Bay of Biscay

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Bay of Biscay
Praia de Bares 4IX2015.jpg
Spanish coastline
Celtic Sea and Bay of Biscay bathymetric map-en.svg
bathymetric map
Location Europe
Coordinates Coordinates: 45°30′N04°20′W / 45.500°N 4.333°W / 45.500; -4.333
Type Gulf
Ocean/sea sources Atlantic Ocean
Basin  countries France, Spain
Max. length593.7 kilometres (368.9 mi)
Max. width511.1 kilometres (317.6 mi)
Surface area223,000 square kilometres (86,000 sq mi)
Average depth1,744 metres (5,722 ft)
Max. depth4,735 metres (15,535 ft)
Water volume389,000 cubic kilometres (93,000 cu mi)
Salinity 35 g.L−1
Map of the Bay of Biscay Bay of Biscay map.svg
Map of the Bay of Biscay

The Bay of Biscay ( /ˈbɪsk,-ki/ ; French : Golfe de Gascogne, Spanish : Golfo de Vizcaya, Occitan : Golf de Gasconha, Breton : Pleg-mor Gwaskogn, Basque : Bizkaiko Golkoa) is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Point Penmarc'h to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Cape Ortegal.


The south area of the Bay of Biscay washes over the northern coast of Spain and is known as the Cantabrian Sea.

The Bay of Biscay is home to some of the Atlantic Ocean's fiercest weather; abnormally high waves occur there.


The Bay of Biscay is named (for English speakers) after Biscay on the northern Spanish coast, probably standing for the western Basque districts (Biscay up to the early 19th century). Its name in other languages is:


Basque coast along the Bay of Biscay Acantilados Vizcaya.JPG
Basque coast along the Bay of Biscay
Biarritz Beach (French Basque Country) Biarritz Phare et Grande Plage.jpg
Biarritz Beach (French Basque Country)

Parts of the continental shelf extend far into the bay, resulting in fairly shallow waters in many areas and thus the rough seas for which the region is known. Large storms occur in the bay, especially during the winter months. The Bay of Biscay is home to some of the Atlantic Ocean's fiercest weather; abnormally high waves occur there. [1] Up until recent years it was a regular occurrence for merchant vessels to founder in Biscay storms.

The average depth is 1,744 metres (5,722 ft) and the greatest depth is 4,735 metres (15,535 ft). [2]


The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Bay of Biscay as "a line joining Cap Ortegal ( 43°46′N7°52′W / 43.767°N 7.867°W / 43.767; -7.867 ) to Penmarch Point ( 47°48′N4°22′W / 47.800°N 4.367°W / 47.800; -4.367 )". [3]

The southernmost portion is the Cantabrian Sea.


The main rivers that empty into the Bay of Biscay are Loire, Charente, Garonne, Dordogne, Adour, Nivelle, Bidasoa, Oiartzun, Urumea, Oria, Urola, Deba, Artibai, Lea, Oka, Nervión, Agüera, Asón, Miera, Pas, Saja, Nansa, Deva, Sella, Nalón, Navia, Esva, Eo, Landro and Sor.


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 or they enter the Ebro Valley, dry out, and are finally reborn in the form of powerful thunderstorms as they reach the Mediterranean Sea. These depressions cause severe weather at sea and bring light though very constant rain to its shores (known as orballo , sirimiri, morrina, orbayu, orpin or calabobos). Sometimes powerful windstorms form if the pressure falls rapidly (Galernas), traveling along the Gulf Stream at great speed, resembling a hurricane and finally crashing in this bay with their maximum power, such as the Klaus storm. [4]

The Gulf Stream 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 Bordeaux, Bayonne, Biarritz, Brest, Nantes, La Rochelle, Donostia-San Sebastián, Bilbao, Santander, Gijón and Avilés.


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 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) and also, Mare Gallaecum (the Sea of the Galicians). On some medieval maps, the Bay of Biscay is marked as El Mar del los Vascos (the Basque Sea). [5]

The Bay of Biscay has been the site of many famous naval engagements over the centuries. In 1592 the Spanish defeated an English fleet during the Battle of the Bay of Biscay. The Biscay campaign of June 1795 consisted of a series of manoeuvres and two battles fought between the British Channel Fleet and the French Atlantic Fleet off the southern coast of Brittany during the second year of the French Revolutionary Wars. USS Californian sank here after striking a naval mine on 22 June 1918. [6] In 1920 SS Afrique sank after losing power and drifting into a reef in a storm with the loss of 575 lives. On 28 December 1943, the Battle of the Bay of Biscay was fought between HMS Glasgow and HMS Enterprise and a group of German destroyers as part of Operation Stonewall during World War II. U-667 sank on 25 August 1944 in position 46°00′N01°30′W / 46.000°N 1.500°W / 46.000; -1.500 , when she struck a mine. All hands were lost.

On 12 April 1970, Soviet submarine K-8 sank in the Bay of Biscay due to a fire that crippled the submarine's nuclear reactors. An attempt to save the sub failed, resulting in the death of forty sailors and the loss of four nuclear torpedoes. Due to the great depth (15,000 feet or 4,600 metres), no salvage operation was attempted.


