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.
Monday July 4th. Happy Independence Day!
Our first sighting today was a pod of common dolphins within 20 metres of the boat. They rode the bow for a few minutes and we were fortunate enough to see three juveniles and one calf. The birds were plentiful and so was the glare – making spotting a bit difficult. We were joined again by a second group of dolphins after about an hour, followed shortly by another large group of dolphins giving us tremendous displays of acrobatics and speed swimming as they circled the boat. Continuing eastwards across the Sea of the Hebrides we spotted a minke whale who came across our bow at very close quarters and gave us a stunning view of its flank as he whizzed past – it was clearly a minke on a mission - we are not sure though who was surveying who! Approaching the mainland we saw two harbour porpoises and one grey seal making a total of 7 sightings for the day. Not a big day on numbers of sightings, but the quality was second to none. Anchoring at the beautiful Loch Moidart we did a quick shore visit to an impressive derelict castle, where Chris unexpectedly tested the temperature of the water much to his and everyone’s surprise. The weather is still being very kind with a warm breeze off the mainland and the food continues to impress - huge thanks again to Emma.
Sunday 3rd July 2011
Position: 56°55.437 N 007°31.778 W
Distance travelled: 45 miles
Boy what a morning! It seemed like every time one animal was spotted another two appeared, making for a thrilling first few hours to our day. We spotted eight minke whales, some of which came right up alongside our boat, one unknown blow, seven grey seals, three basking sharks, six harbour porpoise sightings and one common seal. Twenty-six sightings in total! The conditions were excellent at the start of the day, but these declined as we ventured out of sheltered waters into the full brunt of the North Atlantic. This correlated with a drop in sightings, but some excellent waves made for swash-buckling stretch of sailing during which two very shark-like puffins got us all excited for a moment. Then as we rounded back into Vatersay, the waves and wind fell away to be replaced by smoother waters and warm sunlight. Our final shark sighting was complimented by three grey seals and a common seal bringing our day’s effort to a close. A hearty meal of haggis, neeps and tatties was had by all, served by our skipper Dave – as if he doesn’t already have enough on his hands. This was followed by Emma’s delicious walnut, apple, pear and plum crumble, yet another gastronomic delight created by our first-mate - we are very well fed on board! An earlier clocking-off also allowed for a pleasant trip to the stunning beaches of Vatersay Island. The water was so clear and blue, and the sands so white that we could have been fooled into thinking we were in the Caribbean. But a quick paddle quickly re-asserted our Scottish whereabouts. Unfortunately the idyllic coastline was marred by rubbish on the beach but we didn’t let this affect our morale and after collecting the most marine-unfriendly litter, we walked over hills covered in wild flowers and hundreds of orchids listening to corncrake calls, made friends with a characterful tractor and had a quick Highland Games caber-tossing contest, which, unsurprisingly, Emma won.
Saturday 2nd July 2011
Anchorage: Loch Eynort - South Uist
Position: 57° 13.885 N 007°18.821W
Distance travelled: 53 NM
Just a short one as we’re all exhausted from a long, eventful day! Now that we’re welding into a well-oiled team, our daily tasks are becoming more routine. We left our anchorage at 9.30am with fine weather and a smooth(ish) sea and headed across North-eastwards towards the NW coast of Skye. Throughout the day we had seven sightings of harbour porpoises, three grey seals, two common seals and three more unidentified seals. We had a particularly special encounter with a mother and calf porpoise as they swam directly in front of our boat. Soon after, we spotted a minke whale and an inquisitive seal together as we crossed back from Skye towards the Outer Hebrides. There was also a very exciting search for an unidentified whale as a tall columnar blow was spotted at a distance. The sun appeared and the sea flattened out towards the end of the day giving us spectacular views of the passage into our solitary mooring. In total we had twenty sightings and of course plenty of birds, including an arctic skua.
