On board Silurian
Silurian is HWDTs research and
Most weeks April through October she is either monitoring
the waters of the west coast of Scotland for whales, dolphins, and
porpoises, or serving as a floating classroom for one of the many Argyll
island primary and secondary schools.
log below to find out what Silurian and her crew have been up to each
week and all about the whales, dolphins and porpoises they spot!
To find out about the latest marine life sightings spotted elsewhere,
If you would like to send the crew an e-mail with your questions click here.
Click here to view the Silurian Log archive.
Thursday 25th August
So our time on board Silurian has come to an end and all the volunteers, as well as the crew, are sad to say goodbye. A fabulous ten days of adventures and merriment! It hasn’t mattered too much that we haven’t spotted the ‘big 6’ as we have all enjoyed the experience immensely and our creative tendencies have flourished! I don’t think the ‘happening hub of the Hebrides’ knows quite what’s hit it! Searching for fins on the horizon, chasing rainbows in the rain, gaining friendships and an experience never to be forgotten. I don’t think any of us could have asked for more!
Log by: Fi
We All Live in a Big White Yacht (to the tune of ‘Yellow Submarine’)
In the land where we are from
We went searching for Minke whales
But all we saw were basking sharks
Bloody things were everywhere
We all live in a big white yacht, a big white yacht, a big white yacht
We all live in a big white yacht, a big white yacht, a big white yacht
As Silurian set sail
In wind, sleet and hail
All the animals did flee
So there was nothing for us to see
As our skipper had gone mad
But so had we just a tad
Too little space and too much food
We lost our sanity but it was good
Our first mate has many skills
Like cooking food with all the frills
But most important of them all
Is keeping Dave on the ball!
But the crew was not complete
Without Penny, the boys were weak
She always made lots of tea
And loved to be out at sea
So as we sailed out to sea
All the waves as big as me
Through the swell some porpoises
A seal or two or even three
There was rubbish everywhere
For us to log, so beware
There was nothing in the sea
That can live or even breathe
We looked upon the coast of Coll
To see a whale breach and fall
But Minke whales were not to be found
Show yourself or make a sound
Scrap the dating agency
If you’re looking desperately
There are buoys all around
Though they’re orange and far too round
In our sexy oilskins
We pranced about like we were kings
But the dolphins didnae ken
That we were’nae fishermen
A forecast lacking confidence
Made the skipper very tense
So we sailed to Tobermory
To save us from a fatal story
So the final day has come
We sailed past Eigg, Muck and Rhum
We had fun so we don’t care
That the Minke whales were’nae there
Song writing is a must
For the Whale and Dolphin Trust
Take a holiday like mine
For a whale of a time
Wednesday 24th August
Location: Tobermory Harbour
Distance travelled: 26 miles
Weather: Tail end of some gales, wind, rain, sleet and sunshine
With the luxury of a long lie this morning and still recovering from the after effects of overdosing on Abi’s chocolate cheesecake we set out on what was to be a short survey mission hoping not to stray too far from the shelter of Tobermory. After the rock and roll ride round the Red Red Rocks we proceeded down the Sound of Mull, past Glenborrodale Castle on into the depths of Loch Sunart. Due to the late departure of the day, it was not long before lunch was on our minds though. With an all female group of volunteers on board the first buoy found as we entered Tobermory harbour the night before had been traded in for some crabs, enabling Marcus to serve up a delightful lunch of crab sandwiches. Shortly after, the hydrophone went hyper as over thirty porpoises were detected in the not too distant waters, though of course these remained undetectable to all on deck. Penny, did however have a sighting though this may merely have been an effort by the Science Officer to maintain spirits that these illusionary animals were still out there.
With the gales gaining momentum the gruesome twosome (Fiona and myself) were put back on effort at the mast. As punishment for our literary languishings the day before, Skipper had us strapped to the mast for some swell surveying, being unable to see any further than the next wave. Songwriting soon took a back seat as all efforts were focused on our ability to breathe. Unable even to open our eyes, and the crew deliberately giving us no forewarning of the fast approaching storm, we were pummelled to the mast by a ferocious storm, hailstones hacking at our clear complexions. Where our earlier saltwater facial had been a refreshing experience, Skipper eventually took pity on us and came to the rescue as we shrouded ourselves from the severe stinging we were been served. Needless to say our creativity was lacking resulting in only one further verse of “We all live in a big white yacht”.
