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 31st July, 2008
Date: Thursday 31st July, 2008
Anchorage: Isle of Taransay
Position: 57° 53’.500N 007° 02’.700W
Distance Travelled: 40 NM
We started the day with bird training – half of our team were already keen birdies but for the rest of us it was all gibberish [let’s not mention the puffins, Elaine…Ed]. We set to work and almost immediately saw 5 common dolphins (Delphinus delphis)– they decided to play with the boat and came along for a bow ride. We had hardly got over this excitement and got back to work when we reached Waternish Point, and were treated to 3 minke whales, 2 porpoises, 3 seals and 2 basking sharks. One of the minkes came up right behind the boat. Before we had travelled much further Fiona sighted another minke. Skipper Dave doubted her skills and asked for a second identification. However, it was a great sighting, although the whale was shy and every time Gen got out the camera it dived and did not surface until she put the camera down. We know you won’t believe us but it came right up next to the boat.
We took the boat through the Sound of Harris, Gen was at the helm with John helping with navigation. Harris looked great but no-one spotted a tweed.
We arrived at Taransay Island for the night. John had made a great pasta bake for dinner which we worked off by having a walk on the island. Judith did some botanising and identified the bog pimpernel – a very pretty pink flower.
We are all back on the boat, Fiona is checking my spelling and the rest of the team are helping Susie with her sailing homework.
Wednesday 30th July, 2008
Date: Wednesday 30th July, 2008
Anchorage: Duntulm Bay, Isle of Skye
Position: 57° 41’.400N 006° 20’.900W
Distance Travelled: 37 NM
On board for this trip is Dave our trusty skipper, Susie our devoted science monkey, Gen the fabulous first mate, and the willing and eager volunteers John, Robin, Judith, Victor, Elaine and Fiona (again).
After being induced onto the boat the previous night and then trained on how to spot cetaceans after brekkie, us volunteers were ready to put the newly acquired skills into practice. We eventually left the harbour in Kyle of Lochalsh (after some artistic photography of stanchions) and headed under the bridge (just!) out into the Inner Sound. The first round of observations included some orange creel buoys, some pink creel buoys, a few stripey creel buoys and did I mention creel buoys?! In fact we became so focused on counting creels that the first sighting was missed, but thankfully Gen was on the ball and spotted 3 porpoise sauntering by. There were a few more porp sightings before the sea became void of all life. All was not lost however, eagle-eyed Robin managed to spot a basking shark who clearly had somewhere to be and motored on by. There was also some stunning scenery to photograph as we passed the north-east coast of Skye, with sun rays beaming through the drizzle. The drizzle was not so picturesque when it reached the boat and waterproofs were reached for. Just as the weather began to deteriorate, a minke whale decided to raise its head but obviously decided it didn’t like the rain either and disappeared into the depths. He reappeared but not for very long so we headed on to our anchorage for the night. I’m sure it’s a beautiful anchorage but we can’t really see it! Once the anchor was down it was time for tea which was venison casserole expertly cooked to perfection by chief monkey. The lot was scoffed in no time. Fully fed and watered, skipper Dave gave us a masterclass in charts but it was probably more for his benefit than ours as he does love his charts! So to bed perchance to dream of bow-riding dolphins and lunging humpbacks!
Fiona + help
Sunday 27th July, 2008
Date: Sunday 27th July, 2008
Anchorage: Kyle of Lochalsh
Position: 57° 16’.900N 005° 42’.700W
Distance Travelled: 35 NM
This one’s from Susie the Science Officer, with the final blog of what’s been a truly fantastic trip for weather, landscapes, animals and not least the brilliant volunteers we’ve had onboard. Morning came today with clear blue skies over our pretty anchorage, as we set out into what it soon became apparent was porpoise soup. Sighting after sighting was called as little fins popped up all over the glassy-calm sea, the sun glinting off their bodies as they mooched lazily past the boat, seemingly half-asleep in the sunshine. As the calls of ‘Sighting!’ came one on top of the other, our team kept their cool, steadily logging data with calm professionalism – of course. In the words of Coll ‘I don’t want to blow our own trumpet or anything. But we did alright.’
The sun got warmer and brighter by the minute as we carried on south towards Kyle, resulting in an outbreak of shorts-wearing rarely seen west of 5 degrees. Then through the haze, around the top of Raasay, Coll spotted some dolphins, which weren’t quite run of the mill. They weren’t interested in the boat, and made it extremely hard for the perplexed science monkeys to work out what they were. But we finally got a good enough look to confirm they were Atlantic white-sided dolphins, mostly seen in deeper water off the Continental shelf edge, and never spotted before in these waters by this Science Officer.A minke whale, a basking shark and many more porpoises followed, not to mention a poor-old grey seal, which posed as a buoy for a good ten minutes before anyone noticed it blink.
