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 10th June 2011, Cal’s Birthday!
Today began with the ambitious plan to reach the Shiants in the Outer Hebrides. We got there and it was bird heaven – hundreds and hundreds of birds including 3 Sea eagles and Grey Seals. Another long day but we’re not complaining – had a great time there and could have stayed all day! Throughout the day there were at least 30 harbour porpoise acoustic detections although we only had one visual sighting of them!
Skipper Dave found us yet another idyllic location to moor up for the night- in Loch Gairloch. Our late dinner was some yummy homemade pizzas followed by cheesecake to celebrate Cal’s birthday! A beautiful evening to match the location.
Cal also made BBC news today with her fabulous photo of the Leatherback Turtle spotted on Sunday, check it out at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-13727829
Thursday 9th June 2011
Anchorage: Loch Snizort
Distance travelled: 40NM
This morning the wind was blowing pretty hard but the sea was much calmer than yesterday. Unfortunately, although this made the boat much more comfortable to be on, conditions were not good for sighting as the surface was dense with whitecaps. As we crossed the Minch, Olivia had acoustics running the whole time so despite the fact that we had no cetacean sightings, we did have 21 harbour porpoise detections. At one time the screen was a blizzard of little red triangles! (computer indicators of porpoise presence) There were a few seals around, including one that Jenny – the eternal optimist - thought was another turtle…. Yes, really.
As we passed Waternish Point on Skye there was a mass of birds feeding at the surface. As we got closer, we identified them as kittiwakes, about a hundred of them milling around, occasionally ducking down to the water. Then a low cloud of about 750 smallish black birds flew into view, and it took a while for us to realise that they were shearwater. The person on relay was having a hard time keeping up with it all.
Moving into Loch Snizort, we investigated the Ascrib Islands at the entrance, still hoping for our first cetacean sighting but there really wasn’t anything about. We motored far into the loch and anchored for the night in a quiet pool called Loch Snizort Beag.
Wednesday 8th June 2011
Anchorage: Loch Finsbay
Position: 57°46.718’N 006°54.388’W
Distance travelled: 50.6NM
Another exciting morning riding the waves. Great to be on the move again and seeing many fulmars and gannets so gracefully and effortlessly flying close to the waves with their 3m swell. We were also treated to the rare sight of a long-tailed Skua.
Heading south from Loch Roag towards the Sound of Harris, taking advantage of the window of opportunity of good weather, Skipper Dave spotted an inviting sandy beach on the Island of Ensay where we moored up for some lunch and then went ashore for a short exploration. We found a lovely old house and on trying the door found it open. In one of the rooms we found a visitors book and it transpired that other people had also stopped by. The house was full of old memories of island life.
Continuing on from Ensay we had a flurry of sightings as we entered the Sound of Harris, 2 Minkes, a harbour porpoise and an, as yet, unidentified dolphin species.
After the heavy seas of yesterday and this morning they finally calmed and we had a quiet shorter journey to Loch Finsbay on the south-east coast of Harris where we moored for the night.
Tuesday 7th June; Jenny’s Birthday!
Anchorage: Loch Roag
Position: 58°11.784’N 006°56.422’W
Distance travelled: 15.2NM
They breed them tough in these parts. They are also masters of the understatement. The wind may be howling in off the sea and the rain will be coming in horizontal and a local would simply mutter ‘Aye, it’s a bit breezy’. Well today was one of those days. We headed west out of Loch Roag with a stiff north-easterly blowing but feeling we had a chance to get back through the sound of Harris and back to the Inner Hebrides. As we approached the headland, the swell increased and the wind rose so the skipper took the decision to batten down the hatches and retrace our steps. In his words ‘I’d rather be in here wishing I was out there than out there wishing I was in here.’ With the wind touching force eight there were few complaints from the volunteers. We did manage one dolphin sighting despite the inclement conditions, saw buffalo ashore and picked a couple of porpoise on the acoustics before we reached the safety of the mooring that we had left three hours previously. The rest of the day was spent amusing ourselves with assorted parlour games – if anyone knows the solution to the talking Timothy cup game, please e-mail in - before we celebrated Jenny’s birthday with a delicious cake baked by the science officer and enjoyed a half of cider. The first mate Rod was keen to get onto the island of Pabbay in the dinghy but the wind and rain were not relenting, so his dreams of setting up camp there like the pirates of yore will have to wait.
