Santander, northern Spain

Our partnership with ORCA

Brittany Ferries team up with one of Europe's leading whale and dolphin conservation charities, ORCA, to give our passengers the life-changing opportunity to see a whale or dolphin in the wild.

ORCA are dedicated to the long term protection of whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) and their habitats in UK, European and adjoining waters. ORCA freely shares their extensive data with governments and other research institutions.  

ORCA hopes to not only raise awareness about the need for conservation, but to inspire passengers to spot whales and dolphins. By spotting whales and dolphins, passengers will be helping ORCA protect these magnificent marine mammals.


ORCA has Wildlife Officers on board the Cap Finistère and Pont-Aven who deliver engaging and informative presentations about the whales and dolphins that passengers are likely to see on their journey. They also carry out deck watches to help passengers spot whales and dolphins and are on hand to give advice and answer questions about marine mammals. ORCA's Wildlife Officers are on board every March to September to enthuse and educate passengers about the wildlife in the Bay of Biscay. They also share their news of what they've seen en-route by keeping a blog which can be viewed on the ORCA website.

UK and European waters are home to over a 1/3 of the world's whale, dolphin and porpoise species - collectively known as cetaceans. Over 23 different species ranging from the smallest - the tiny harbour porpoise to the enigmatic, shy Cuvier's beaked whales to the very flamboyant acrobatic striped dolphin have been sighted in and around UK waters. Even the largest animal ever to have lived, the blue whale, visits our European waters. ORCA's Wildlife Officers regularly see many different species of dolphins and whales and have been lucky enough to spot the second biggest animal on the planet - the mighty fin whale.

The incredible conservation work ORCA does on our ships | Brittany Ferries

The Bay of Biscay is a great location for seeing whales and dolphins. Reaching depths of 4000m, the Bay provides habitats for a range of different species. If you're lucky enough to cross the Bay on a calm day, you're almost guaranteed to see a whale or dolphin. Here are some of the animals that you are more likely to see:


Common dolphins are the most numerous species likely to be seen with their yellowish figure of eight side markings, followed by striped dolphins, a similarly sized, but a more active animal with grey striping. Bottlenose dolphins also frequent the Bay and our Wildlife Officers have also seen some Risso's dolphins. Pilot Whales are regularly seen, appearing glossy black, slow moving and with a distinctive rounded dorsal fin.


During the mid-summer period, larger whales can often be seen - for instance fin, sei and minke whales. Although fairly elusive, beaked whales are frequently seen in the southern Bay of Biscay area - Cuvier's beaked whales being the most commonly sighted.  Other deep diving species include the sperm whale, which has been sighted diving for prey in the deep waters of the southern Bay of Biscay.  If you are interested in identifying the whales and dolphins you see from the Cap Finistère and Pont-Aven, the ORCA Wildlife Officers will be happy to help. There is also an excellent identification book - "Whales and Dolphins of the European Atlantic". You can buy a copy of this from the Wildlife Officer on board.

Marine Mammal Survey Teams

In addition to our Wildlife Education Programme on board Cap Finistère and Pont-Aven, ORCA seeks to involve as many people from all walks of life to become engaged in cetacean science and have a direct impact on protecting whales and dolphins in our local waters. For more than five years, ORCA has been training volunteers to become qualified Marine Mammal Surveyors who are monitoring whale and dolphin populations in UK, European and adjoining waters. This kind of citizen science approach is incredibly effective in engaging people and helping them understand the true value of the oceans and the marine mammals which live there. Our compassionate citizen science programme ensures that the information we collect has a direct conservation benefit for whales and dolphins. Simply put, members of the public can, via ORCA, play a key role in the future protection of whales and dolphins.

Brittany Ferries Commitment to ORCA's Aims

Brittany Ferries support ORCA's whale and dolphin surveys, particularly the Plymouth to Santander survey, which has been operating for over eleven years. The information collected from ORCA surveys is combined with other European ferry based surveys under the heading, European Cetacean Monitoring Coalition, with the data being available to conservation organisations and Government bodies.