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 5th July
Location: Loch Moidart
Position: 56’ 47.23 N 005’ 50.21 W
Distance surveyed: 57nm
Some of us got up very early to visit the islet and the castle with Scotch mist adding to the enchantment. We are now en route for Tobermory and the last observations of the project. This blogger would like to put on record her enjoyment of every minute - apart from a weak wrist which prevented mast-climbing. Scientifically it has been quite rich, with plenty to be learned about seals, birds and botany, as well as cetaceans. The crew has been brilliant and they’re not bad cooks either. This has been my eighth Earthwatch project, and better than all the others.
July 4th 2007
Location: Inch Kenneth
Position: 56’ 26.62 N 006’ 08.66 W
Distance surveyed: 48 nm
Last night we anchored off Inch Kenneth and had a good walk ashore to examine a beach full of superb pebbles and shells. The island has a Victorian mansion on it, built in a plain style which offers a cold and forbidding aspect to the world.
Today we sailed out in very calm and clear conditions, perfect for observation, and made transects between Coll and Tiree. We saw virtually no birds, although there were several visual sightings of porpoise, and we saw one minke whale off Faskadale Buoy - it just popped up, as they do, when least expected.
Great excitement in the afternoon came with the appearance of the Jubilee square-rigger Tenacious, under almost full sail. It was a wonderful sight against the deep blue of sea and sky. Then it was into Loch Moidart for anchorage overnight. This is one of the most beautiful places we have visited, with craggy, wooded islands, sandy shores, and a romantic ruined castle on an islet. We enjoyed a fantastic meal of pasta and chocolate-iced cake made by the crew, and a peaceful night at anchor.
Monday 2nd July 2007
Location: Cragaig, Ulva
Position: 56’ 28.1 N 006’ 13.07 W
Distance surveyed: 48nm
A busy and productive day on the water and quite long. We left Ulva at around 8.30am under overcast skies, and headed for Lunga, and puffins.
As we sailed towards the island we could see more and more seabirds, and increasing numbers of these little birds. We landed on a rocky shore and headed for the cliff tops, where we came across our first puffins just a few, but they were so charming, with their clown faces and sociable manners.
At the top of the island was a ‘hot rock’ a towering mound covered by thousands and thousands of puffins, all shouting their heads off. It was an incredible sight just a mountain of birds. We had also come across little colonies of razorbills, fulmars and shags.
Of interest to the botanist among us were the clumps of white bladder campions growing on the rocks among the bird families. They seem to thrive on guano. We also found healthy patches of spotted orchids, plus birds’ foot trefoil, tormentil, stonecrop and bluebells. The resident black rabbits had left their droppings.
The afternoon’s survey brought the main excitement of the day. Sailing around the Treshnish Isles, we spotted a large patch of birds, mainly shearwaters, landing on a tide line, and we slowed to check out this promising sign of fishy presences. Then we spotted a minke whale arching out of the water followed closely by three or four basking sharks.
It was a feeding frenzy. Obviously all these creatures, whale, sharks and birds, had found something lovely to eat and invited themselves to a dinner party. Particularly hungry was the basking shark, its huge mouth wide open, hoovering up tasty plankton.
A quiet sail brought us to the Ross of Mull and a peaceful anchorage in Loch na Keel. Haggis, bashed neeps and tatties for dinner.
Sunday 1st July
Location: Gometra Harbour
Position: 56º 29 N, 006º 16 W
Distance surveyed: 45 nm
The day started with a rather ominous weather forecast predicting winds up to force 6 starting easterly and backing to northerly. As it happened the morning weather was quite bright so we ignored the forecast and set sail (or rather engine) for the area between Colonsay and the south coast of Mull. There was great excitement when at about midday a whale was sighted. The engine was throttled back and we succeeded to track the whale for about an hour and observed it surface some half a dozen times. Gen managed to take some photographs but unfortunately only from one side. Observation passed uneventfully for the rest of the day. Chris volunteered for a session in the crows nest followed by Peter. We passed the Island of Staffa and saw the spectacular rock formations: unfortunately not under ideal conditions but it was impressive none the less. We continued to our anchorage in Gometra harbour between the islands of Gometra and Ulva.
While others were enjoying the scenery on deck Chris was busy in the galley preparing the evening meal of curry. We started with poppodoms and various sauces followed by the main course. There was more than plenty: it was delicious and enjoyed by all. Chris really did us proud.