With a short detour into Bloody Bay we bolted back to the tame waters of Tobermory and the backdrop of some magnificent Mull rainbows. Having experienced four seasons in one day rest and recuperation was required before quiz night at McGochans. So Skipper and his Silurian underlings go in search of some success (Team name: the battered and bruised) and a change from the developing obsession with Su-doka puzzles on board…
Log by: Josephine
Tuesday 23rd August
Location: Tobermory Harbour
Distance travelled: 34 miles
Weather: WINDY! Rain and force six then overcast then fair then overcast then rain (awaiting gales!)
Last night, the picturesque surroundings at our Ulva mooring and another beautiful sunset gave me the idea that another swim would be pleasant. This time I threw myself into the chilly Scottish waters without my wetsuit, to prove that I could do it properly. Immediately I knew there was no chance of me being able to attempt a Silurian swimming record and focussed on staying sufficiently relaxed to breathe and stay above water. The length of the Silurian seemed very long with all my muscles ceasing up. My whole body was numb and tingling when I pulled myself out of the water after only one lap. My fellow volunteers and crew were probably shocked to encounter me so quiet!
This morning, I woke up to the sound of the rain lashing against the window and opened my eyes to an ominously dark sky. The rocking of the boat in the relative shelter of our mooring hinted at the weather ahead. Our trusty dinghy was tied up on deck for fear of it being swept away. Then we set off into force six winds with our life jackets on and clipped ourselves onto the boat. The safety of the volunteers was too highly valued to risk attempting visual surveys this morning. We braved the elements at the back of the boat and enjoyed the rollercoaster ride. The shearwaters and kittiwakes were out in force, apparently revelling in the windy weather. We were lucky enough to glimpse one particularly skilled kittiwake wrestling with a very wriggly fish.
While gazing through the spray at the numerous white caps our eagerness was rewarded when a group of several harbour porpoises leapt through the swell. Moments later a seal optimistically popped up mistaking us for fishermen in our delightful yellow oilskins!
The weather calmed down and on effort observations commenced. Despite the promise of a pint for the first person to spot a basking shark, there were no further sightings of the animal variety (we also log litter and boat activity). We kept ourselves entertained (while also dedicatedly scanning the sea for wildlife) by composing a new version of Yellow Submarine (soon to be released on the HWDT web site).
I overheard the coast guard reporting of approaching force nine or ten gales and unable to find the definition of such weather in our notes for filling out environmental data on the computer I made the mistake of looking it up in a book. Not what you want to discover while you’re still out at sea. The skipper took us to the refuge of Tobermory Harbour during this afternoon’s calm before the storm. This gave me the opportunity to nip into the supermarket for the ingredients to make my soon legendary chocolate cheesecake. Well fed on Fi’s delicious macaroni cheese followed by copious desert, we await the worsening weather.
Log by Abi
Monday 22nd August
Location; South side of Ulva
Distance travelled; 49 miles
Weather; Fine and sunny, little bit of wind
We left Bunessan this morning about 8.30am and headed around the northern shore of Iona and out westwards. The conditions were too poor to survey offshore so we turned about and headed up Loch Scridain. Soon after we spotted our first Ocean Sun Fish, it was a baby one and floated quite closely past the ship, it almost appeared to be waving at us with its fin slapping from side to side!
We then carried on into Loch Scridain and continued surveying, in between making cups of tea and bacon sarnies (or cheese sarnies for the veggies!). On leaving the loch we continued on to Staffa and slowly sailed past the island so we could have a look at geographical features of the island and although not a very big island, today it seemed to have a lot of visitors walking about on it!
We then encountered 2 Harbour Porpoises who swam past the ship continuing on their journey in the Atlantic Sea. Soon after we were excited to spot a juvenile Basking Shark, but we needn’t have worried as soon after about 6 more showed up, ranging from more juveniles to fully grown adults (which were huge!)
