Fin Whale Numbers Start Their Annual Increase In The Bay Of Biscay

Early summer sees the start of the annual increase in sightings in the Bay of Biscay of the second largest whale in the World, the Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus). This is a spectacular event for waters so close to British Shores.


Fin Whales are the second largest species of whale on the planet! They can measure up to 24 meters in length and suffered significant hunting during the whaling days. They have a varied diet including fish and krill and tend to ignore or are insensitive to ships in their vicinity, often leading to some very close encounters with whale watchers.

From the P&O Cruise Ferry, the Pride of Bilbao, The Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) has been monitoring Fin Whales in the Bay of Biscay continuously over the last 10 years amassing a unique database. BDRP research data has demonstrated that Fin Whales are present in the Bay of Biscay almost year round, but reach highest numbers during the summer months (June – September), where they are observed feeding in groups containing mother calf pairs in the deep water over the abyssal plain and on the continental slope, which runs through the Bay. This strongly suggests that Fin Whales display a seasonal post-natal migration in the Bay of Biscay.

Dr Tom Brereton, BDRP Director and Principle Scientific Officer said: “Our research shows that the number of observed Fin Whales drops during the winter months and sightings tend to be sporadic. With the approach of spring, the number of Fin Whales observed begins to increase and remains high during the summer and autumn, presumably driven by high productivity in the area. This productivity results from upwellings along the continental slope, which power the food chain”.

Of the 2005 season and the previous year, Clive Martin, BDRP Director and Senior Wildlife Officer said: “We recorded a steady increase in sightings of Fin Whales during April 2005 which correlated well with records from 2004. On one particular crossing, 2 whales surfaced alongside the Pride of Bilbao giving very close encounters for the passengers. In May 2005, mothers with young were encountered on a number of crossings”.

“2004 was a good year for Fin Whale sightings in the Bay of Biscay, with multiple encounters experienced on most crossings of the Bay. Numbers reached a high in August, with 138 Fin Whales recorded on a single return trip and a total of over 500 individual Fin Whale sightings seen that month”.

Fin Whales are a threatened species and are protected in Europe by extensive legislation, they are listed in Appendix I of CITES, Annex IV of the Habitats directive, Appendix II of the Bern convention, Appendices 1 and 2 of the Bonn convention and are the subject of conservation activities by ACCOBAMS.

The findings of BDRP demonstrate the importance of the Bay of Biscay as a summer feeding area and also suggest that the Bay could be used as a calving ground for Fin Whales. BDRP urges that further legislation is bought into force to protect this valuable habitat.

For further information on the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme (BDRP) please contact Adrian Shephard, Public Relations & Publicity Officer on at adrian.shephard@biscay-dolphin.com or visit the website.

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