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.
7th August 2009
Date: Friday 7th August
Anchorage: Staffin Bay, Skye
Position: 57° 38’.268N, 06°12’.931W
Distance travelled: 31.2NM
The morning of the first day for the new Silurian trip couldn’t come too soon for the six new volunteers. We had all looked forward to it for so long that it was with a little trepidation and great excitement that we learned the basics - how to save a man over board, how to fasten ourselves to the ‘research vessel’ and how to flush the head (with the handless toilet). The grand tour of our luxurious cabins lasted all of 5 minutes, a quick look at the map and we were off on our way in the glorious sunshine. Before we’d even had our spotting lesson we’d spotted harbour porpoises, guillemots and razorbills galore! Then we stopped for lunch in a peaceful location and after lessons we formally went ‘on effort’. Our hourly chores would be two entering data, two on watch and two off duty (making endless cups of tea). Our lessons proved very successful and improved our sightings with more porpoises and not one but two minke whales on either side of the vessel. Following a hot and filling tea some ventured to the shore in search of a public house whilst others busied themselves on board - watching the sun go down and spying on the antics of those on land. An amazing end to a memorable first day!
Written by Rachael Wadey and Namita Das
5th August 2009
Date: Friday 5th August
Anchorage: Kyle of Lochalsh
Position: 57°16’.712N, 05°42’.843W
Distance travelled: 28.4NM
Unfortunately the last full day of the trip and still the weather gods might have something against us. Or, as is often said on the Silurian: “Whatever happens, just blame the skipper”, sorry Tim.... Because the trip started and also ends in Kyle of Lochalsh, the last part of the journey was due south, straight against the wind which resulted in a quite lumpy drive. At a certain moment all (except for skipper and first mate) were called off effort for the conditions became too bad for surveying. Some brave hearts kept the crew outside company in the wind and rain, while others enjoyed themselves down below deck. The last part of the journey was a bit more sheltered and observations could carry on. One last look of the Skye Bridge and then all that remained was mooring and cleaning the boat. A short wander into town, long hot showers and then we went out for a dinner and some drinks. Our birthday women Alys had to leave earlier unfortunately. Overall, we didn’t have the best weather during this trip, hopefully the next trip is more lucky, but nevertheless some great sightings, lots of fun and new experiences.
Video compilation of the trip created by Skipper Tim Pickering, music by Anam:www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuaSWAt2WYA
4th August 2009
Date: Tuesday 4th August
Position: 57°32’.052N, 05°59’.443W
Distance travelled: 52.3NM
Leaving the anchorage in the Summer Isles, everyone went on effort as soon as possible again. Because the weather conditions were supposed to be bad again (guess we are a bit unlucky this trip), the plan was to zigzag between the various islands and hopefully picking up some nice porpoise detections, and hopefully also some visual sightings in the more protected areas between the islands. Unfortunately, the fish farms around are using very loud ADD’s, also called seal scarers, which caused the system to keep crashing. Throughout the day, we saw 1common seal, 5 harbour porpoise sightings, 1 minke whale, 3 grey seal and 1 unidentified seal. Especially the minke whale sighting was extraordinary, for the sea was calm flat again, but the threatening dark grey skies – including heavy rain - were surrounding us and a feeling of ‘there is something in the air’ got everyone in an intense alertness. It was magical, the whole environment was breathing mystery. After over an hour, we continued our route south heading for the anchorage on Rona.
