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Through an introduction from the Sea Mammal Research Unit Seamark got in touch with Orca who record whale and dolphin sightings in the area of the Bay of Biscay. Orca’s information is gained from trips on scheduled ferries from Southampton to Bilboa.

Apart from recording information for ORCA we had recently refitted our survey vessel and it was essential to give all new systems a thorough shake down on a long journey. We were also keen to help ORCA and contribute to the database by recording their sightings on route to Spain through the English Channel and Bay of Biscay. Currently, most of the data contributed to the ORCA database comes from the above mentioned ferry-based surveys in the eastern Bay of Biscay. We offered Orca information from a route that would follow a line much further west. ORCA was extremely interested to collate the records on the marine life we would encounter. Equipped with ORCA marine survey forms, we set off from Southampton on 3rd August 2003 for a one-month voyage.

In total, 43 sightings including cetaceans and sunfish were recorded . Dolphins were the species most frequently encountered, and most of these were thought to be common dolphin. Groups of dolphins ranged in size from single individuals to groups of 80. The species list also included Risso’s dolphin, a pilot whale and three sightings of sunfish. Most sightings occurred on the continental shelf but cetaceans were also recorded in very deep waters in western Biscay. Dolphins were particularly common off the Galician coast, which is an area that hit the headlines last November because of the oil spill that resulted from the stricken Prestige tanker. Two whales were also recorded close to shore along this coastline.

On the way back the boat was joined by a number of migratory birds, resting from the heavy winds. They included a whinchat and a reed warbler , precariously situated beneath the yacht’s “swatter”!

This survey is just the beginning of what we hope will be a fruitful collaboration between The Seamark Trust and Orca . We hope to organise future surveys. In the Spring of 2004 Orca held a seminar in Oxford for Seamark Trust volunteers on survey techniques and species identification.
10 Seamark Trust volunteers attended.

Scottish Charity Number SC 021578 | Copyright Seamark Trust