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.
Friday 8th August, 2008
Date: Friday 8th August, 2008
Anchorage: Kyle of Lochalsh
Position: 57° 16’.900N 005° 42’.700W
Distance Travelled: 40 NM
A brilliantly sunny morning, and we left on the final leg of our odyssey, bound for Kyle. We started early to make the tidal gateway of Kyle Rhea, arriving as the current was racing through the narrows, with porpoises and seals on either side of the scary bit. We continued up into lovely Loch Duich, encountering groups of porpoises all the way to the head of the loch, and then back to Kyle. Some serious boat cleaning was followed by a good meal out, and an end to a really adventurous trip, involving a circumnavigation of Harris and Lewis and also of Skye, with several Minch crossings thrown in. Well done all!
Thursday 7th August, 2008
Date: Thursday 7th August, 2008
Anchorage: Camas Daraich, Point of Sleat, Isle of Skye
Position: 57° 01’.200N 006° 00’.500W
Distance Travelled: 40 NM
A Rum do? Possibly – the day’s proposal was for zig-zag transects out to the Small Isles, and heading east. Things started with some promise as we left the reasonably sheltered waters of Loch Brachadale, but even porpoises didn’t show at the surface. Further out, blue skies gave excellent views across to the Black Cuillin on Skye, the whole ridge clear of cloud and the ‘Innaccessible Pinnacle’ obvious on the skyline. The NNE wind persisted, whipping up the sea for more challenging sighting conditions – perhaps contributing to the decision to take some time out on Canna, the nearest of the Small Isles. As we rounded the eastern headland, the bare northern aspect gave way to woodland and a small shoreside hamlet with two chapels, plus tea shop – near heaven! We soaked up the sun, with cakes or soup, for a TOO brief three-quarters of an hour, before our schedule drove us on. We couldn’t leave without a souvenir – but Gen taking up a boulder in the anchor was a bit excessive!!! The plus side of the return was Dave’s sighting of a basking shark sauntering around the entrance to the bay, in that basking-shark-sort-of-way – excellent!
The sojourn on the weather front was short-lived, as we returned to open water. The cloud closed in, somewhat, and the wind rose – seabirds seemed few, and cetaceans even fewer – I sighted a porpoise at close range off Rum, though they must have suffered stage-fright, as the hydrophone showed manic activity out of sight off the north end of the island. A cracking sail, reaching 8 knots at one point, to the Point of Sleat - with traditional tatties and neaps (courtesy of the skipper) for dinner in our sheltered anchorage just east. Some took advantage of the excellent evening light in a run ashore, building sandcastles on the beach, and watching shoaling fish close by – a last night beyond the reach of civilisation.
Wednesday 6th August, 2008
Date: Wednesday 6th August, 2008
Anchorage: Gesto Bay, Loch Harport, Isle of Skye
Position: 57° 20’.600N 006° 24’.000W
Distance Travelled: 51 NM
Awoke to the sounds of an excited tern colony. Despite the Skipper’s dire predictions which lead most of us to put on at least five layers including merino underwear, two sets of waterproofs, overcoat and umbrella, we slipped moorings to a peaceful crossing of the Minch. A little way across we had close encounter with a seal called Eric who pointed us in the right direction to meet a group of common dolphins. We headed across to arrive in Skye at Waternish Point which completed our circumnavigation of Lewis, including several detours. Welcoming us back were three minke whales and a host of rafting birds including the most kittiwakes we have encountered so far. We motored along to Gesto Bay past many large sea caves and McLeod’s Maidens, a set of three rocks which resembled a bell, owl, Queen Victoria and a Buddhist statue from various directions. After mooring up and going for a wander along the beach we enjoyed supper with a glorious sunset.
Tuesday 5th August, 2008
Date: Tuesday 5th August, 2008
Anchorage: Loch Bhrollum, Isle of Lewis
Position: 57° 57’.000N 006° 32’.800W
Distance Travelled: 51 NM
Julie Andrews style, these are a few of our favourite things…
Judith: Red-throated divers doing ballet
John: Diving gannets off the Shiants
Robin: Tour of the Shiants (although really this is his second favourite thing as he liked the divers best too, but Judith beat him to it)
Elaine: Many many puffins at the Shiants (although John says there were only ten)
Fiona: Chocolate and John’s joke about the dog
Victor: His second shower of the trip and recognising a kittiwake (but not at the same time)
Gen: Bonny sail in sunshine
Dave: The anchor gripping straight away, and singing ‘there’s a whole in my bucket’ in its entirety
Susie: Porpoises surfacing in the mirror-calm waters of Loch Broom
Monday 4th August, 2008
Date: Monday 4th August, 2008
Position: 57° 53’.500N 056° 09’.500W
Distance Travelled: 46 NM
We crossed the Minch! Again! This is getting a bit routine, actually…We saw dolphins! And porpoises! Bit routine this, too… We’re not complaining, you understand….we’re having a great time. Bonny sail yesterday over to Ullapool. Had a scenic stop off at the Summer Isles, with a picnic and a spot of light tourism followed by fish and chips and a pint in Ullapool. Civilisation! Scary! Take us back to the rolling waves immediately…
Sunday 3rd August, 2008
Date: Sunday 3rd August, 2008
Anchorage: Loch Mariveg
Position: 58° 05’.200N 006° 23’.400W
Distance Travelled: 57 NM
After yesterday’s tropical paradise, we spent much of today pathetically grateful for the small breaks in the Hebridean drizzle that dogged us across our transect over the Minch from Loch Laxford to Loch Mariveg, south of Stornoway. Indeed our volunteers are really starting to appreciate the unique opportunity to stand tied to a mast in the pouring rain for sizeable stretches of time – it’s not a chance you get everyday. Not content with this, Victor elected to spend a good chunk of the afternoon up the crow’s nest in a bid to be even closer to the rain.
