Bay of Biscay
Overview
 
The Bay of Biscay is a gulf
Bay
A bay is an area of water mostly surrounded by land. Bays generally have calmer waters than the surrounding sea, due to the surrounding land blocking some waves and often reducing winds. Bays also exist as an inlet in a lake or pond. A large bay may be called a gulf, a sea, a sound, or a bight...

 of the northeast Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 located south of the Celtic Sea
Celtic Sea
The Celtic Sea is the area of the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Ireland bounded to the east by Saint George's Channel; other limits include the Bristol Channel, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay, as well as adjacent portions of Wales, Cornwall, Devon, and Brittany...

. It lies along the western coast of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 from Brest
Brest, France
Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

 south to the Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal, and is named in English after the province of Biscay
Biscay
Biscay is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao...

, in the Spanish Basque Country
Basque Country (autonomous community)
The Basque Country is an autonomous community of northern Spain. It includes the Basque provinces of Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa, also called Historical Territories....

.

The average depth is 1744 metres (5,721.8 ft) and maximum depth is 2789 metres (9,150.3 ft).
Parts of the continental shelf
Continental shelf
The continental shelf is the extended perimeter of each continent and associated coastal plain. Much of the shelf was exposed during glacial periods, but is now submerged under relatively shallow seas and gulfs, and was similarly submerged during other interglacial periods. The continental margin,...

 extend far into the bay, resulting in fairly shallow water in many areas and thus cause the rough seas for which the region is known.
Encyclopedia
The Bay of Biscay is a gulf
Bay
A bay is an area of water mostly surrounded by land. Bays generally have calmer waters than the surrounding sea, due to the surrounding land blocking some waves and often reducing winds. Bays also exist as an inlet in a lake or pond. A large bay may be called a gulf, a sea, a sound, or a bight...

 of the northeast Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

 located south of the Celtic Sea
Celtic Sea
The Celtic Sea is the area of the Atlantic Ocean off the south coast of Ireland bounded to the east by Saint George's Channel; other limits include the Bristol Channel, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay, as well as adjacent portions of Wales, Cornwall, Devon, and Brittany...

. It lies along the western coast of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 from Brest
Brest, France
Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

 south to the Spanish
Spain
Spain , officially the Kingdom of Spain languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Spain's official name is as follows:;;;;;;), is a country and member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula...

 border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal, and is named in English after the province of Biscay
Biscay
Biscay is a province of Spain and a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lord of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao...

, in the Spanish Basque Country
Basque Country (autonomous community)
The Basque Country is an autonomous community of northern Spain. It includes the Basque provinces of Álava, Biscay and Gipuzkoa, also called Historical Territories....

.

The average depth is 1744 metres (5,721.8 ft) and maximum depth is 2789 metres (9,150.3 ft).

Geography

Parts of the continental shelf
Continental shelf
The continental shelf is the extended perimeter of each continent and associated coastal plain. Much of the shelf was exposed during glacial periods, but is now submerged under relatively shallow seas and gulfs, and was similarly submerged during other interglacial periods. The continental margin,...

 extend far into the bay, resulting in fairly shallow water in many areas and thus cause the rough seas for which the region is known. The Bay of Biscay is home to some of the Atlantic Ocean
Atlantic Ocean
The Atlantic Ocean is the second-largest of the world's oceanic divisions. With a total area of about , it covers approximately 20% of the Earth's surface and about 26% of its water surface area...

's fiercest weather
Weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, to the degree that it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers, generally, to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate...

. Large storms occur in the bay, especially during the winter months. Up until recent years it was a regular occurrence for merchant vessels to founder in Biscay storms, and many lives were lost. Improved ships and weather prediction have reduced the toll of the storms.

Extent

The International Hydrographic Organization
International Hydrographic Organization
The International Hydrographic Organization is the inter-governmental organisation representing the hydrographic community. It enjoys observer status at the UN and is the recognised competent authority on hydrographic surveying and nautical charting...

 defines the limits of the Bay of Biscay as "a line joining Cap Ortegal
Ortegal
Ortegal is a comarca in the Galician Province of A Coruña. The overall population of this local region is 15,810 .-Municipalities:Cariño, Cerdido, Mañón and Ortigueira....

 (43°46′N 7°52′W) to Penmarch Point
Point Penmarc'h
Point Penmarc'h, often spelled Point Penmarch, or in French Pointe de Penmarc'h, is the extremity of a small peninsula in Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France, and the northern limit of the Bay of Biscay....

 (47°48′N 4°22′W)".

