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.
14th August 2009
Date: Friday 14th August
Position: 57°20’.614N, 05°38’.406W
Distance travelled: 51.4NM
Today was a very different day from yesterday! Strong winds and driving rain were the order of the day but we resolutely kept watch for a full eight hours. The choppy seas meant that sightings were few and brief, one minke whale and a handful of porpoises. Our spirits were kept high by haggis rolls and an optimistic camaraderie. The heating below deck turned the saloon into a sauna as those off watch steamed gently. The rain finally eased as we reached the delightful anchorage of Plockton. We all dressed in what clean clothes were remaining and went ashore for a fine meal and music in the Plockton Inn. A gale warning for tomorrow meant this would be our final port of call, after a Saturday morning of boat cleaning we would drive the last ten miles back to Kyle. Our thoughts go to the crew who have to ferry the boat back to Mull for the next trip going out on Monday. A great week, a typically Hebridean range of weather and sightings galore mad memories to last a lifetime.
13th August 2009
Date: Thursay 13th August
Anchorage: Loch Ewe
Position: 57°46’.438N, 05°36’.584W
Distance travelled: 69.2NM
A flat calm day as we crossed the Minch in a zig-zag course to Loch Ewe. During the eventful crossing we saw; 2 basking sharks, 6 minke whales, about a 100 common dolphins in four groups and innumerable sightings of porpoise numbering over 75 individuals. The mirror smooth sea enabled the sea bird spotters to count hundreds of auks and shearwaters in huge rafts, including some rare sooty shearwaters. A more gruesome discovery was the rotting corpse of a minke whale accompanied by feasting fulmars. The tender was dispatched and Nienke collected some samples and tried unsuccessfully to wrestle the jaw bone free. The smell was indescribable and followed everyone for the rest of the day! Loch Ewe brought a haggis based dinner, included self picked and cleaned mussels and recollections of a marvellous day.
12th August 2009
Date: Wednesday 12th August
Position: 58°12’.404N, 06°23’.431W
Distance travelled: 38.0NM
With brisk westerly winds we could have the sails up most of the day as we headed out into the Minch and up to finish our circumnavigation of Harris and Lewis. A breakfast at anchor, we picked our way out of Loch Tarbet and soon saw a single basking shark as it cruised past the boat. Once out in open water we set our sails, cut the engine and sailed north east. We were getting lots of underwater sound detections of porpoises but the choppy conditions meant we were only lucky enough to get occasional glimpses of them. A luncheon of cheese and various things on toast, including mango chutney, fortified the crew for an afternoon of riding the swell. We continued with large numbers of porpoise detections (breaking the previous record with a total of 29) and occasional sightings, healed over all sails aloft we sailed into Stornoway Harbour just as the rain arrived. The resident harbour seals lolloped next to the boat allowing themselves to be photographed at all angles. At liberty to explore the delights of the capital of the Western Isles some of the volunteers spoiled themselves with a swim, sauna and limitless showers at the leisure centre. A dinner of lamb in mystery sauce pie with mojitos was finished off by a night on the town.
11th August 2009
Date: Tuesday 11th August
Anchorage: East Loch Tarbet, South Harris
Position: 57°52’.291N, 06°98’.181W
Distance travelled: 27.3NM
A lie in was to be had today as breakfast was a leisurely and stationary 8am start but many were up and about earlier - I suspect still buzzing from the dolphin bow riding experience of yesterday and wanting more. As the forecast wasn’t favourable a shorter day’s route was planned, only 34 miles to Loch Boisdale. After a good breakfast everyone kitted up in layers and full waterproofs to start the day. With the swell growing I think everyone who did observation at the mast could relate to Lieutenant Dan in Forest Gump – strapping themselves to the mast and carrying on whatever the elements dare throw at them. With the weather against us the days surveying was cut short and plan B was brought in to action - heading back round and along to Loch Tarbert. Even in such unfavourable conditions six lots of porpoises were heard on the hydrophone and one porpoise and seal were spotted. Lunch was a wholesome home made soup (Hats off to Lewis for peeling and chopping while the Silurian bobbed around on the waves!) which quickly warmed everybody up. After chores, naps and a short trip down the loch we were off to the shops and to investigate the local pub. The general store at Tarbert has to be mentioned, an Aladdin’s cave of anything you could possibly need and it solved our teaspoon shortage. A hearty meal of sausage casserole and apple crumble finished another day. The surveying was cut short but it was full of excitement and adventure and we definitely all now have our sea legs!
