Join in and watch bottle-nosed dolphins
With Gaël, in the heart of Mont-Saint-Michel Bay
A peaceful village, a little beach bathed in turquoise waters and, in the distance, the unmistakable silhouette of Mont-Saint-Michel ... It’s at Port-Mer, in these magical surroundings, that Gaël from the Al-lark Association will be waiting to take you on a sea trip to meet the bottle-nosed dolphins. This is an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
We’re off for 4 hours sailing!
A very short distance out into the bracing waters of the Channel, and here’s our little group aboard the Tursiops II. We all have broad grins on our faces, we’ve got our life-jackets on and the safety announcements have been made. Gaël explains that "On 70 % of trips we do get sightings of some of the 300 bottle-nosed dolphins that pass through the bay. Whether we see a dolphin or not, I hope you’ll have a lovely time. There are plenty of other interesting things to see here!"
A treasure trove of biodiversity
Full of good humour, Gaël explains to us that the extraordinary reefs on the foreshore are made by honeycomb worms, and that whales and orcas are too big to live in the shallow stretch of water in the bay. Gaël is now 30 years old and came to live in Cancale when he was 6; he is passionate about the area and knows it like the back of his hand. Oh look, an odd sort of ball is floating on the surface. He catches it. Whatever could it be? “It’s an ootheca, an egg-mass laid by a whelk. Each capsule conceals 10 of its young. Only one will survive, having eaten its nine brothers and sisters.” Nice little chaps, whelks!
But how are we going to find the dolphins?
“Today, you’re going to be working for the Association. You’ll have to keep scanning the bay, looking for the tiniest glimpse of a fin.” Spotting a 30-centimetre fin in a bay that’s 550 square kilometres, “or twice the surface area of Paris”, seems impossible. “Dolphins can cover 100 kilometres in a day. We were told of some this morning off Chausey.” Heading northwards, we keep our eyes riveted to the horizon. Gaël admits that bottle-nosed dolphins are not the gentle creatures that we might think, from the adventures of Flipper. “You only have to look at the bite-marks in their dorsal fins. In fact it’s these scars, the results of their violent social interaction, that enable us to identify individuals. Our association has set itself the task of counting them, identifying them by photographing the fins in question, and tracking them, to gain a better understating of their lifestyle.”
Fins on the port bow!
Although it’s his first time aboard, it’s Yannick who spots the group of dolphins heading off north-eastwards. We keep our distance. Mustn’t disturb them! “The dolphins will approach the boat if they want to,” our expert explains. There’s mounting excitement on board. Two, four, then six fins slice through the waters. “There must be a good dozen of them!” Suddenly two dolphins jump clear of the water before our astonished gaze. What power! Seeing them swimming around like this in complete freedom makes me resolve never to set foot in a dolphinarium again. The group of cetaceans changes direction and starts milling round in circles. Are they hunting? “Probably. It’s sometimes hard to tell, even after 9 years of observing them.” The dolphins follow codes of behaviour and rhythms that still hold many mysteries for the human mind.
The magic of an encounter
We’ve been following them for nearly an hour. Suddenly, two fine 4-metre specimens pass beneath the hull of our Zodiac. The encounter is fleeting but excitement reaches a peak. Gaël did warn us not to rejoice too loudly but we let out a few oohs and aahs in spite of ourselves. Our heads are filled with wonderful images as we head back to the port, skirting the rocky spurs of the Pointe du Grouin where cormorants and gulls are frolicking. Back on the beach, all smiles, we thank Gaël for this fantastic experience, this childhood dream that has finally come true!
“Study and Observation of Marine Mammals” excursions take place every day from March to November, subject to booking and depending on weather conditions.
Consult the trip timetables and availability HERE
Please note: There is no guarantee of an encounter with the mammals; however, there are sightings on 60% of trips
For all further details of the Al Lark Association, see: http://www.al-lark.org/