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.
5th June 2009
Date: Friday 5th June 2009
Position: 56°37`.186N, 006°03`.949W
Distance travelled: 32.47NM
We’ve had a grand tour. The weather has been spectacular. The animals have been sparse in the past few days. Creels remain numerous.
These are a few of our favourite things:
Ray liked the skuas and the storm petrels. He saw more skuas than ever in his life before (and he is a birder) and he appreciated seeing the storm petrels in their breeding environment. He found the diversity of geology exciting.
Wendy liked the basking sharks and the white beaked dolphins. She didn’t expect to see so many sharks and loved the bow riding dolphins.
Linda liked the dolphins too, especially from her perch in the crow’s nest.
Gil had been trying to see basking sharks for two years and finally did. The balletic movement of their fins through the water was beautiful. Getting to know the variety of land forms of the Scottish Islands from the sea was also a highlight for her.
Margot.....all of the above and the thrill of taking pictures of an orchid, new to her, the common- spotted orchid on the hills above the anchorage at Canna. Also the climb up to the crow’s nest, when least expected, was very exiting!
Lynn enjoyed the stories in Hamish Haswell-Smith’s book, The Scottish Islands, recommended by Skipper Dave. In fact however, everyone got into the vignettes of history in this delightful tome.
Nienke liked watching the cosiness of the puffins in their breeding colony. She was also excited to see basking sharks and white sided dolphins for the first time. The opportunity to make the trip to Stanton’s Bank with the calm sea was a special experience.
Dave appreciated the scintillating company! The highlight for him was seeing Margot’s exhilaration after climbing into the crow’s nest.
Lewis told us the conversational topic for whale watcher guides and skippers has been, “When are we going to see white sided dolphins?” Seeing 75 at one time was an amazing experience for him, a big ‘tick’ on the small list of cetaceans that are seen in the Hebrides.
4th June 2009
Date: Thursday 4th June 2009
Position: 56°54’.286N, 05°51’.489W
Distance travelled: 49.7NM
Weighed anchor at Canna Harbour, after having negotiated with a very close neighbouring boat whose anchor was very close to ours and who was actually positioned straight above our anchor. From Canna we finished the tour of the Small Isles including Rum, Eigg and Muck. Sailed by the mausoleum, a Greek structure in the middle of the Hebrides, dedicated to Bullough’s parents near Harris on Rum. Although we remained in the more protected areas (lee sides of the islands), the sea was rough enough. At times we were surrounded by more than a dozen of fishing boats, indicating presence of fish in the area, but sightings were few. Most observations were made up by the abundant birds (mainly gulls), remaining in close vicinity of the fishing boats. Later, we saw two rafts of shearwaters, estimating 250 in all, seeming to be in a feeding frenzy. Rum is a breeding place for shearwaters who nest in burrows high above the sea. In another area gannets were plunging for fish. Anchorage tonight is at Arisaig, a scenic village on the west coast of the mainland harbouring many yachts.
3rd June 2009
Date: Wednesday 3rd June 2009
Anchorage: Canna Harbour
Position: 57°03’.337N, 06°29’.692W
Distance travelled: 34.2NM
Thought from today: tied to the mast – again – for no porpoise!
Innumerable creels we counted on starboard and port sides. Rarely sighted grey seals, but besides them, nothing else but waves. And more waves. We had a lovely sail, however, across the Sea of the Hebrides. Then we went into Canna Harbour and anchored without difficulty. Skipper stayed aboard making gourmet stew while the rest of us went ashore on the dinghy. Lynn met 7 year old Elinore, one of the students who participated in the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust educational program a few weeks ago. Her Silurian experience was a highlight for her and she also adopted a dolphin. Her father is the gardener contracted to restore the garden of Canna House. The House currently contains an important collection of Gaelic documents which are very valuable. Other adventures included hiking to the tops of mountains to witness panoramic views of the Islands of bo Outer (North and South Uist) and Inner Hebrides, the latter including Skye, Rum, Mull, Muck, Coll and Hyskier. Wild flowers were fabulous including the common spotted orchids which were photographed from positions beside the dehydrated sheep dung. We returned to Silurian and enjoyed the fruits of the skipper’s labour!
2nd June 2009
Date: Tuesday 2nd June 2009
Anchorage: Loch Boisdale
Position: 57°09’.257N, 07°18’.004W
Distance travelled: 59.7NM
Thought for this day: we otter do better than this.
At the regular time, we left from Vatersay and soon we saw two minke whales. Shorty after these sightings, we sailed south into the fog bank and the temperature fell drastically. As we came out of the fog the cliffs of Barra Head and Mingulay loomed before us. Birds were everywhere and noise – birds and their echoes from the caves – guillemots (common, bridled and black), puffins, razor bills, shags, kittiwakes, fulmars, rock doves were all nesting on the ledges. We proceeded toward the Atlantic and then northward on the westerly side of the Outer Hebrides. This is the most fertile and populous side of the Outer Hebrides. Our skipper skillfully navigated us through the treacherous Barra Sound past plundering and raiding McNeil Clan pirate hideouts of Eriskay. Dinner wasn’t ready yet when we pulled into the Acasaid Mor. The anchor refused to hold so we ventured on to Loch Boisdale where we encountered an otter. On the way, we had a scientific discussion and identification catalogues where more closely examined. Unfortunately no pics of the Barra boys (the resident bottlenose dolphins of the Sound of Barra) to compare. Arriving at the final destination for today, dinner was ready and enjoyed by everyone, while outside the wind was howling.
