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.
Wednesday 18th August 2010
Anchorage: Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Position: 56°37.218N, 06°03.696W
Distance travelled: 67.1NM
The morning began a tad slovenly and groggily. The weather was a bit gloomy and one member of the team had a new bump on the head to show everyone. Second breakfast was tasty porridge. We had an early morning encounter with a basking shark in the now calm waters surrounding Soay, followed by a lengthy encounter with a minke in the Sound of Soay. Gemma was excited as she thinks she may have recorded it on the hydrophone (to be confirmed)!!. Our last sighting of the day was with a large basking shark with a perfectly placed spot in the dorsal fin. It was large, silver and flat. Some bright spark named it Baking Tray. Rhum and Eigg looked particularly spectacular in the afternoon sun. Mid afternoon we developed an engine niggle so we changed course and headed back to Tobermory to give it a check over. The port looked stunning in the evening light as mackerel bit on the line and we finished off the day with a coastal walk to Aros park, an early night and, for some, another swift half. No head butting ensued.
Tuesday 17th August 2010
Anchorage: Loch Harport, Skye
Position: 57°18.108N, 06°20.987W
Distance travelled: 50.1 NM
A sun-filled crossing to Skye, passing some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. A couple of minke whales popped up by Neist Point lighthouse and we stayed with them for an hour or more, getting a much better view than the dozen or so people watching from land. Roddy was on hand with the camera to take fin shots for photo-identification purposes. We later discovered that one of the whales had a very distinctive nick in the trailing edge of its dorsal fin, which will make it easier to identify if it is seen again in future. We passed the majestic MacLeod’s Maidens and turned into Loch Harport where the Cuilin Mountains tower over a secluded mooring with a view over the Talisker distillery. A quick run to shore in the peaty waters of the loch and the smell of whisky in the air. The day ended in the lovely Bunkhouse pub with its dog on roof sticking its tongue out to greet us and a few games of pool in the cleverly constructed midge shed. We had a swift half there. The shore excursion ended with us trying to find the local post office to fulfil our mission of posting Tim’s cards. The night ended when one of our volunteers (who will remain nameless) decided to head-butt the Silurian and came second.
Monday 16th August 2010
Anchorage: Leverburgh, Harris
Position: 57°46.019N, 07°01.702W
Distance travelled: 53.5 NM
Well, we thought we had trouble counting birds yesterday....HA! As we approached the stacks (Stac Lee, Borraray and Stac an Armin) a few birds circled round us, but it wasn’t until we were closer and looked above and behind us to find the sky full of gannets. Welcome to the Stac Lee gannetry (home to part of the world’s largest colony of gannets)! Thousands upon thousands of gannets circled all around us, but it was strangely quiet. There was a definite lack of screeching. We watched skuas attacking gannets in order to force them to regurgitate their meal before consuming it themselves. Ewww... but fascinating. Roddy took a spin in the tender (dinghy) to the base of the stack in order to say he had touched it. Surprisingly, he returned poo-free!
The journey back to Harris was somewhat uneventful from that point on, grey, foggy and very rainy. It certainly gave our eyeballs a good clean (note: one must invent some windscreen wipers for eyes...). We didn’t have a sighting until we came into Leverburgh Channel, where one lonely basking shark popped up to say a brief hello (we suspect it may have been a juvenile). A quick, soggy trip to the pub to sample the local ale was followed by another lovely dinner of bean casserole (with surprise pickled onions) and mash followed by baked bananas (with surprise cashew nuts).
Sunday 15th August 2010
Anchorage: Village Bay, Saint Kilda
Position: 57°48.494N, 08°34.162W
Distance travelled: 55.9NM
An early start and even the usual sleepy-eyed volunteers were up early and bouncing around eagerly. The crossing was mainly calm, with a glassy surface but mid-sized rolling swell to give the feel of the high seas. We saw minkes briefly off to port side again, must be their preferred side. White beaked dolphins were expertly spotted by Roddy from over a kilometre away. They soon joined us and spent time splashing alongside and under the boat for a good half hour. One even entertained us with some spectacular acrobatics. Mid afternoon a vague shape emerged from the mist and then disappeared. Skipper Tim made the funny gag that we had to turn back and that this would be our only sight of St Kilda. Funny Guy!!