The coast of the Bay of Biscay - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Biscay)(Basque Country) Gaztelugatxe Connected.jpg
The coast of the Bay of Biscay – San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Biscay)( Basque Country )

Marine mammals

The car ferries from Gijón to Nantes/Saint-Nazaire, Portsmouth to Bilbao and from Plymouth, Portsmouth and Poole to Santander provide one of the most convenient ways to see cetaceans in European waters. Often specialist groups take the ferries to hear more information. Volunteers and employees of ORCA regularly observe and monitor cetacean activity from the bridge of the ships on Brittany Ferries' Portsmouth to Santander route. Many species of whales and dolphins can be seen in this area. Most importantly, it is one of the few places in the world where the beaked whales, such as the Cuvier's beaked whale, have been observed relatively frequently. Biscay Dolphin Research monitored cetacean activity from the P&O Ferries cruiseferry Pride of Bilbao , on voyages from Portsmouth to Bilbao.

North Atlantic right whales, one of the most endangered whales, once came to the bay for feeding and probably for calving as well, but whaling activities by Basque people almost wiped them out sometime prior to 1850s. The eastern population of this species are considered to be almost extinct, and there has been no record of right whales in the Bay of Biscay except for a pair in 1977 (possibly a mother and calf) at 43°00′N10°30′W / 43.000°N 10.500°W / 43.000; -10.500 , [7] and another pair in June 1980. Other records in the late 20th century include one off Galicia at 43°00′N10°30′W / 43.000°N 10.500°W / 43.000; -10.500 in September 1977 reported by a whaling company and another one seen off the Iberian Peninsula.

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

The alga Colpomenia peregrina was introduced and first noticed in 1906 by oyster fishermen in the Bay of Biscay.

Grammatostomias flagellibarba (scaleless dragonfish) are native to these waters. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Geography of Spain

Spain is a country located in southwestern Europe occupying most of the Iberian Peninsula. It also includes a small exclave inside France called Llívia, as well as the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean 108 km (67 mi) off northwest Africa, and five places of sovereignty on and off the coast of North Africa: Ceuta, Melilla, Islas Chafarinas, Peñón de Alhucemas, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera.

Biscay Province of Spain

Biscay is a province of Spain, lying on the south shore of the eponymous bay. The name also refers to a historical territory of the Basque Country, heir of the ancient Lordship of Biscay. Its capital city is Bilbao. It is one of the most prosperous and important provinces of Spain as a result of the massive industrialization in the last years of the 19th century and first half of the 20th century. Since the deep deindustrialization of the 1970s, the economy has come to rely more on the services sector.

Nervión river in Spain

The Nervión river runs through the city of Bilbao, Spain into the Cantabrian Sea. Its lowermost course, downstream of its confluence with the Ibaizabal River, is known as the Estuary of Bilbao.

Cantabrian Sea Sea in the southern Bay of Biscay off the coast of Spain

The Cantabrian Sea is the coastal sea of the Atlantic Ocean that washes the northern coast of Spain and the southwest side of the Atlantic coast of France; it represents the south area of the Bay of Biscay. It extends from the cape Estaca de Bares in the province of A Coruña, to the mouth of the Adour river, near the city of Bayonne on the coast of the department of Pyrenees Atlantiques in French Basque Country.

Karrantza Municipality in País Vasco, Spain

Karrantza Harana/Valle de Carranza, is a town and municipality located in the province of Biscay, in the Basque Country. It is located in the comarca of Enkarterri and it is the westernmost and largest municipality of the province.

Orio municipality of Spain

Orio is a fishing town located in the province of Gipuzkoa in the Basque Autonomous Community, northern Spain, with the town nucleus lying on the river Oria, roughly one mile away from its mouth by the Bay of Biscay. Orio had a population of 5,901 inhabitants as of 2016.

Mundaka Municipality in Euskadi, Spain

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Plentzia Municipality in Basque Country, Spain

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The Port of Bilbao is located on the Bilbao Abra bay, and along the Estuary of Bilbao, in Biscay. The main facilities are in the Santurtzi and Zierbena municipalities, approximately 15 km (9.3 mi) west of Bilbao. Also called Exterior Port and Superpuerto, the port complex occupies 3.13 km² of land and 16.94 km² of water along 17 km (10.6 mi) of waterfront.

Busturialdea Eskualdea / Comarca in Basque Country, Spain

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Biscay is a Basque province in Spain.

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Biscay Championship

The Biscay Regional Championship(Campeonato Regional de Vizcaya), also called the North Regional Championship(Campeonato Regional Norte) in its early editions, was an official football tournament in Spain organised by the North Football Federation.

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  1. A Summary of Wave Data Needs and Availability: A Report. 1979. p. 7. The Gulf Steam off Cape Hatteras, the Gulf of Alaska, the English Channel, and the Bay of Biscay are some of the other areas where storms and current combine to produce abnormally high, steep waves.
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