1st June 2009
Date: Monday 1st June 2009
Anchorage: Vatersay Bay (Vatersay, South of Barra)
Position: 56°55’.405N, 07°31’.849W
Distance travelled: 103.3NM
Today we are going to have a whale of a time...
We did! And that came from being in the right place at the right time.
We got up EARLY at 4.45 am and weighed anchor, to head to the Stanton Banks. As soon as we were underway and barely ‘On Effort’, we were overwhelmed with sightings! Most were basking sharks, the first ones of the season. Soon we had a system in place to keep the research records more efficiently! During the day, we saw 3 kinds of dolphins – white beaked, common and white sided; as well as minke whales. In addition there were harbour porpoises and grey seals. The banks were teeming with life! Effort concluded at 6 pm (to our relief) but sightings and their recordings continued – more dolphins, porpoises, grey seals and another minke whale. Diving gannets were often a clue to finding dolphins. They were especially enjoyed by Linda (who spent 4 hours in the crow’s nest) when the dolphins were bow riding. The weather was remarkable with sunshine and very light winds all day. The sea was calm and like glass at times, with only very little swell. About 51 basing sharks, 9 minke’s, 70 common dolphins, 75 white sided dolphins, 42 white beaked dolphins, 19 harbour porpoises, 5 unidentified seals, 1 common seal, 25 grey seals later and over 103 miles travelled since starting, we anchored for the night at Vatersay Island which is joined by a causeway to Barra Island in the Outer Hebrides. This was an extraordinarily unusual day in the Hebrides.
31st May 2009
Date: Sunday 31st May 2009
Anchorage: Gunna (between Tiree and Coll)
Position: 56°33’.694N, 06°42’.760W
Distance travelled: 32.0NM
Thought of the day: think positive for results!
At the usual time, we awakened to surfing music and more sunshine. Before starting the research effort, we detoured into Tinker’s Hole for a quick look around. Heading on, we then sailed past Iona and did a circumnavigation of Staffa giving us a great view into Fingel’s Cave. West from there we went to Lunga where we joined a number of tourists who had also landed. Across the rocks we scrambled and then climbed the path to the grassy bench and puffin breeding burrows, conveniently dug by the rabbits. Puffins were busy puffin’, smooching and building nests in their homes. The birds are very photogenic but it’s challenging to get the right sides showing on the pictures, including the green on the beak and the orange feet. Lovely wild flowers were abundant including thrift, primulas, orchids, trefoil and others. Continuing our journey, Ray was in the crow’s nest and we headed across Gunna Sound near Tiree where we hit the bonanza – 8 basking sharks with at least one couple on the romantic move and two minkes, mom and babe? Before dinner, an excursion to shore where some disembarked and walked along the fine sand to be picked up at the other end of the beach. The large gray seals were obviously guarding their territory and wary of our intrusion. The day ended with a lovely calm dinner under the lowering sun, while basking sharks were visible in the calm flat sea.
30th May 2009
Date: Saturday 30th May 2009
Anchorage: Southwest of Mull, between Mull and Arraid
Position: 56°17’.266N, 06°21’.0370W
Distance travelled: 59.3NM
Thought of the day: Tied to the mast for no porpoise
Left “the most beautiful place in the world” and travelled all day in brilliant sunshine.....can you believe it? In the Hebrides! Today we passed Christine Keeler’s hideaway (remember the Profumo Scandal?) Skipper leaves open all possibilities depending on weather forecasts and actual conditions ....so we never quite know where we’ll spend the night. Again, 10.5 hours of surveying through the area, only this time even less sightings and recordings, but what to expect in rough seas with sailing speed of 9 knots in wind force 9. Tonight we’re anchored off a rugged island off Mull (Erraid, the famous island from the R.L. Stevenson’s book “ Kidnapped”, which he is said to have written when staying on the island). Bangers and mash with rice pudding for dinner.....gourmet quality. The cast and crew have gone off exploring in the zodiac, where they were inspected by eight seals checking them out from the water close to the beach. Back on board, another porpoising seal and we rested our heads while the boat was rocking on the Atlantic swell.
29th May 2009
Date: Friday 29th May 2009
Anchorage: Loch Terbert (west Jura)
Position: 55°57’.593N, 05°54’.955W
Distance travelled: 65.6NM
We travelled 65 miles today with 10 hours “on effort”, so Nienke our scientist was pleased with our input. Lots of birds, all ably identified by Ray, Wendy and crew but not too much other “livestock” although porpoises were picked up on the hydrophone so they were all around us, unseen. We had our first introduction into sailing on the Silurian. Finally, we settled at the ”most beautiful anchorage in the world” according to skipper who zodiacked us over in batches to the loveliest flat-stone covered raised beach. Contest for the most beautiful stone is unresolved as the judge clearly had the winning entry...Slept like bricks after our day of fresh air.