Rivers

The main rivers that empty into the Bay of Biscay are:
  • France (north to south): Loire, Charente
    Charente River
    The Charente is a 381 km long river in southwestern France.Its source is in the Haute-Vienne département at Chéronnac, a small village near Rochechouart. It flows through the departments of Haute-Vienne, Charente, Vienne and Charente-Maritime...

    , Garonne
    Garonne
    The Garonne is a river in southwest France and northern Spain, with a length of .-Source:The Garonne's headwaters are to be found in the Aran Valley in the Pyrenees, though three different locations have been proposed as the true source: the Uelh deth Garona at Plan de Beret , the Ratera-Saboredo...

    , Dordogne
    Dordogne River
    The Dordogne is a river in south-central and southwest France.-Name:Contrary to appearances, the name of the Dordogne is not a recent word resulting from the names of the Dore and the Dogne...

    , Adour
    Adour
    The Adour is a river in southwestern France. It rises in High-Bigorre , at the Col du Tourmalet, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Bayonne. It is long, of which the uppermost as the Adour du Tourmalet. At its final stretch, i.e...

    , Nivelle
    Nivelle river
    The Nivelle is a 41 km long river in the Basque Country flowing largely south-east to north-west, with only 7 km of its length being considered navigable...

    .
  • Spain (east to west): Bidasoa
    Bidasoa
    The Bidasoa is a river in the Basque Country of northern Spain and southern France that runs largely south to north. Named as such downstream of the small town of Oronoz-Mugairi in the province of Navarre, the river actually results from the merge of several streams near the village Erratzu, with...

    , Oiartzun, Urumea
    Urumea
    The Urumea a" 'thin') is a river in the Basque Country at the north of the Iberian Peninsula. It's one of a series of Basque rivers flowing into the Bay of Biscay and best known for being the river flowing to the sea on the city of San Sebastian...

    , Oria
    Oria River
    The Oria is a river in the Basque Country at the north of the Iberian Peninsula. It's one of a series of Basque rivers flowing into the Bay of Biscay and the main river of the province Gipuzkoa in volume , length and basin , the main feature of these rivers aligned south to north being their...

    , Urola
    Urola
    The Urola is a river and valley in Gipuzkoa , Basque Country, Spain.The river is only 55 kilometres in length, and runs from headwaters in the Aizkorri Mountains, near the town of Legazpi to its outflow into the Cantabrian Sea at the town of Zumaia on the Bay of Biscay...

    , Deba
    Deba River
    The Deba River is a river in the Basque Country, Spain. It rises in Arlaban, into Araba province lands, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean, in the Bay of Biscay, in Deba Gipuzkoa province....

    , Artibai, Oka, Nervión
    Nervión
    The river Nervión runs through the city of Bilbao, Spain into the Cantabrian Sea .It is also known as Estuary of Bilbao on its final tract, from the joining with Ibaizabal river to the sea.-Geography:...

    , Agüera, Asón
    ASON
    ASON is a concept for the evolution of transport networks which allows for dynamic policy-driven control of an optical or SDH network based on signaling between a user and components of the network. Its aim is to automate the resource and connection management within the network...

    , Miera, Pas
    Pas River
    The Pas River is located in the region of Cantabria in the northern part of Spain. The river flows through the autonomous community of Cantabria and empties into the Cantabric Sea.-See also :* List of rivers of Spain...

    , Saja, Nansa, Deva, Nalón
    Nalón River
    The Nalón is a 153km long river and the longest river in the autonomous community of Asturias, Spain. It joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay of Biscay in San Esteban de Pravia. Its tributaries include the Narcea River.-See also :* List of rivers of Spain...

    , Navia, Eo
    Eo River
    The Eo is a river in northwestern Spain. Some 91 km in length, its estuary forms the boundary between the regions of Galicia and Asturias. The river is known for its salmon fishing.-External links:*...

    , Landro, Sor
    Sor Mañón
    The River Sor of Mañón flows between the provinces of A Coruña and Lugo, in the autonomous community of Galicia, Spain.The river has an impressive waterfall called Augas Caídas in Mañon parish....

    .

Weather

As in many west coasts, the phenomenon of June Gloom
June Gloom
June Gloom is a southern California term for a weather pattern that results in cloudy, overcast skies with cool temperatures during the late spring and early summer. June Gloom in southern California is caused by the marine layer effect common to the West Coast, and is enhanced by the Catalina eddy...

 is common. In late spring and early summer a large fog triangle fills the southwestern half of the bay, covering just a few kilometres inland.