Saturday 30th June 2007
Location: West Loch Tarbert, Jura
Position: 55’ 58.12 N 005’ 58.54 W
Distance surveyed: 35nm
This morning, back in England, the smokers will be planning their last legal day of fagging it in public places. Good eh? I say that even though I’m guilty of chuffing away on the evil things myself from time to time. OK, this has little to do with whales and dolphins, but I’m saying this really because the less said about today’s surveying the better. If I were to remove the words, ‘wind,’ ‘rain,’ ‘miserable,’ and ‘biscuits’ from what I was going to write there’d be nowt left to describe. But here goes anyway.
We left Port Ellen after Matt and I had had a brief walk to the recycling bins and then to the CO-OP for a few bits and bobs. (The Werther’s Originals I felt were a particularly wise investment!) Setting off into a looming storm wasn’t the best start to the day we’ve had but at least we weren’t facing into it the whole day – we allowed it to hit us from every angle. ‘Rain, miserable, wind, biscuits’ and there we were mooring in the entrance to Loch Tarbert, having travelled up the east coast of Islay and then NW up the Sound of Islay (between Islay and Jura.) The Loch was reasonably settled when we arrived and so after anchoring, we managed to do some photo-identification. Laura took us through the process, which basically involves using the HWDT catalogue of previously sighted dolphins and comparing them with recently taken photos to see if we can identify the reappearance of particular individuals or the inclusion of new members of a particular pod. We were comparing pictures taken recently of the Barra bottlenose dolphins, with ones identified near Barra a year or so ago. Interestingly we managed to identify all the dolphins spotted recently and even managed to additional dorsal fin images for the catalogue.
For tea, it was chicken stew and some fancy potatoes cooked magnificently by Wendy.
OK, better go now ‘cos we’ve just spotted a Minke whale less than 100m away, but I’d better let Sunday’s blogger tell you more about this encounter.
Friday 29th June 2007
Location:Port Ellen, Islay
Position: 55' 37.86 N 006' 11.96 W
Distance surveyed: 43.5 nm
It was 7am and the gentle rocking of the Silurian tipped me out of my bunk and into the starboard head (t’toilet near t’back) a distance of about 1m! Wendy was already making the tea, which was must have been part of her job description from Earthwatch. (I don’t know if we were all given a special job description, so just in case we had and I was unaware, I helpfully assumed the role of chief tea-taster in the meantime. Nice work if you can get it.) I could hear Bran Flakes rattling in their container too which added speed to my teeth-cleaning, also Peter was lurking outside the ‘head’ door, towel primed for action, so I knew I had to be quick. Meanwhile, on deck there was a commotion - and for once I avoided banging my head as I made my way up to investigate. The natural world goes on around us regardless of our interventions of course and anyone who watched Planet Earth will be aware of some of the wondrous images and unusual behaviours of the animals we inhabit this planet with. This morning my colleagues and I witnessed an encounter between two of this country’s most beautiful animals. It was over in seconds and was, just possibly, something never witnessed before by any other human beings. It will certainly always stay in my mind – but rather than try to depict it all for you, I suggest you come to the Hebrides and surprise yourself.
Anyway, we left the seclusion of our Loch Sween mooring and headed south back to the Sound of Jura. Even though it was quite breezy and the forecast wasn’t promising it actually turning out to be a really pleasant day and we all felt optimistic about the prospects. The plan was to survey the bulk of the Sound down to Islay and then to moor in Port Ellen to refill with water. And even though we (Laura) only saw the distant back end of a dolphin I think we all still felt we’d had a good day – partly because the weather had picked up and this had lifted everyone’s spirits. On top of that, the illnesses that some of us had suffered from had all but gone. It was a chance to take some decent photos for the first time and the skipper Matt in particular reveled in the gaze of the lens. His bowsprit poses reminded me of Simon Le Bon in the Duran Duran ‘Rio’ video. Matt didn’t have the seer-sucker suit, leather tie and Panama hat though. Ne’er mind mate!
In Port Ellen, we managed a quick stroll to t’boozer so that Tim could sample a local Whisky. Islay is home to numerous well known single malts, Laphroaig, Ardbeg and Caol Ila to name but three. I ‘forced’ a traditional Tennents lager down just to fit in of course and we were joined by Shiela, Wendy and Charmain. I won’t try and name Tim’s choice – Gaelic spelling isn’t my forte!
For dinner we had a chilli cooked by Matt – and lovely it was too.