Sightings weren’t up to yesterday’s epic standards, but we still had some nice encounters – white-beaked and common dolphins, porpoises and seals. John also had a particularly gratifying half hour on seabird-counting duty, as the sea became one massive raft of puffins as far as the eye could see. In fact, John has had a bit of an epic day, and has got quite heavily involved in a bid to systematically dismantle the boat. His finest hour today was a small conflict between plastic mugs and the hob, producing a fine aroma of smouldering petro-chemicals.
After a long and dedicated day, we finally arrived in our fairyland anchorage – Loch Mariveg – an outrageously bonny spot full of calm little pools and pretty islets. The rain did the decent thing and held off long enough for a firey sunset, which we enjoyed almost as much as Elaine’s stonking shepherd’s pie and Robin’s rice pudding, expertly caramelised to perfection.
Saturday 2nd August, 2008
Date: Saturday 2nd August, 2008
Anchorage: Loch Laxford
Position: 58° 24’.700N 005° 03’.200W
Distance Travelled: 73 NM
Today, well today was ‘day of the dolphins’ (in a very dramatic Hollywood stylee voice). We arose early doors at 5am (ok everyone except me) to make the slack tides around the Butt of Lewis where a chorus of ‘Eternal Father Strong to Save’ was sung with great gusto. Skipper was expecting some rough sea but as ‘luck’ would have it we couldn’t have hoped for better conditions. The clouds parted, the sun appeared…and then the dolphins came!
The first group was a couple of shy white-beaked dolphins who sauntered on by and they were soon followed by a group of dolphins who confused the living daylights out of the crew but were soon identified as white-sided, which are most uncommon in these waters. To make the confusion worse, 10 commons decided to gatecrash the party. Not satisfied by this, we eagerly scanned the horizon for more fins. Sure enough not one, but two minke whales were spotted, just to give us a break from the dolphins. But the dolphins kept coming! We were treated to more white-beaked and at various points we were surrounded by them. They are stunning beasts and their white markings were so vivid under the water. Next was an appearance by more commons who delighted everyone on board with some superb bow-riding and acrobatics. Not long after we appeared to land in white-beaked soup. The call of ‘SIGHTING’ rang out around the boat constantly and we had trouble keeping track of how many beasties were out there. Eventually the sightings dried up and we had a lovely relaxed sail into our anchorage for the night in Loch Laxford. I have to mention that the bird surveys still continued throughout all the dolphin-mania and the identification is coming along nicely. Elaine even managed to identify a puffin!
Once the anchor was down, tea was ready (chicken stir-fry made by moi) which was devoured by the ravenous crew and volunteers. A few bottles of wine were cracked open in celebration of our big day, chilli chocolate was consumed and John had a joyful time making tsetse fly tea (don’t ask!). This was followed by conversations of tunes to be played at funerals, really bad jokes, entomology conferences, scabies bug/storm petrel impressions… I think it may be time for bed…
Friday 1st August, 2008
Date: Friday 1st August, 2008
Anchorage: Little Bernera, Loch Roag
Position: 58° 15’.500N 006° 53’.000W
Distance Travelled: 40 NM
Hoy nos han dejado levantarnos un poco mas tarde, a las 09:00 de la mañana. Despues del desayuno hemos salido dispuestos a ver un monton de cosas interesantes. El dia era mucho mas ventolero que ayer y el mar estaba un tanto encabritado. Teniamos que estar sujetos al mastil del barco con correas de seguridad para no salir disparados por la borda. La visibilidad no era muy buena y a parte de unos cuantos “porpoises” no hemos visto nada mas interesante. Incluso los pajaros parecian ser mas escasos, y tampoco hemos visto muchos barcos. Al final hemos llegado a Loch Roag que esta situado en la costa Noroeste de la Isla de Lewis, un precioso lugar rodeado de pequeños islotes. El cielo se ha despejado y el viento se ha calmado, lo cual nos ha dado la oportunidad de ir a visitar dos islas muy bonitas la Pequeña Bernera y la Gran Bernera donde habia restos de un poblado de la Edad de Hierro. Hemos vuelto al barco y un muy sospechoso humo blanco salia por uno de los tubos de escape del barco. Nuestro eficiente capitan Dave ha salido disparado de la lancha y tras unos minutes de experto trabajo ha conseguido solventar la averia. Luego hemos tomado unas bebidas calientes y hablado sobre el plan para mañana, que cosistira en levantarnos a las cinco de la mañana para doblar por primera vez para Silurian la punta norte de la isla de Lewis, lo cual sera muy interesante por descontado!