As winter begins, weather becomes severe. Depressions enter from the west very frequently and they either bounce north to the British Isles
British Isles
The British Isles are a group of islands off the northwest coast of continental Europe that include the islands of Great Britain and Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles. There are two sovereign states located on the islands: the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and...

 or they enter the Ebro Valley, dry out, and are finally reborn in the form of powerful thunderstorms as they reach the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

. These depressions cause severe weather at sea and bring light though very constant rain to its shores (known as orballo
Drizzle
Drizzle is a light rain precipitation consisting of liquid water drops smaller than those of rain, and generally smaller than 0.5 mm in diameter. Drizzle is normally produced by low stratiform clouds and stratocumulus clouds. Precipitation rates due to drizzle are on the order of a millimetre...

, sirimiri, morrina or calabobos in northern Spain). Sometimes powerful windstorms form if the pressure falls rapidly, traveling along the Gulf Stream
Gulf Stream
The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean...

 at great speed, resembling a hurricane, and finally crashing in this bay with their maximum power, such as the Klaus storm.

The Gulf Stream
Gulf Stream
The Gulf Stream, together with its northern extension towards Europe, the North Atlantic Drift, is a powerful, warm, and swift Atlantic ocean current that originates at the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Newfoundland before crossing the Atlantic Ocean...

 enters the bay following the continental shelf's border anti-clockwise (the Rennell Current), keeping temperatures moderate all year long.

Main cities

The main cities on the shores of the Bay of Biscay are:
  • France: Brest
    Brest, France
    Brest is a city in the Finistère department in Brittany in northwestern France. Located in a sheltered position not far from the western tip of the Breton peninsula, and the western extremity of metropolitan France, Brest is an important harbour and the second French military port after Toulon...

    , Nantes
    Nantes
    Nantes is a city in western France, located on the Loire River, from the Atlantic coast. The city is the 6th largest in France, while its metropolitan area ranks 8th with over 800,000 inhabitants....

    , La Rochelle
    La Rochelle
    La Rochelle is a city in western France and a seaport on the Bay of Biscay, a part of the Atlantic Ocean. It is the capital of the Charente-Maritime department.The city is connected to the Île de Ré by a bridge completed on 19 May 1988...

    , Bordeaux
    Bordeaux
    Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River in the Gironde department in southwestern France.The Bordeaux-Arcachon-Libourne metropolitan area, has a population of 1,010,000 and constitutes the sixth-largest urban area in France. It is the capital of the Aquitaine region, as well as the prefecture...

    , Bayonne
    Bayonne
    Bayonne is a city and commune in south-western France at the confluence of the Nive and Adour rivers, in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department, of which it is a sub-prefecture...

    , Biarritz
    Biarritz
    Biarritz is a city which lies on the Bay of Biscay, on the Atlantic coast, in south-western France. It is a luxurious seaside town and is popular with tourists and surfers....

    .
  • Spain: Donostia-San Sebastián, Bilbao
    Bilbao
    Bilbao ) is a Spanish municipality, capital of the province of Biscay, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. With a population of 353,187 , it is the largest city of its autonomous community and the tenth largest in Spain...

    , Santander
    Santander, Cantabria
    The port city of Santander is the capital of the autonomous community and historical region of Cantabria situated on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 183,446 .-History:...

    , Gijón
    Gijón
    Gijón , officially Gijón / Xixón, is a coastal industrial city and a municipality in the autonomous community of Asturias in Spain. Early mediaeval texts mention it as "Gigia". It was an important regional Roman city, although the area has been settled since earliest history...

    , Avilés
    Avilés
    Avilés is a city in Asturias, Spain. Avilés is with Oviedo and Gijón, one of the main towns in the Principality of Asturias.The town occupies the flattest land in the municipality, in a land that belonged to the sea, surrounded by small promontories, all of them having an altitude of less than...

    .

History

The southern end of the gulf is also called in Spanish "Mar Cantábrico" (Cantabrian Sea), from the Estaca de Bares, as far as the mouth of Adour
Adour
The Adour is a river in southwestern France. It rises in High-Bigorre , at the Col du Tourmalet, and flows into the Atlantic Ocean near Bayonne. It is long, of which the uppermost as the Adour du Tourmalet. At its final stretch, i.e...

 river, but this name is not generally used in English. It was named by Romans in the 1st century BC as Sinus Cantabrorum (Bay of the Cantabri
Cantabri
The Cantabri were a pre-Roman Celtic people which lived in the northern Atlantic coastal region of ancient Hispania, from the 4th to late 1st centuries BC.-Origins:...