Friday 1st July 2011
Anchorage: South of Tahay – Sound of Harris
Position: 57° 39.448 N 007°05.558 W
Distance travelled: 49 miles
After spending a balmy night at our mooring at Canna, we set off in bright sunshine across a glittering sea and headed up the west coast of Skye. As the clouds gradually inched their way across the sun we found ourselves in near perfect conditions and the sightings began to roll in. We started with harbour porpoise (12 separate sightings by the end of the day) and then grey seal, who popped their heads up near the boat to check us out, and watched us go past. There was a brief lull – just enough time for tea and biscuits – well you have to get a break some time- then came the shearwaters, bobbing in a great raft on the water in a mad feeding fest. Naturally we went to check it out and POW! we spotted two large minke whales lunge feeding. They swam right up to the boat, arcing through the water beside us and were quite happy for us to stay with them for over 20 minutes until we decided to move on. After a fantastic risotto cooked by Emma, the first mate - we quickly moved on to common dolphins (80!) zipping along with their young, bow riding, some looking at us coyly as they nonchalantly swam past on their sides before exuberantly bouncing off and staying with us for thirty minutes before they finally left us - but not before providing us with an awesome acoustic performance on the hydrophone. The seas got up slightly, the wind acquired a nip to it and we found ourselves counting seabirds like they were going out of fashion. Then another minke whale popped up on the horizon and shortly after that another two minke, who happily continued feeding round the boat . By the time we finally dropped anchor in the Sound of Harris we had notched up nineteen separate sightings. The day was polished off by a great meal cooked by Alicia and Sarah, followed by a spot of island bagging and then a completely mad game called bananagrams once we were back on board.
Thursday 30th June 2011
Position: 57°03.266N 006°29.439W
Anchorage: Canna Harbour, Isle of Canna
Even with few sightings, day 3 was a successful journey. The day started with blue skies and a stiff breeze from the south-west. When the boat left the anchorage there was a sighting of a basking shark out from the islands. The sea turned rough and the course for the day was changed. We aborted our plans to go round the southern tip of the outer islands and to the west coast of Berneray and Mingulay and travelled north-east towards Skye and Canna. Along the way there were further sightings of seals and an un-identified dolphin which was suspected to be a bottlenose. About halfway to the destination there was a sighting of a possible minke whale that had breached and was then spotted at the surface as it swam away to the north-east. Around the northern side of Canna a harbour porpoise spotted along with a large raft of Manx shearwaters (over 300 of them!). Numerous puffins were also sighted along the basalt cliffs of Canna which are around 500 feet tall. For many the highlight of the day was listening to the dolphin whistles for 2 hours through the acoustic detection and arriving at Canna and seeing the caves, the highland cattle, the medieval prison tower and the beautiful church on the marina.
Wednesday 29th June 2011
Anchorage: Vatersay bay, Vatersay
Position: 56°55.442N 007°31.789W
Distance travelled: 51 NM
Day number two and plenty of sightings which got us all very excited. We volunteers tried out the range-finder to get to grips with judging distances. Not something that comes naturally to many of us! Quite early on we had multiple sightings of basking sharks, one of which was enormous. They came right up to our boat which was thrilling, mouths agape and fins slicing the water. We saw 5 in total. Next, one of us spotted a harbour porpoise, and there were numerous porpoise acoustic detections throughout the day. We were then lucky enough to see a 1st year great northern diver. The sea began to get a bit rougher, which left some of us sharing our soup with the marine life. Out of nowhere appeared two or three groups of white-beaked dolphins which kept us on our toes for a couple of hours, coming very close, bow-riding, leaping and whistling and clicking even when they were out of sight. Amidst these a larger unidentified dolphin briefly appeared. We spotted lots of razorbills, puffins, gannets, terns, shags, fulmars, shearwaters and kittiwakes along the way. As the sea calmed we approached Vatersay Bay and spotted 2 seals. Now the boys banquet is sizzling away and we’re all looking forward to a good feast!
Tuesday 28th June 2011
Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree
Position: 56°30.747 N 006°48.066W
Distance travelled: 33 NM
The first day’s surveying was successful with a couple of common seal sightings on route to Gunna Sound. The Basking shark hotspot proved itself with a sighting of an individual. Unfortunately not everyone saw it as it was rather fleeting. A curious grey seal greeted us as we arrived into Gott Bay of Tiree. A look at the acoustic detections of the day showed at least 3 porpoise detections. At the end of the day, we all piled into the dingy and went ashore – the ride got interesting when a wave landed and left us with a few wet bums. We had a very peaceful walk on the beach and it became even better when an otter appeared and scampered off. We tracked the paw prints in the sand and managed to spot it again later foraging on the beach. We made our way across a narrow piece of the island to view the Atlantic. We also had the pleasure of hearing at least 3 corncrakes during our walk. We walked along the beach which Dave the skipper said was half a mile, but it was much longer, just ask our calves. We hobbled over a tide pool to get to the dingy and made it back to the dark Silurian. A rather late night after all that. I am sure we will all sleep soundly tonight.