We continued around the Treshnish Iles and made our way to Ulva where we docked for the night. After dinner we got in the dinghy and went out to a small deserted island which we explored for a while. We then went over to the mainland and explored some ruins on South side of the island before heading back to the Silurian for a glass of wine and a good night’s sleep.
Log by Sharon
Sunday 21st August
Location: Bunessen, Ross of Mull
Distance travelled: 50 miles
Weather: Drizzle, overcast & more drizzle
Not long after last night’s dinner, Fi and I leapt into the chilly waters of Loch Tarbet. No one else was brave (crazy?) enough to join us for a swim. Admittedly I was wearing a wetsuit (but only a 3mm shortie one, and I am a southerner) so Fi was the only truly brave one. I felt the need to beat the Silurian swimming record of one lap around the boat so swam round twice. This may not sound like much but trust me the shock of the cold water and the lack of feeling in numb limbs makes this quite a feat. Nearby, an inquisitive common seal took in the spectacle. I can’t begin to imagine what it made of it. I bet it had never seen such an attempt at swimming. After providing the entertainment, Fi and I enjoyed some much needed whiskey and warm showers (I never knew the on board shower could feel so good). Around sunset we all headed off in the dinghy for an adventure. Marcus lead us to one of Jura’s famous raised beaches. I’ve never seen anything like it. It was out of this world. There were perfectly-formed rows of smooth pebbles before a back drop of jagged rocks. Jo, Fiona and I raced ahead to scale the rough terrain for a better vantage to appreciate our unique surroundings. Half way up we encountered an enormous spider on a web stretching several feet across the rocks. This added to the impression that we were somewhere much further a field than Jura. We could pause only briefly to admire the sunset for fear of being eaten alive by some vicious midges.
This morning we woke up to quite different weather to yesterday. The sky was a uniform grey and the “Scottish sea mist” (i.e. drizzle) soon set in. The conditions remained so for most of the day. Added to the swell, this made standing at the mast for visual surveys a little uncomfortable. Our sightings consisted of a couple of seals in the morning before we had to surrender to the weather and poor visibility and rely on acoustics surveying alone. However, we were perked up later in the day when one of the crew spotted the leisurely snaking fins of a basking shark.
Tonight we look forward to authentic Scottish cuisine…Haggis…cooked by authentic Scottish volunteers. And the challenge of circumnavigating the boat properly (without a wet suit) hangs in the misty air. Can I set a new Silurian swimming record? (I might have to wait for the sun to come out again).
Log by: Abi
Saturday 20th August
Location: Loch Tarbert, Jura.
Distance travelled: 51 miles
Weather: Sun, Sun and more Sun.
Well, adventures in Port Ellen might not cover the true trauma we faced last night, after having another shower off the boat we were all ready for our first meal on dry land, we were all shocked when we turned up for our pub supper at what seemed to be a posh dining room. We soon realised, that although the food was good the service lacked any sort of pace and poor Abi never got her main course till everyone else had finished, this only got better as cutlery was dropped on me and we got charged twice for our desserts. However our spirits were not dampened by this experience and we returned to the boat that night in a very cheery mood, possibly due to the visit to the pub on the way back.
After a night of being rocked to sleep on the boat we awoke bright and early to a beautifully sunny day and eager to leave Port Ellen. We started off up the sound of Islay on the NW coast of Islay towards Nave Island, so we could survey towards Colonsay up its east coast before heading towards Loch Tarbet. As we travelled the sun came out and the sea life disappeared, the very occasional sight of a porpoise seemed to be the only thing of interest to break up the very regular sight of rubbish. As the afternoon wore on the sun got brighter and the journey turned into a snooze cruise as everyone (apart from those on duty) found a comfy spot on deck to sunbath and snooze.
This sedated atmosphere on the boat might have led to everyone’s great surprise when the skipper shouted SHARK from the stern of the boat, partly in disbelief everyone jumped up and scanned the water for the sight of a fin. Surely enough a baby basking shark appeared on the starboard side of the boat and everyone was delighted to see that there are more than porpoises living in the vast expanse of sea we were scanning.
Tonight we settle in to a nice meal cooked on the boat and maybe the very amusing sight of someone going for a swim in the not so warm Scottish waters…. Find out tomorrow if anyone was brave enough.
Log by: Fiona M