10th August 2009
Date: Monday 10th August
Anchorage: Sound of Harris
Position: 58°39’.370N, 07°05’.587W
Distance travelled: 74.0NM
After another super early start (7am – call this a holiday?), we broke our fast en route to the Flannan Islands. Only moments later, the crew admitted to sneakily ‘forgetting’ to tell us about a lone minke whale that they spotted during Nienke’s presentation on birds. (Note to Editor: The volunteers will get you back). Shortly afterwards, all was forgiven when we spotted our first white-beaked dolphins, which brought with them, not only much excitement but some much needed sunshine. The team’s spirits continued to lift dramatically as the day progressed, in part due to the gorgeous sunshine. One crew member in particular, who shall remain nameless, went for a quick snooze on the deck, only to be rudely awakened with the question ‘Where are the raisins kept?’ The normally friendly face turned slightly grumpy, albeit momentarily. Hemlines rose and layers continued to be peeled off for the rest of the afternoon, with some even daring to bare their legs in shorts. Even more white-beaked dolphins came out to play, following the boat for a good half hour. May be they were just as interested in observing us as we were of them? Who knows but several super smiley faces and a few squeals of delight, alongside frantic clicks from several cameras (now fondly known as the HWDT paparazzi), surely must have heightened their interest. Piping hot scones began to appear (remember the raisin question?), with lots of butter, jam and tea; just how we like them! A few dolphins later and the crew and volunteers felt that we had had the perfect day. Just in case you were wondering, the bird presentation ensured that we identified lots of birds, some cuter than others. Puffins in particular, generated the most ‘aaahhhs’ from the girls, with the Kittiwake viewed as the prettiest and most elegant of them all. The Flannan Islands were a hit with all,due to their picturesque setting and the huge number of our feathered friends.
On a final note, special mention goes to Mono (yes you!) for managing a whole 3 hours on the Crows Nest without a single comfort break or even a request for tea/ coffee/ lunch. I do believe, it took a very persuasive crew member to coax him down. After a wonderful day, a gorgeous sunset and a few drinks, everyone retired to bed eagerly anticipating the delights of the next day.
9th August 2009
Date: Sunday 9th August
Anchorage: Maivaig Bay
Position: 58°11’.819N, 06°56’.313W
Distance travelled: 67.3NM
We all rose to the thrum of the engines for a 7am departure from harbour. We breakfasted on the move and soon turned north toward the Butt of Lewis. This led to lots of innuendo as the first mate is called Lewis! A flat sea and a following wind had us speeding along at nearly 8kts. As we rounded the Butt a cry of “sighting” summoned all from below to be rewarded by five bottlenose dolphins. Whilst watching and photographing a basking shark was spotted. The dolphins departed but we relocated the shark and great views were had. Macaroni cheese for lunch as we rode the Atlantic rollers was interrupted by a sun fish. We had a brief glimpse of a porpoise but ennui was just setting in as we cruised down the west coast of Lewis when Nienke remarked “We could be lucky and see a whale”, the word “whale” had barely left her lips when a Minke Whale appeared. While we slowed to reacquire the whale it turned to find us, reappearing right beside the boat. We ran in tandem, it rose and fell metres from the boat at times passing directly underneath. We all snapped away trying to get identification photos, it eventually tired of us and dived away. After all that excitement many eyes were on deck as we ran on to our stop for the night. After picking our way through West Loch Roag we laid anchor in the safe haven of Maivaig Bay. It was a day where sightings were defiantly the name of the game.
8th August 2009
Date: Saturday 8th August
Position: 58°12’.404N, 06°23’.431W
Distance travelled: 47.6NM
The wind had freshened during the night so we left Staffin under full sail. Everyone fell into our first full day of survey routine. As we sailed up the east coast of Skye the seas mounted and one by one the volunteers fell victim to the pitch and roll of the boat. Mono was the first with his head over the rail and soon we were left with the hardy trio of Rachael, Heidi and Leanne to carry on with the survey duties. Once past the Shiant Islands the wind and the sea dropped. We headed onward under jib and power across the Minch. The flatter conditions enabled the fallen to rise again and all were up and about by the time we tied up in Stornoway harbour. Our arrival had coincided with the annual Lewis carnival; we were sadly too late to enter the fancy dress competition. We celebrated Leanne’s birthday with an Indian feast cooked by Namita and Debbie followed by cake and silly games. We all thought we could forgo a spin on the carnival’s waltzers as we had had enough of being tossed around all day. A mixed day with 20 acoustic porpoise detections but sadly no sightings.