Surprises from the deep.

Just as I thought the excitement was over, our ferry trip back to the UK gave us one more final and incredible surprise. My friend Cath, who had arrived in Spain a few weeks earlier by the same route as we were due to take home (Bilbao – Portsmouth), had told us to look out for the guys from Orca, a leading whale and dolphin conservation charity. She explained how they have officers on all Biscay ferries and that they do talks for anyone interested in whale spotting whilst on board. On Cath’s crossing they had seen both whales and dolphins so she urged us to go along. She also told us how, excitable as she is, she had spotted a whale’s blow some way offshore and had so wanted anyone to share the experience that she had run in to the restaurant shouting “I have just seen a whale! Come and see!” to an uninterested breakfast queue. She ran back out again expecting hundreds to follow. None did.

Our curiosity ignited, we trooped along to the talk.
The guys from Orca told us that, as it was Tuesday, it was a good day for sightings. I wondered about that but it’s not because the whales are out and about a bit more on a Tuesday than any other day of the week (I imagined them taking Monday off after a heavy weekend on the krill), it’s because Tuesday sailings spend more daylight hours in Biscay, the place where more sightings occur. It seemed we might be lucky.
We took our positions up on deck. Of course, within a few minutes the kids had all but given up and gone to sit inside. However it didn’t take too long before things got interesting. First we spotted shoals of jumping fish being dive bombed by seabirds, then we saw a pair of bottle nosed dolphins come a-porpoising by. Soon after, with Maggie back on deck, we spotted a large blow ahead. As we came alongside we looked down into the water to see two enormous shapes just below us. We could make out the whales really clearly below the surface, and were easily able to make out the long fins, wide tail and long body. They were fin whales, which are the second largest creature on earth and grow to about 30 metres long. Believe me when I say they are enormous. As we cruised past they rose to the surface and we saw their blow, so close it felt like we could almost touch them. I was a bit slow with the camera but got the image above, to my joy.
We were impressed enough, but the guy from Orca, who was standing right next to us, was over the moon. “That...was...the whale sighting....we have ever had.... on one of these trips. Amazing!” he said breathlessly to Maggie. That made it. We had seen something really special, out there in the vastness of the ocean. I was surprised that we got so close and never imagined that we’d see so much in what I had always considered to be much like a desert for the casual spotter. I thought you had to track whales for weeks. I was wrong. Cetaceans are often seen on the cruises to Santander and Bilbao, so when we saw three more fin whales track across the ocean about five minutes later we got a bit blasé about the whole thing. But how could you? These are endangered, hunted creatures that we could never understand. They have lives that are so different from us and, for that reason, are so very special. After two months of swimming in rivers, climbing mountains, surfing warm seas, eating the finest tapas and camping in some beautiful places, it was the final, incredible, most beautiful ending we could ever have hoped for. And we thought that the pool on the ferry would be exciting.
Like Cath had done a few weeks earlier I felt like running in to the restaurant and shouting “Look outside! Outside the window there are beautiful creatures that you might never see again! Go outside and look whilst you can. There is a creature out there that is bigger than your house! Look!” But out of the thousands of people on board, only a handful had seen the whales. They had passed us by and slipped away into the blue almost unnoticed.  Perhaps it’s best that way.


  1. The perfect end to what has looked like the perfect summer tour - it has been great following your adventures. Hope the ease back into school and work is as painless as it can be for you all!
    Suzie (


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