I guess given the time ashore, there would just be long enough to hire a taxi to head up to see them close up, but it wouldn't be cheap
There was about three hours for the mini cruise visitors to have a walk around ashore. We all had to leave the ship. It didn't take long to clear customs & then we were free to walk around the town. The good thing is the mini cruise passengers were allowed to keep their cabins, so all I needed to carry ashore was a small rucksack to hold the camera & bins. There were plenty of cafes & bars which allowed me to grab a meal & a drink ashore. Cheaper & probably better than the self-service restaurant on the ship. Just after 20:00 local time, I was queuing to get back on shore. We left at 21:15, but at this time of year it was dark by the time we had cleared the coastline. I guess doing the trip in early July might allow a bit of time for some more Cetacean watching. Time for a final drink before getting to bed to allow another early start. It had been a good day.