), more frequently, Mare Gallaecum.

On some medieval maps, the Bay of Biscay is marked as El Mar del los Vascos (the Basque Sea). The Bay of Biscay is the birthplace of what is considered one of the world's most successful and most renowned maritime industries, the Basque and Cantabrian shipbuilders and fishermen.

Wildlife

The car ferries from Portsmouth
Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Portsmouth is notable for being the United Kingdom's only island city; it is located mainly on Portsea Island...

 to Bilbao
Bilbao
Bilbao ) is a Spanish municipality, capital of the province of Biscay, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country. With a population of 353,187 , it is the largest city of its autonomous community and the tenth largest in Spain...

 and from Plymouth
Plymouth
Plymouth is a city and unitary authority area on the coast of Devon, England, about south-west of London. It is built between the mouths of the rivers Plym to the east and Tamar to the west, where they join Plymouth Sound...

, Portsmouth
Portsmouth
Portsmouth is the second largest city in the ceremonial county of Hampshire on the south coast of England. Portsmouth is notable for being the United Kingdom's only island city; it is located mainly on Portsea Island...

 and Poole
Poole
Poole is a large coastal town and seaport in the county of Dorset, on the south coast of England. The town is east of Dorchester, and Bournemouth adjoins Poole to the east. The Borough of Poole was made a unitary authority in 1997, gaining administrative independence from Dorset County Council...

 to Santander
Santander, Cantabria
The port city of Santander is the capital of the autonomous community and historical region of Cantabria situated on the north coast of Spain. Located east of Gijón and west of Bilbao, the city has a population of 183,446 .-History:...

 provide one of the most convenient ways to see cetaceans in Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

an waters, and there are often specialist trips on board. Volunteers and employees of Biscay Dolphin Research regularly observe and monitor cetacean activity from the bridge of the ships on the P&O Ferries
P&O Ferries
P&O Ferries is the current name for the amalgamation of a range of ferry services that operated from the United Kingdom to Ireland and Continental Europe...

 Portsmouth to Bilbao route. Many species of whale
Whale
Whale is the common name for various marine mammals of the order Cetacea. The term whale sometimes refers to all cetaceans, but more often it excludes dolphins and porpoises, which belong to suborder Odontoceti . This suborder also includes the sperm whale, killer whale, pilot whale, and beluga...

s and dolphin
Dolphin
Dolphins are marine mammals that are closely related to whales and porpoises. There are almost forty species of dolphin in 17 genera. They vary in size from and , up to and . They are found worldwide, mostly in the shallower seas of the continental shelves, and are carnivores, mostly eating...

s can be seen in this area but it is one of the few places where the beaked whale
Beaked whale
Beaked whales are 21 species of toothed whales, members of the family Ziphiidae, are notable for their elongated beaks. Beaked whales are one of the world's most extreme divers. They can dive for long periods—20 to 30 minutes is common, and 85 minute dives have been recorded—and to...

s such as the Cuvier's beaked whale
Cuvier's Beaked Whale
Cuvier's beaked whale is the most widely distributed of all the beaked whales. It is the only member of the genus Ziphius. Another common name for the species is goose-beaked whale because its head is said to be shaped like the beak of a goose. Georges Cuvier first described it in 1823 from part...

 have been observed relatively frequently. This is the best study area for beaked whales in the world.

The best areas to see the larger cetaceans lie in the deep waters beyond the continental shelf, particularly over the Santander Canyon and Torrelavega Canyon in the south of the Bay.

The three-day round trip also gives sightings of good numbers of several species of seabird
Seabird
Seabirds are birds that have adapted to life within the marine environment. While seabirds vary greatly in lifestyle, behaviour and physiology, they often exhibit striking convergent evolution, as the same environmental problems and feeding niches have resulted in similar adaptations...

s, particularly gannet
Gannet
Gannets are seabirds comprising the genus Morus, in the family Sulidae, closely related to the boobies.The gannets are large black and white birds with yellow heads. They have long pointed wings and long bills. Northern gannets are the largest seabirds in the North Atlantic, with a wingspan of up...

s.

The alga Colpomenia peregrina
Colpomenia peregrina
Colpomenia peregrina Hamel is a seaweed not native to the British Isles but recorded in Ireland since 1934. It appears to have been introduced from the Pacific and was first noticed in Europe in 1906 on oyster beds. It has now been recorded throughout the eastern north Atlantic from Norway and...

was introduced and first noticed by oyster fishermen in the Bay of Biscay in 1906.
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