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 28th September 2006
Thursday 28th September, 2006
Anchorage: North Channel, Loch Moidart
Position: 56° 48’.200 N 005°50’.400W
Distance surveyed: 9 nm
After a night spent playing a game of “watch the anchor not move” we hoped for weakened winds and calmer seas as we departed Arisaig this morning. Our hopes were answered (sort of) in the form of just 20 knots of wind to fair in. Sadly, conditions were not sufficient to grant us a sighting, but all on board enjoyed a nice sail down to Loch Moidart, into the narrow north channel, threading our way to a suitable anchorage.
Once settled at anchor, the volunteers settled down for a chat about bioacoustics whilst Skipper Graham and his henchman Davie went off to catch mussels on the nearby shores. They returned, sweaty-browed, with a bucket filled to the brim, providing second, nay, third portions of our starter.
The driving force behind such gluttony (aside the chef's galley genius) was a 2.5 hour jaunt (in perfectly suitable footwear) around the island...some on the beaten path, some very much off it. We spent our time hiking through heather and bracken with a few stops to drink in the beautiful views around the isle under the setting sun, with the bonus sighting of does, stags and fawns trotting across the hill tops. A very enjoyable walk concluded with the mussels and a hearty spaghetti bolognese.
It's been an exciting trip with high winds, dolphin sightings and warnings of the 40ft basking sharks, the Kings of Dreaded West, but it's been fantastic with great crew and great encounters. A great success.
Cormac, PhD student.
Wednesday 27th September 2006
Wednesday 27th September, 2006
Position: 56° 54’.100 N 005°52’.000W
Distance surveyed: 28 nm
We were to awake to the sight of a calm Sound of Sleat and a yelp from one of the volunteers with a sighting, and all this before breakfast was even mentioned. The sighting was originally thought to be that of a harbour porpoise, but much to the excitement and somewhat bewilderment of happy shippers it was a pod of bottlenose dolphins - five in total one of which was a juvenile. Some still in nightwear cobbled together their essentials – camera, waterproofs etc. - and went closer to investigate in the tender. It proved to be a successful sighting, with some good photo identification shots taken.
We moved out of the Sound of Sleat and the seas greeted us with a warm welcome of high winds, big waves causing an occasional green face. Skipper thought it essential to be leashed to the boat, which to the volunteers was a sigh of relief. Winds reached to approximately 35 knots, volunteers were excited by the thought of the Silurian racing through the crashing waves in an event to make us all that little bit more wind swept and interesting. The crew took it all in their stride, crew and volunteers worked well as a team to lower the main sail and pull in the jib. To say it was a thrilling experience would be an understatement. All sails were down and we motored our way through the rough waters to Arisaig.
We all stayed on the boat in the slightly rocky but comfortable anchoring, Skipper introduced us to his 'magic' trick and then delivered a meal fit for any hearty sailor. The first mate gave a rendition of some slipped jigs and reels on his Mandolin. Crew were awake on shifts throughout the night on anchor watch whilst volunteers were out for the count. A day to remember, different...... but memorable.
The sea rough,
It was never enough,
The volunteers were keen,
But sometimes green,
The boat felt similar to 20 pints of ember
A day to remember.
Tuesday 26th September, 2006
Tuesday 26th September, 2006
Anchorage: Isleornsay, Isle of Skye
Position: 57° 08’.900 N 005°47’.700W
Distance surveyed: 51 nm
Early morning of the last Tuesday of the 2006 season began with an exceedingly cold and hence highly refreshing swim in Arcairseid Mor, Eriskay, for four of the five volunteers on this week's research project. Once underway, the first few hours of the day came and went with no sightings, but shortly before midday, a flock of gannets was spotted circling a small area of the sea some distance from Silurian. Then many were spotted diving into the sea in quick succession, leading us to believe that the shoal of fish which had attracted the gannets in the first place, may also have attracted cetaceans. On reaching the area, halfway between Eriskay and Canna, a large group of common dolphins was spotted feeding. On approach to the pod, blows were also seen in the distance by some of the team, leading us to believe that a large baleen whale might also be feeding with the dolphins. Unfortunately, however, the whale itself was not sighted. The next sighting was made in the Sound of Canna, some four hours after the first, when several seals were spotted close to the coast of Canna. Despite the sightability continuing to change in our favour, no sightings were made until Silurian entered the Sound of Sleat. From entering until mooring the boat at Isleornsay, four harbour porpoises were sighted along with several more seals. Having the longest day of the research project been as successful as it was, the team had a well earned drink in the hotel which looks over the bay, followed by a traditional Scottish dinner of haggis, neaps and tatties. One member of the team however, had slight reservations about the meal as he had never eaten haggis before, but in the end he was surprised about how much he enjoyed this most traditional of Scottish cuisine. However, the highlight of tonight's meal was the battle between two resident Scots in the team who took second helpings twice the size of their firsts. Despite the arrival of the food sweats, both finished and, unsurprisingly, were immobile for most of the rest of the evening.
