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Map of the Bay of Biscay.

The Bay of Biscay (Spanish: Golfo de Vizcaya and Mar Cantábrico; French: Golfe de Gascogne; Basque: Bizkaiko Golkoa; Gascon: Golf de Gascougne) or the Cantabrian Sea is a gulf of the northeast Atlantic Ocean located south of the Celtic Sea. It lies along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain west to Punta de Estaca de Bares, and is named for the Spanish province of Biscay.

The average depth is 5,723 feet (1,744 m) and maximum depth is 9,151 feet (2,789 m).



Spanish coast along the Bay of Biscay
Phytoplankton bloom along the Bay of Biscay (photograph by Terra (EOS AM-1) satellite).
Biarritz Beach (Pirineos-Atlánticos)

Parts of the continental shelf 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's fiercest weather. 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.



The International Hydrographic Organization defines the limits of the Bay of Biscay as "a line joining Cap Ortegal (43°46′N 7°52′W / 43.767°N 7.867°W / 43.767; -7.867) to Penmarch Point (47°48′N 4°22′W / 47.8°N 4.367°W / 47.8; -4.367)".[1]


The main rivers that end in the Bay of Biscay are:


As in many West coasts, the phenomenon of June Gloom 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 or they enter the Ebro valley, dry out, and are finally reborn in the form of powerful thunderstorms as they reach the Mediterranean. These depressions cause severe weather at sea and bring light though very constant rain to its shores (known as orballo in northern Spain). Sometimes powerful windstorms form if the pressure falls rapidly, traveling along the Gulf Stream at great speed, resembling a hurricane, and finally crashing in this bay with its maximum power, such as the Klaus storm.

The Gulf Stream enters the bay following the continental shelf's border counterclockwise (the Rennell Current), keeping temperatures smooth all year long.

Main cities

The main cities on the shores of the Bay of Biscay are:


The southern end of the gulf is also called in Spanish "Mar Cantábrico" (Cantabrian Sea), for the region of Cantabria, but this name is not generally used in English. It was named by Romans in 1st century BC as Sinus Cantabrorum (Bay of the Cantabri).

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.

The British yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur finished her first trip around the world here, and there is a famous song based on this.


The coast of the Bay of Biscay - San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (Biscay).

The car ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao and from Plymouth, Portsmouth and Poole to Santander provide one of the most convenient ways to see cetaceans in European waters, and there are often specialist trips on board. Volunteers and employees from the Biscay Dolphin Research Programme regularly observe and monitor cetacean activity from the bridge of the ships on the P&O Portsmouth to Bilbao route. Many species of whales and dolphins can be seen in this area but it is one of the few places where the beaked whales such as the Cuvier's beaked whale 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 seabirds, particularly gannets.

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


  1. ^ Limits of Oceans and Seas (3rd + corrections ed.). International Hydrographic Organization. 1971. p. 42 [corrections to page 13]. Retrieved 19 December 2009.  

Coordinates: 45°05′27″N 3°54′27″W / 45.09083°N 3.9075°W / 45.09083; -3.9075

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BAY OF BISCAY (Fr. Golfe de Gascogne; Sp. Golfo de Vizcaya), an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean; bounded on the E. and N.E. by France, as far as the island of Ushant, and on the S. by Spain as far as Cape Ortegal. The Bay of Biscay is the Sinus Aquitanicus, Sinus Cantabricus or Cantaber Oceanus of the Romans; hence it is sometimes known as the Cantabrian Sea. Its modern English name is a corrupt form of the Spanish Vizcaya. The bay forms a fairly regular curve, broken on the French seaboard only by the estuaries of the Loire, Garonne, Adour and.. other rivers. The rugged Spanish coast is indented by many fjord-like inlets, especially in the west, where navigation is sometimes difficult and dangerous; but its rivers are comparatively unimportant. The exposed position of the bay, and the diversity of its currents, have rendered it notorious for its storms.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


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Proper noun

Bay of Biscay

  1. a gulf of the North Atlantic Ocean along the western coast of France from Brest south to the Spanish border, and the northern coast of Spain, named for the Spanish province of Biscay



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