Monday 6th June 2011
Anchorage: Loch Roag
Position: 58°11.784’N 006°56.422’W
Distance travelled: 64 NM
This morning we set out from Taransay, with the weather not looking too promising! Today was our first day recording bird species seen, and we had the fantastic treat of seeing many puffins throughout the day. Many seals popped their heads up as we set off on our trip to the Flannan Isles. Lucky for us the weather picked up and the sun came out- yippee! Another beautiful day for sightings! Visibility was stated by the skipper to be precisely 44.62 miles as we saw St. Kilda on the horizon. Mid-way out to the islands we had a pleasant surprise as we saw…….a whole group of white beaked dolphins! (This was the first time most of us have ever seen these before- some people even thought it was a myth that the species existed!) This was a great opportunity for many photos to be taken of them. When we eventually reached the Flannans we were amazed at the numbers and variety of birds there, perched on the interesting rock formations of the islands. One of the islands had a number of old staircases leading up to a lighthouse, but we didn’t brave a landing! On our way back the sea calmed to a beautiful glassy surface. However, dark clouds and rougher conditions were approaching. Spread throughout the day we also saw five minke whales swim past our view from the boat. After a very long day we managed to find a secluded spot for anchorage in Loch Roag between loads of mussel and salmon farms. The day ended with a late but delicious meal of tatties and mince cooked for us by Jenny. It is now around half past eleven and we are just watching the last of the light disappear behind the land. Even after yesterday’s amazing sightings today was definitely not a disappointment.
Sunday 5th June - Leatherback Turtle!
Sunday 5th June 2011
Position: 57°53.434’N 007°02.737’W
Distance travelled: 6NM
The weather was much quieter today and we were able to spot a few porpoises as we left Loch Torridon. It seemed like a good start but nothing could have prepared us for the huge number of sightings ahead. Firstly there was a pod of about 30 common dolphin, which we followed for ages before they came over for a look. They stayed for about 15 mins then went back to whatever fish-fest the gannets were helping themselves to while the dolphins were distracted. Then in the distance we saw another much larger pod. 75 common dolphin, many of which came over for a look and a play at the bow! Once we’d finally torn ourselves away and continued up the Skye coast we only had to wait half an hour or so before a minke popped up. Then another one. Then some more dolphin came along… and by this time it was getting silly. We kept seeing pod after pod and minke after minke. Seven pods of common dolphin in total and four minke whale. Brilliant you’d think, but the best was also the least expected. Halfway across to Harris something strange surfaced about 50m ahead. It looked a bit like a whale but didn’t act like a whale – it just floated there looking lumpy and weird. Was it an old water tank? Then as the boat sailed past just a couple of metres from the object we realised that it was an absolutely massive turtle! Huge! It slowly dived out of sight but we were patient and it surfaced again to the delight of everyone on board and we were able to watch it for ten mins or so before it swam sedately away. A quick look at the identification book told us that it was a leatherback turtle and a big one – we reckoned a metre and a half long. About half a tonne, according to the book!
The Sound of Harris was a bit lumpy to anchor in so we carried on through to the west coast and up to Taransay. After nearly 12 hours on effort we were still fit for a walk ashore and were treated to the most spectacularly orange and red sunset on a remote sandy beach and the sight of an otter skipping down the beach as we headed back to the mothership. What an incredible day!!!!!
Saturday 4th June 2011
Anchorage: Loch Torridon
Position: 57°33.213’N 005°38.082’W
Distance travelled: 25.8NM
Leaving Kyle of Lochalsh we made it under the Skye bridge, by the skin of our teeth said skipper! We changed plans from Gairloch and travelled to Loch Torridon instead in a force 6 gale but saw marvellous scenery on the way. We saw one unidentified seal and the acoustic detection picked up 4 harbour porpoise. Although not recording birds today we saw a couple of skuas. Approaching our destination we had a creel fest. After dropping the anchor surrounded by beautiful hills, we had a walk before dinner, one of the highlights of which was seeing our science officer up a tree. On board later a Sea Eagle was seen hovering above the boat and an otter briefly popped up its head. Rod did a grand job keeping us fed during the day.