3rd August 2009
Date: Monday 3rd August
Anchorage: Summer Isles
Position: 58°03’.023N, 05°25’.465W
Distance travelled: 54.1NM
Today the crew of Silurian travelled started from Loch Ewe before heading west into the Minch, from there the boat travelled north, before coming to anchor in the Summer Isles. On the journey, the crew sighted two minke whales, six porpoises, 1 grey seal and two groups of common dolphins. The day started with calm flat seas which made it possible to have a good look at the abundant porpoises. Although we saw 6 of them, more were detected on the hydrophone. A good example that you can only see the animals at the surface, but in combination with the hydrophone gives you a better impression of what is going on around you. However these sea conditions did not last very long. Soon the waters became choppy again. In the early afternoon the weather improved a bit and this was when we saw the minke’s. One we ‘followed’ for over an hour while it disappeared constantly during the foraging dives, but to come up in a relatively predicted pattern. Trying to ID the individual showed that it was an individual not in the HWDT catalogue yet, always interesting! The 2 groups of common dolphins only showed a very quick glimpse of themselves appearing just for a few seconds before surfing off on the waves in opposite direction – we had no chance of following them that quick. After dinner, the rest of the evening was spend on a nice white beach while the sun lowered in the sky.....
2nd August 2009
Date: Sunday 2nd August
Anchorage: Loch Ewe
Position: 57°50’.503N, 05°37’.558W
Distance travelled: 58.8nm
What a great day! The crew of Silurian woke to rain but the skies soon cleared and before long Ian spotted a minke foraging in southerly direction. A change of course took the crew south as well in an attempt to capture the animal’s characteristic features for photo identification, but the minke was camera shy and the Silurian resumed her planned course heading north-east in the aim to cross the Minch again. Halfway between the Outer Hebrides and Skye, the skipper took a funny turn and decided to turn into a pirate, complete with parrot and eye patch. After a little while, the next excitement was a dead animal floating off the starboard bow. This turned out to be a basking shark of some 9m. The intrepid skipper launched the rib and jumped aboard closely followed by Nienke with the necropsy kit. She punctured the carcass and returned triumphantly with a sample to be sent for DNA testing. Not long afterwards there was a sighting of another minke whale foraging in the lumpy eddies very close to the headland in the northern tip of Skye. The minke whale was closely followed by several porpoise sightings (which to Nienke’s joy were also very abundant on the hydrophone) and then the star of the day appeared a juvenile basking shark which happily performed for the crew and photographers. For many on board this was their first sighting of a basking shark and the youngster happily swam around the boat – clearly a future film star. The excitement was still not ended for before long another minke whale came into view. It made an arch around the stern of the boat and then disappeared again. Alys thought she saw another one, but because the animal was only seen once in the rough waters, it remained an unidentified cetacean. The Silurian sailed into Loch Ewe and anchored as the cooking team of Ian and Ross were going strong in the galley and soon served the crew with a delicious supper. Evening entertainment was out on deck with lots of laughter and giggling. A beautiful – and well deserved – day in the Hebrides! Hopefully more of these to follow.....
1st August 2009
Date: Saturday 1st August
Position: 57°35’.728N, 07°09’.309W
Distance Travelled: Nil
Hoping for more settled weather, we stood up this morning at the usual time. The sun was shining, although it did not last very long. Soon the skies turned dark grey again and additionally the gales kept on hitting the boat. A relax breakfast followed, knowing that at least we had to sit out the first couple of hours before the wind would ease a bit. Nienke briefly discussed photo identification and all were challenged to identify some minke whales of which the pictures were taken during previous trips. Soon everyone understood that photo-id is a time consuming task which involves much patience and perseverance. No consensus was reached about which individuals were seen, but at least the list of possible matches decreased. More effort needs to put into match making before we can definitely say which animals were spotted. Because the gales remained present, the decision was made not to go out yet. Instead, everyone was asked to finish writing the blog, a task which seemed to take ages. Later, the decision was made to stay the rest of the day in harbour, for there was no point in going out with this weather - unfortunately. Some took a runner to the spa again, while others watched you tube movies and eat homemade flapjacks. In the evening the wind died bit by bit. Hopefully a good sign for tomorrow, for after been storm bound for 2 days it’s time to go out again and try to find some whales, dolphins and/or basking sharks.
Movie of the week: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1gcvHBd7oc
........... Could have been us out there.....