Saturday 23rd September to Monday 25th September 2006
Monday 25th September, 2006
Position: 57° 03’.900 N 007°17.600W
Distance surveyed: 40 nm
Monday morning on the Silurian began with overcast weather and moderate swell. Yet by midday the sun was beating down and the sea calmed as we headed away from Castlebay and southwards around Barra Head and ominously westwards (against all advice and reason). However all was good and well on the western front. Plenty of stunning scenery accompanied us on the journey northwards where there a couple more basking sharks were spotted. The highlight of the day was the presence of a dozen or so bottlenose dolphins bow riding Silurian through Barra Sound. Our fairly circular journey ended by mooring at a quiet bay of Eriskay, just north of Barra. While a couple of crew members had a healthy run across the island, the remaining volunteers had a couple of hours spent at the local pub playing pool and drinking whisky while the bartender regailed them with tales of Whiskey Galore. The return walk took longer than expected due to a detour via the darker regions of Eriskay. Luckily a light in the shape of Davie guided us safely home to a risotto supper and our beds.
Sunday 24th September, 2006
Anchorage: Castlebay, Barra
Position: 56° 57’.200 N 007°29’.600W
Distance surveyed: 48 nm
Day two started a little later than advertised at 8am (the 5.30am mooted in the literature seemed to be a scare tactic!) and we set off from our mooring in Arisaig for what turned out to be a great day of sightings. The weather was drizzly, but that dampened no ones spirits as we set out west towards Barra and the Outer Hebrides. After some exciting detections on the hydrophone our first sighting of the day was just south of Eigg and Muck with a good spot of a pair of harbour porpoises from Davie off the stern. This set the scene for the afternoon with a short bow-ride from a pod of common dolphins before a frantic half an hour of porpoise sightings and a trio of feeding basking sharks. When we thought things couldn't get any better, some (but sadly not all) spotted a minke surfacing off the starboard side. A rapid (but ultimately unsuccessful) turnabout didn't yield any re sightings but generated enough interest for everybody to be up on deck and on the look out when we pulled into the harbour at Castlebay, Barra.
The evening produced an enlightening trip across to the local pub in Castlebay (past the curiously stranded castle) whereby, after being serenaded by a posse of locals (with electronic bagpipes and all) we decided to head back to the yacht for skipper Graham's second excellent evening meal. A great day's work and a great start to the week. We now head into the third day with the local warning of “don't go west of Barra” ringing in our ears!
Saturday 23rd September, 2006
Position: 56° 54’.400 N 005°51’.400W
Distance surveyed: 25 nm
The last monitoring trip of the 2006 season has come around – our final chance this year to survey the waters of the Hebrides. This week we've chosen to head northwards from Mull – towards the Small Isles and the south coast of Skye. Our new volunteers joined us this morning – Paul, John, Graham, Jenny and Andy. The weather was fine and calm, quite a contrast to the beating we took at the hands of the elements last week. Long may it last! We headed up past Ardnamurchan, got the sails up and enjoyed the beautiful sunshine of a grand September day. It was porpoise soup as we travelled north, with stacks of detections on the hydrophone, although not so many animals were actually seen. We arrived into Arisaig in the early evening – an amazing sunset over the still waters, with common seals hauled out on the rocks and seabirds hanging out on the water. A delicious supper cooked up by skipper Graham, and a bit of star-gazing at the clear skies and spectacular northern lights ended a really good first day.
Susie, Marine Ranger