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 25th June 2012
Anchorage: Loch Doughal
Distance travelled: 78.2NM
The morning began very early in order to make our nearly 80 mile trip to Cape Wrath from Loch Doughal. Cloudy weather continued to accompany the large swell for the morning where harbour porpoises and grey seals were spotted. Second breakfast as usual followed, and definitely gave us all that burst of energy we needed but not before the engine had some cooling water issues and we were drifting along on the waves. Emma saved the day again along with Duncan and Olivia. We continued our trip around the Butt of Lewis at the most Northerly point of the Isle of Lewis. Lewis's Butt had a beautiful lighthouse sat on the edge of the cliffs. The water settled as we went around the Butt and into the North Minch. Cape Wrath is known for being the place where the Pentland Firth and the Minch meet, both of which are very rough waters alone. Two Skuas, remained our companion on our journey and proved to be very loyal, following us almost three quarters of the way across the North Minch, so loyal, they were given names of Jim and Bob. The day brightened and there were whistles heard on the hydrophone, not seconds later our first sighting of the afternoon! A group of white-beaked dolphins displayed leaps and spins out of the water. Juveniles and calves were spotted amongst the individuals that stayed with us for at least an hour from the first initial sighting. The white-beaks seemed to have a ulterior motive, and tricked many people with cameras when they came to the surface, they would either appear too quickly for photographs and lots of splash photos were captured or act as though they were going to surface next to the boat but then turn away…they were difficult to photograph but fun to watch and the volunteers soon had bigger smiles on their faces when tea and chocolate brownie was given out. Tea, brownie, dolphins and sunshine, what more could we possibly ask for? Well there was a possible minke whale sighting not long after the white-beaks left which also had porpoise detections on the hydrophone. Gannets were abundant with the minke sightings and many of them were bigger than Catherine! J The white beaks returned briefly again as we came closer to land but they soon disappeared and went off to play elsewhere. As we neared Cape Wrath which is also the most north westerly point of the UK, the structures in the rocks were truly spectacular. A large sea stack Am Bhuachaille (pronounced Am Bou-cou) stood on the end of the steeps cliffs that lead to the sea. Generally the rock structure was not unlike the Giant's Causeway or Staffa. We came off effort after 12 hours and 15 minutes of being on effort, which to be honest, was well worth it to see the white-beaks, possible minke, chocolate brownie and tea whilst watching dolphins and of course, supper of a delicious stew cooked by Emma, eaten out on the deck and one more sighting to finish off the day. Then to top it off a group of common dolphins rode the bow for a short while and played with the boat whilst we ate our tea. The evening could not have been better with the warm sun and calms seas helping us relax after a long day of over 14 hours at sea. Loch Doughal proved to be a beautiful and rugged place to stay. A few volunteers wandered ashore to watch the spectacular sunset over the hills of Cape Wrath. The colours were truly brilliant to watch over the bare rocky hills. Sleep was greatly required and we returned to the boat. With hot chocolate in our hands to finish off just before bed, smiles and sleepy faces all struggled to believe just how incredible the day had been. J
Sunday 24th June 2012
Distance travelled: 30.3NM
Anchorage: Little Bernera
The day began a little later than usual allowing the sleepy volunteers a half hour lie in whilst Emma and Duncan did some basic maintenance checks in the morning. The lie in, was greatly appreciated J. Today's surveys were based in Loch Roag; a large Loch with a maze of Islands found within. As well as the islands, there were large quantities of fish farms and mussel farms within the Loch. Listening to the hydrophone became unbearable as you could hear the ADD's screeching from the headphones. Among the day's sightings were seals, grey and common, a harbour porpoise which was seen after we left the ADD zone and Shelducks with ducklings (very cute!). We travelled to the Calanish standing stones, for a wander ashore amongst the history, to do this required a trip in the tender and Catherine had to be fireman's lifted twice from the tender J it was a very funny sight. When returning from our venture around the stones the fantastic gourmet food scents flowed towards us when we boarded Silurian, lunch was served of a delicious leek and potato soup and amazing chocolate brownie. We continued exploring the loch and settled down for an early night and a BBQ on the beach of Little Bernera courtesy of Denis, Emma, Olivia and Duncan. On our walks around the Island, two volunteers saw a pair of Golden eagles. All in all we had a lovely relaxing night in preparation for our long day tomorrow on our trip to Cape Wrath.
