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PELTIC 2021 update 8 - 18 October

Updated: Oct 20, 2021

17 October

We started the day just offshore from Ile Vierge, with its 70m tall lighthouse and were treated to some beautifully lit predawn clouds (photos 1 & 2). Amazingly we also still had winds of force 3 or less, forecasts earlier in the week had been giving Sunday as the first day with stronger winds.

With the light winds and starting inshore in the morning we got off to a good start with a further 17 Balearic Shearwater to add to our tally, this really has been a bumper year for them. As we headed northwest we also picked up four Sooty Shearwaters, these long-winged shearwaters always appear energetic, covering the sea rapidly with a mix of rapid wing beats and long, high-speed shears across the wind. They are also very difficult to get a photo of from a ship as they don’t often come in close for long enough.

We also had a very good morning for Common Dolphins too, with 10 encounters with just over 200 animals, including lots of energetic leaping (photos 3 & 4). I’m still hoping for a good shot of several leaping in unison but they’re hard to come by.

The first major excitement of the day came during the two-hour transit to the next transect. Second mate Paul suddenly said, ‘is that a whale’ and we looked up in time to see a huge wake through the water and the blow still hanging in the air. The animal resurfaced again quickly with another large blow and was indeed a whale - a Fin Whale, the second largest animal on the planet - but then remained sub-surface for a couple of minutes – which seems a really long time when you know the Endeavour is covering 330m every minute and carrying you away from the whale. Finally, she surfaced again and most on board had a good view, despite her being the best part of 1000m away (photos 5-7).

We only had about two and half hours on the next transect but in that time we managed another six encounters with about 110 Common Dolphin. We also had another surge of excitement with another blow of a Fin Whale 1500m ahead of us. It surfaced once more ahead of us but then we had the waiting game as to where it would come up next. Unfortunately, it was a little bit more distant when it did surface next but still close enough to see the body well and Emma even managed to get a shot just as it exhaled (photo 8), normally you miss that because you see it and by the time you get the camera in place the blowhole is almost underwater again, as you can see from my photos (9 & 10). What a way to round off the day!

18 October

We knew the weather was going to change at some point, having had 12 days with the wind force three or less, so we weren’t too surprised to wake up to white-capped waves and quite a bit of ship movement. What we could have done without was the heavy rain – especially as we were heading into the wind and hence the rain. It really isn’t that easy to survey through a rain-lashed windscreen, even if the wipers are working well.

We didn’t record any cetaceans on the first transect and in fact of our 108 seabird sightings only seven weren’t Gannet, three Sooty Shearwater, two Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Arctic Skua and a shearwater sp.

The second transect wasn’t much better, the only relief being we had the wind behind us so we didn’t have rain on the windscreen and things got worse later in the day when the visibility decreased to about less than 1000m. Despite the weather we managed a handful of Common Dolphin sightings and even four Balearic Shearwater.

Today was also the first day of the survey that neither of us took any photos, I hope that’s not a sign of things to come.

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