But by about 5, the mist began to clear and there it was. WE MADE IT TO ST KILDA!!! Woohoo! The water was green and crystal clear. Bird counting got a bit hectic, with 121 gannets and 70 odd fulmars flying by us in a single half hour survey period! Luckily we went off effort before passing the flock of 200+ fulmars sitting on the water awaiting us. Having met the warden we did the touristy thing, rummaging around the gift shop, before heading to the fairy house and exploring the village and museum. The Soay sheep are very cute, and we were even graced with the presence of the native St Kilda wren (30% larger than a normal wren!). This island is absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful . First Mate Roddy disappeared with a gleeful look in his eye. He reappeared several hours later with video evidence of his near-death experience with Bonxies (Great Skuas) attacking him on the cliff top. Whether they were protecting their nests or protesting that he’d taken his clothes off we’ll never find out.
Back on board Silurian we had a quick pasta meal and a toast to St Kilda. Kirsty and Leanne changed into their swim wear and went for a splash off the side of the boat. The other girls opted for the luxury of a long, hot shower on the island and a jog along the glorious stretch of golden sand.
Saturday 14th August
Anchorage: Leverburgh, Harris
Position: 57°46.019N, a 07°01.702W
Distance travelled: 60.3NM
We left Castlebay and headed North along the coast of Barra. The weather held good all day and the sea was mainly calm - any lingering signs of sea-sickness now well behind us all. The day held a few good sightings - common dolphins and porpoises and a couple of brief spotting of minke off the port side. Gemma came up trumps again with the wise words that the number of dolphins visible at the surface often means more are underneath. We passed through the (soon to be) legendary Hebridean Rectangle where we saw proof that time can slip into reverse - football scores reverted back in time before our eyes.
We moored in the rather uninspiring port of Leverburgh on the south coast of Harris. A beautiful coast with a tricky. but scenic, approach through the Sound of Harris. We stopped off for a quick drink at the Anchorage Bar and Restaurant. A fine sausage casserole awaited us on our return to Silurian. One of the finer British dishes and surprisingly not be found in the Delia Bible. An early night for all - tomorrow, weather permitting, it’s off across to St Kilda - the Holy Grail of islands....
Friday 13th August 2010
Anchorage: Castlebay, Barra
Position: 56°57.187N, 07°29.420W
Distance travelled: 58.4NM
The day began well, after a good night’s sleep for all, undisturbed by anchors or raspberries. We left in a warming sun and within a few minutes of first watch starting, Tim spots the first dorsal fin of what proves o be up to eight basking sharks. They circle us for half an hour, occasionally mouths wide open. One swam under the bow giving us ample proof of the huge length they grow to (up to 12 metres). A memorable start to a day that proved mainly glorious with long spells of warm sunshine and calm seas. Blue Peter Minke Spotters Gold Badge goes to Tim for clocking the only whale so far, gone under the waves before any of the rest of us could spot it, but logged for posterity. Later, three porpoises and a couple of seals popped up en route. Highlight of the day for Kirsty has to be the crow’s nest which she describes as the adventure of a lifetime. Excellent coaching down from Tim brought the adventure to a conclusion. Mid afternoon we spot a dead seal or porpoise floating the waves, but tracking back over our path proves unsuccessful and we continue on our way. As we close in on Barra and Castlebay another basking shark pops its’ fin into view, shortly followed by a baby seal heading into the waves. Entering Castlebay the castle comes into view next to a huge CalMac ferry. In 2000 the clan chief of the MacNeils sold the castle to Heritage Scotland for the rent of one bottle of Talisker a year. Castlebay has a beautiful setting a small village that seems caught in time. Shore leave for the Silurian team and a true Scottish West Coast Island pub is recommended by Captain. The afternoon conspires to be a moody grey evening and Friday the 13th lurks in the silhouette of the castle in the bay. The Silurian team head for land. The pub is alive and animated with all sorts of cowboys, mavericks, a kaleidoscope of local characters and weekend islanders. The three men accordion band is in full swing! With a request for a Parisian song and hopes to learn the Scottish jig, the crew watch the locals display the true art to Highland dance. Back to Silurian, giving Dazzlers ‘chip’ van a wide berth. Finish the Friday the thirteenth with the bioluminescence experiment in the sink: the primordial soup. Zenpirate dreams of the adventure to the mystical Saint Kilda.