And then the engine stopped. Sabotage by the volunteers who didn’t want to go home? Sabotage by the crew who didn’t want to lose them? Any which way, Skipper Dave and First Mate Paul swiftly diagnosed a fuel problem, and set about fixing it, whilst the rest of us lolled in the sun listening to porpoises blow around the boat. Natalie busied herself in the galley making chocolate brownies. We finally arrived at Kyle, to a clean up of the boat, a lovely meal, then a return to the boat for a wee dram, and a few more of our trademark stream-of-consciousness conversations, which bare little resemblance to reality, and owe a lot to a week at sea, in beautiful places and excellent company. Farewell! Come back soon!
Saturday 26th July, 2008
Date: Saturday 26th July, 2008
Anchorage: Longa, Loch Gairloch
Position: 57° 44’.100N 005° 48’.800W
Distance Travelled: 65 NM
We left our serene anchorage early in the morning and headed for the Sound of Harris. It was a very tranquil day with banks of fog across the water, and the sun was trying hard to burn through. The sea was still and quiet with few sightings for much of the morning. We were greeted at the entrance to the Sound by a pair of porpoise who swam past the main marker buoy as if to show us the way in, or perhaps to say goodbye from the Outer Hebrides. As we came into the Sound, Phil took the wheel, weaving us through the slalom course ahead and picking us a safe route through. By now the sun had burnt through the fog and it was turning into a nice day. As the afternoon continued, Science Monkey Cormac put down his computer and brought his spotting skills to bear on the horizon, picking out a pod of common dolphins about 2 km in the distance. The dolphins wanted our company at first and swam eagerly towards us. We gathered around the bow as they rode the wave beneath. The dolphins must have been hungry, though, because after about five or ten minutes they swam away from the boat. It looked as if the 15 or so individuals may foraging, with some interested-looking gannets hanging around them. We watched them for a while and then continued on our journey.
This was to be the highlight of the day as we approached yet another beautiful anchorage. The home for this evening was a rocky bay next to the island of Longa, within Loch Gairloch. Our wondrous skipper not only found us the perfect parking spot but also knocked up a fantastic dinner of haggis, neaps and tatties. Half of the team then decided to go and bag the island because even Dave and Susie hadn’t ventured onto its shore. This proved to be more of an adventure than at first expected. Landing the RIB was difficult and after three attempts, a place was found and we all jumped onto the rocks. However, a route from the rocky shore upwards could not be found and we had to jump back into the RIB and try again. The fourth attempt was much more successful and after a clamber up the rocks, the island was well and truly bagged. The team headed up hill and enjoyed the stunning scenery, whilst dodging the circling bonxie’s and midges. We all got very excited at the discovery of a cave and we weren’t disappointed when we explored its hidden depths. There were incredible rock formations and the atmosphere was magical. The sunset tonight was particularly special, with a vibrant glow filling the sky and we sat on the RIB to watch the final moments of the sun slowly ebbing below the horizon. The intrepid adventurers then crept aboard uttering many apologies about being late, and tucked into a feast of steamed pudding and custard, lovingly prepared by those who had made the wise decision not to fight the midges and relaxed on the boat instead.
A slow sighting day but nevertheless, another adventure and fun packed day onboard the good ship Silurian.
Friday 25th July, 2008
Date: Friday 25th July, 2008
Position: 58° 01’.000N 007° 05’.900W
Distance Travelled: 65 NM
What a trip this is becoming! Another great, if demanding, day today as we motored out into the Atlantic, across 30 miles of lumpy sea to the Flannan Isles. This is a desolate, beautiful group of islands, home to thousands of gannets & hundreds of puffins & nothing much else. A magical experience, further enhanced by a number of excellent sightings. It started with a brief encounter with common dolphins who seemed uninterested in us & moved on quite quickly, then as 2 teams of volunteers were changing watch at the mast a minke appeared, less than 50 metres from the boat, greeted by 4 gasps & then 4 calls of “sighting!”. This was a whale with somewhere to go so the sighting lasted only a few minutes before we saw it dive & could not re-establish contact. Next Cormac spotted a “blow” in the distance, which he described as the biggest he`d seen in his years of experience. Sadly we never found the animal itself which must have been one of the large whales which occasionally visit these waters.
A brief encounter with a basking shark as we rounded the Flannans gave us the opportunity to look straight into its massive gape, but this proved to be our last sighting for several hours until the end of a long day was greatly enhanced by the amazing experience of a close meeting with 7 or 8 white-beaked dolphins. These beautiful creatures treated us to a display of aquabatics, a juvenile proving the star of the show.
Supper & a walk on the beautiful island of Scarp brought us to the end of a bonnie day, but I must not close without a mention of today`s catering. Conditions in the galley at midmorning grubtime must have been horrendous, nonetheless a team of no less than FOUR intrepid cooks produced hot potato-cakes & soup amid much clanging & hilarity. Supper was a great curry (pity your blogger undercooked the mackerel starter!) & the evening is just concluding with large helpings of Cormac`s wonderful carrot cake, washed down with hot chocolate &/or a glass of malt, all accompanied by much merriment and not a little hysterical giggling.