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Whale And Dolphin Calves In The Bay Of Biscay


The Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has recorded an increasing number of whale & dolphin calves and juveniles in the Bay of Biscay and English Channel during the spring and summer months confirming the importance of the area as a calving ground and an area probably used by many species during the post-natal period.

Clive Martin, BDRP Director and Senior Wildlife Officer said: “In May we started to record calves amongst the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) pods which are often encountered bow riding the Pride of Bilbao, we have also encountered Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) calves in the English Channel. A number of Fin (Balaenoptera physalus) and Sperm Whale (Physeter macrocephalus) calves and juveniles have also been encountered during May and June.”

The calves can easy be distinguished from adults by their smaller size (less than half that of adult) and their close association with an adult, presumably their mother.

Dr Tom Brereton, BDRP Scientific Officer said: “From the unique BDRP Biscay sighting database which spans the last 10 years, calves from a number of cetacean species start to be seen regularly in June and July. Encounters continue during the summer months when calves of Common (Delphinus delphis), Striped ( and Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), Fin Whales (Balaenoptera physalus), Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus), Pilot Whales (Globicephala melas) and Cuvier’s Beaked Whales (Ziphius cavirostris) are seen.”

Clive Martin and Matt Hobbs also from BDRP, who was leading a Company of Whales tour, witnessed an incredible sighting of Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) on a July crossing of Biscay. Over 3500 dolphins were seen during the passage south with a single pod in excess of 1000 individuals, with more than 50 juveniles and calves – this clearly demonstrates the importance of the area for this species.

The Bay of Biscay may be a calving ground for several species of cetacean and is probably used by many of these species during the post-natal period. The northern Biscay-Celtic shelf-break in particular provides an abundant source of food for animals during the summer and autumn period due to highly elevated marine productivity. This productivity is driven by internal tidal waves mainly caused by the interaction of surface tides with steep and complex sea-bed topography. For Common Dolphins (Delphinus delphis) and other species, this super-abundance of food provides the ideal conditions to feed extra mouths.

With many cetaceans under threat from over fishing, by-catch and habitat destruction in many parts of the World, habitats such as Biscay which provide important feeding areas for a wide range of cetacean species and for mothers with calves are critically important and need to be protected.

Evidence from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programmes extensive database of cetacean sightings in the European Atlantic and its continuing research, together with its close links with members of the Atlantic Research Coalition (ARC), indicate that the Bay of Biscay is of high significance in European terms for a number of threatened species, including the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus), the Common Dolphin (Delphinus delphis) and the Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus) yet the slope and canyon waters of Biscay, which are favoured by cetaceans, do not currently have specific protection as a habitat.

For further information on the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) please contact Adrian Shephard, Public Relations & Publicity Officer at or visit the website at

Adrian Shephard | alfa
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