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 24th July, 2008
Date: Thursday 24th July, 2008
Position: 57° 53’.500N 007° 02’.700W
Distance Travelled: 48 NM
A glorious morning dawned over the idyllic spot where we had spent the night and we were raring to get on with another day of spotting and surveying. Our first visitors were the seals in the channel as we made our way to the open waves. The weather was a little unusual with a strange light as the back drop behind the Isle of Skye which we were making our way towards. We experienced a sharp shower that sent the whole crew running for their waterproofs but thankfully it passed quickly and the sea suddenly became like a mill pond.
There was little wildlife to accompany us on the crossing but we spotted some interesting sights on the horizon – a flotilla of tall ships. There were many beautiful vessels and although they caused some problems for the first mate whilst he was trying to dodge them, they certainly added to the scenery.
Shortly after dodging the tall ships, Coll climbed up to the crow’s nest and the sightings started to come in thick and fast! They were almost all porpoise and seals but then eagle-eyed Coll spotted a lone creature far in the distance. He saw our first minke whale of the trip, but unfortunately Cormac was the only other crew member to catch a glimpse of the figure before it swam away.
With the sea being so still Mike decided that he should also conquer the crow’s nest and he then became the expert lookout for the boat. Many more porpoise popped up to say hello whilst we were on our transit back to the Outer Hebrides. The other main visitors for the day were puffins. We must have counted hundreds of the wee brightly coloured chaps floating and flying around us.
As we approached the Sound of Harris, Natalie took Mike’s place in the crow’s nest and the boat was skilfully driven from buoy to buoy through the narrow channel by the first mate Paul and his helper Doug. We consider ourselves very lucky to have been able to pass through this area of outstanding beauty, and on such a calm and sunny day. There were numerous sightings as we travelled through, including porpoise, seals and otters.
On the other side of the sound, the Atlantic Ocean lay waiting for us but thankfully it too was kind and only produced a slight swell. We headed north along the western side of Harris until we neared Taransay. The Skipper found us a beautiful bay for us to anchor in for the night. The bay is fairly shallow and has a sandy bottom so the water looked more inviting than ever with it’s green tinge. This managed to entice Fiona and Natalie to jump in and complete a lap of the boat. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as warm as it looked!
The team were treated to a magnificent dinner of bangers and mash which filled even those members of the team with the largest of appetites. Shortly after dinner we headed off in the RIB to explore the island. It was well worth it. The views of the surrounding islands were wonderful and the peace and tranquillity second to none. Not only that, but Coll declared the sand to be the finest in the world. And he should know. Much photo taking and paddling in the sea ensued before a very tired but happy crew made their way back to the boat for a spot of fishing and mugs of cocoa.
Wednesday 23rd July, 2008
Date: Wednesday 23rd July 2008
Anchorage: Loch Eport, North Uist
Position: 57° 33’.200N 007° 09’.500W
Distance Travelled: 36 NM
The forecast for today was optimistic, as was the outlook from the crew and volunteers, and we were all eager for some ‘swell’ surveying. The mist was still hanging around at breakfast but by the time we had made our way out of Loch Harport land was clearly visible. Two porpoises were spotted as we headed out the loch, a seal or two made an appearance and Phil did well in spotting a rather large shark basking to its hearts content. After that, the sea turned barren… And then Natalie spotted something… A cry of ‘Killer whales!’ came from the mast and a flurry of activity ensued on deck as everyone stumbled to get their cameras and focus on the fins.
There were 5 beasties in total and 10 beaming faces with grins from ear to ear. We stayed with them for a while, happily snapping and generally relishing the awesome sight [our photo-identification work has shown that these are all in the HWDT catalogue – adult males Aquarius and Floppy Fin, adult females Lulu and Nicola, and the snappily-named UK010]. The killer whales however, paid no attention to us and were far more interested in the delicious snacks that they were hunting. The only sadness in the scene was a lone guillemot squawking disconsolately – where were all his chums when he needed them? We had to move on but all eyes were peeled and ready for some more cetacean encounters. Unfortunately, all life seemed to disappear from the Little Minch with the exception of a lonely porpoise spotted by Coll, and the rest of the day seemed to turn into a snooze cruise with most of the crew and some volunteers having a well earned afternoon nap. We went off effort as we entered Loch Eport and enjoyed the glorious scenery with plenty of wildlife to keep us entertained. When we found a suitable anchorage (thanks Dave!) Susie and Coll decided it was the perfect spot for a swim, although Coll was slightly hesitant to actually get in the water! After deciding it was indeed cold, it was time for a delicious Chicken and veg (Quorn for the veggies) stir-fry expertly made by Natalie and Fiona and enjoyed by all. An evening stroll ashore followed and some reminiscing of the days events over a nice cup of cocoa.
