Blue skies and a light wind greet us as we arrive at the port in Vilanova. There, we meet up with Alex, Alícia, Leo, Mercè, Manel and Jordi who will be accompanied by Mar, Vicki, Oriol and Oscar from Cetacea on today’s trip to search out whales and dolphins along the Catalan coast.
Today we will conducting our Photo-Identification project from a 15 metre mono-hulled sail boat, as usual provided by our sponsors, Azimut. After a quick safety briefing and a short explanation of the project, we cast off the lines and head out. As we leave the port the sea is fairly calm but to the east, some really huge rain clouds stretch from the coast to the horizon.
As we motor out to the first point on Transect 3, winds pick up and the sea becomes choppier and choppier. For safety reasons Oscar as captain makes the decision that the most prudent action would be to stick closer to the coast in case the weather turns worse and we have to make a run for port.
Winds are now blowing at about 15 knots and everyone is rugged up in big jackets to ward off the cold. Seas have also picked up and white caps are breaking everywhere, making it more difficult to spot animals in the water.
There is excitement then when a blow is spotted by Manel, about 200 metres in front of the boat, unmistakably from a fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus). After two more blows we can see in the distance that the whale has dived deep, but that it was swimming in a westerly direction.
We turn the boat and head in that direction, trying to keep parallel to where we believe the whale. With everyone on the boat looking out in all directions for the whale it is not long before it’s blow is spotted again. And then we realise that it is not just one whale. Two large whales are spotted, their backs slowly rising out of the water, a large blow and then a small dorsal fin before disappearing below. But that is not all, suddenly a smaller, lighter coloured shape glides to the surface, a fin whale calf.
We were privileged to spend the next hour with the whales, motors off, sails up, moving along parallel to the whales as they swam slowly along the surface before diving deep for 5-7 minutes and then coming back up to the surface again, seemingly always in a south-easterly direction. Many photos were taken to add to our photo-catalog. It was easy to forget that the sea conditions were not ideal for spotting cetaceans.
We decided to continue our trip towards Sitges in shallower waters in the hopes of spotting the elusive Bottlenose dolphin. The sails were kept up and we managed to keep going at roughly the same speed as we had been going with the motor. To add speed, the jib was raised and we were flying along at about 10 knots. If you can’t spot cetaceans because of high winds, use the winds to your advantage and sail!
We headed back to port without spotting any more marine animals but we will have the memory of spending that time with the fin whales (and baby) in our minds for a long time to come.