Saturday 23rd June 2012
Distance travelled: 53.8 nautical miles
Anchorage: Pabbay Mor
The clouded skies didn't dampen our spirits today as we headed north west out to the Flannan Isles, which are a small group of remote Islands north of St Kilda. Breakfast was greatly appreciated and gave us an energy boost for the long day ahead. Emma, Duncan and Olivia hauled up the anchor and we set off away from Loch Tmaanavay, which had been our sanctuary for the night. Not long after the engine was started…it stopped, crew raised Silurian's sails to get us out to deeper water and we sailed quietly and peacefully down the beautiful Loch whilst enjoying the scenic landscape and sounds of the early morning. Emma worked her magic on the engine, releasing the airlock, and we set of once again for our destination. As the morning went on the swell grew larger for a while and the surfing sessions continued. Not long into our venture, Ashleigh reported a sighting seen also by Laken, of a White Beaked Dolphin which was also detected on the acoustics. The most exciting part of being at sea, was losing sight of land completely in all directions. We arrived at the Flannan Isles just after a delicious lunch of butternut squash risotto. The volunteers were told to go off effort to look around and enjoy the breathtaking scenary. Seabirds of all kinds from puffins to gannets were abundant on these small remote islands. The rocks moved or seemed to with the sheer amount of gannets in a single colony crowning the base of the light house where the light house keepers mysteriously disappeared one night in a storm. During our exploration of the Islands, a basking shark was spotted between two of the islands which remained curious of us for around 10 minutes and came less than two meters away from us, before we left him to continue munching on plankton. Many of the volunteers enjoyed making fun of the puffins as they failed at flying away. We turned back for the Isle of Lewis finding lots more seabirds and a grey seal along the way. The sun welcomed us back again, as we set our anchor in Pabbay Mor for the night. A few volunteers ventured out into the tender for an explore around the island after a delicious meal of freshly caught Mackerel rolled in oatmeal, salad and potatoes cooked by Rob and Laken. The island was truly beautiful and several comments were made about moving to the beautiful lagoon on the other side of the island, with white sand beaches, crystal clear waters and rolling hills, the place seemed pretty perfect to us. Catherine, Laken and Emma went wadding in the cool waters before returning back to Silurian for a quiet evening.
Friday 22nd June 2012
Anchorage: Loch Tmaanavay
Distance travelled: 50.2NM
We experienced a relaxing night yesterday, with a slight swell that rocked us gently to sleep ready for the early morning that would await us. We arose from our cabins at around 7am for an early venture through the sound of Harris before the tides refused our entry. The sun shone brightly on us for the first few hours creating good spotting conditions with the light; however the swell and white caps were often easily confused with dorsal fins. Even the birds were masquerading as fins. During our day, conditions improved but the swell remained our constant companion until we reached more sheltered waters later in the evening. Our day's sightings involved a grey seal which was a very good spot by one of our volunteers. 11 harbour porpoise detections were picked up by the hydrophone, but the fins seemed invisible. Creels on the other hand, were abundant, if creels were a species themselves, we would have found a large percent of the population just today! The scenary along the journey was outstanding, with rolling hills of bare rock looking barren yet so full of life. The mast was probably the best position to be in today, the swell allowed Silurian to surf the waves and the volunteers took their turns at improving their balance, whilst laughing at Puffins failing to fly J. Spirits remained high throughout the day, and on into the evening. We arrived at Loch Tmaanavay to anchor and explored the coastal hills. The views were dramatic and wildlife was abundant, with Red Deer sightings, Wheatears and Stonechats and mackerel freshly caught by Rob, Catherine, Dennis and Laken. Catherine had the best catch with more than one mackerel on the line. Supper was prepared by Sarah and Ashleigh, which consisted of a delicious chilli, salad and rice. Desert would have been tea and toblerone; however, when they were retrieved…the last pieces had vanished! So hot chocolate acted as a tasty substitute J. The evening was peaceful, no wind and a beautiful anchorage with clear skies, if there was a complete sun set here, it would have been outstanding.
Thursday 21st June 2012
Anchorage: Loch Gheocrab.
Distance travelled: 40.0NM
This was our first full day of surveying; soon after we departed from Leurbost it was obvious that the sea conditions were very different from Day 1 with 2m swells, a wind speed of 25 knots on average, with a high on the Beaufort Scale of 6! We all agreed that surfing the waves on the mast was most enjoyable and helped us to find our sea legs. The conditions improved vastly just before lunch - the wind died and the swells dropped completely. During the afternoon, we spotted a minke whale, two harbour porpoises, a grey seal, and many puffins, particularly flying around the Shiant Islands, where they were nesting. In the late afternoon, we arrived at Loch Gheocrab. With some time to explore, we departed Silurian and headed for land, where we explored the village and its surroundings. Some of us encountered a large gull nesting site. We also found many species of wildflowers as well as a freshwater loch. Whilst exploring the shores around Harris, Duncan the Skipper, Catherine and Laken came across a local farmer who had lived on Harris all his life and informed us on various historical aspects of the Island. The evening ended with a lovely meal by Catherine of Nazigoreng, tea and toblerone, courtesy of Dennis.