Tuesday 22nd July, 2008
Date: Tuesday 22nd July, 2008
Anchorage: Cabost, Loch Harport, Isle of Skye
Position: 57° 18’.100N 006° 20’.900W
Distance Travelled: 49 NM
We left Arisaig this morning with what looked like a promising start. On the way out we saw numerous seals lounging around on the rocks trying to dodge the rising waters. Just as we were exiting the channel we had the first sighting of the day – a basking shark off the starboard side and very close to the shore.
What a difference a day makes though! After the glorious sunny start yesterday, we spent most of today drifting around in fog and appeared to be sailing towards the end of the earth! The sightings were more sporadic and the conditions were more challenging at times. However, we still managed to spot a further basking shark, a few seals, a porpoise and a couple of common dolphins but unfortunately they didn’t stay and play as they obviously had somewhere better to be.
The main theme of the day was birds. We undertook our recognition training before we headed off in the morning and all set about putting it into practice armed with binos and a clipboard. This added an extra dimension to the spotting and to the trip. Very early on we spotted 2 bonxies attacking a tern, to steal its recent catch, typical behaviour of these pirates but something we wouldn’t have picked up on before. Throughout the course of the day we managed to tick off almost every bird we had learnt about and we had numerous kittiwakes joining the mission by circling the boat and keeping us company in the fog.
Despite the bizarre weather, we (well the crew anyway!) managed to sail Silurian for a large part of the day. This got reasonably challenging at times due to the wind direction and a trawler who seemed to try and chase us backwards!
Our home for the night was a town called Carbost, at the head of Loch Harport. We anchored, had a good dinner of pasta with mushrooms and pine nuts, accompanied by roasted vegetables. Then the majority of the team went ashore in the RIB for a pint in the New Inn, where we had a wonderful evening listening to an Irish singer called Gavin Moore, who we can all whole heartedly recommend listening to (www.gavinmoore.com, in case you’re interested….)!
All in all it was another good day aboard this fine vessel and although not as exciting as yesterday, our science team seem more then happy with the results. Roll on tomorrow!
Monday 21st July 2008
Date: Monday 21st July, 2008
Position: 56° 54’.100N 005° 51’.900W
Distance Travelled: 30 NM
The crew; Captain Dave, First mate Paul, Science monkeys Susie and Cormac.
Volunteers came from the far corners of the UK; Coll, Doug, Natalie, Mike, Phil and Fiona.
We were to be Hollywood stars for the day, well at least cetacean stars of Scotland as we were joined by Natasha and Danny from the STV 5:30 show. It could have gone horribly wrong with rain and strong wind forecast which could have meant poor sighting conditions. However this was not the case and we had one of those lucky days where the sightings came in thick and fast. Within minutes of departing the quay in Tobermory Natalie sighted two porpoise and the cameras started rolling. Soon after we saw birds ahead and Phil’s keen eye spotted a fin in the distance. As we approached we were rewarded by the sight of two basking sharks who cooperated kindly during filming and swam open mouthed around the boat. After a couple more porpoise cruised on by Phil thought he saw splashes in the distance.
Phil is on his third trip with Silurian now, he loves it and keeps coming back for more saying he is addicted to both the unique scenery and wildlife. The splashes turned out to be a pod of 10 or so common dolphins including several calves one not much bigger than a ruler - a tiny wee dolphin – Awww! The dolphins were playful and bow rode with us for about 20mins obviously teaching the babies how to surf.
The film crew got right into the spotting and Natasha, the presenter, described seeing the dolphins as a once in a lifetime experience. She climbed into the crows nest for a better view and different angle and rode out the swells as we rounded Ardnamurchan point- the most westerly point of the British mainland.
Skipper Dave brought us carefully and skilfully into the narrow channel leading into Arisaig. Seals lazed on the exposed rocks, lounging, waiting for the tide to return. A family of otters, a mother and two pups, swam down the channel to add to our excellent day of sightings. The film crew waved goodbye as they departed by our tender and we picked up our mooring for the evening. The food this evening was excellent, we were treated to venison and vegetable casserole full of home grown beans and massive carrots. Its an early night tonight as we look forward to the continuing adventure in the morning.
The end of day tally of sightings stood at
Harbour Porpoise 17
Common Dolphins 10
Basking Sharks 5
(we also saw more seals and otters after we finished surveying).