Silurian Blog

Teen Trip Day 3

Published: 15/08/2014

Day 3

10 hours survey effort

67 miles

After another early start and some singing from Vivi, we set off from Loch Tarbert with some blue sky and high spirits for the day. After a few hours of surveying without seeing anything we spotted a camera case on the horizon……. It was Mia’s…. After many attempts to recover said case and charger, Conor finally managed to scoop it up in the plankton net, and we were back on our way. Recovering our transect between Islay and Jura, our first sighting of the day was spotted in the form of a grey seal and after an awesome second breakfast of an assortment of rolls, and lunch consisting of some of Vivi’s scrummy soup we were all feeling pretty happy on board, especially compared to the rain of yesterday.

Heading towards Gigha, our first visual detection of a porpoise brightened our spirits even more, as those on their breaks lay lounging on the deck in the sunshine. Although not many of the visual and acoustic recordings were in sync, on the East coast of Jura, near the gulf of the Corryvreckan, at least five separate porpoises were sighted and it caused much excitement on board, especially as this was the first porpoise Mairi had seen all trip!! The activity resulted in the majority of volunteers perched at the bow of Silurian in anticipation. As we were approaching Easdale, Tom whapped out some exquisite warm- from- the- oven flapjacks, as Vivi then announced to the group that she wants Tom as her wife, unknown to Tom until he was greeted as “Wifey” sometime later.

In the evening Ed was being quite the hunter- gatherer and caught some mackerel which we are hoping to save to have on our last night celebrations, which sadly, is only tomorrow!!! Dinner tonight is being cooked by Mireia and Emily and it smells incredible, so pretty sure it will taste awesome too!! And who knows, later on there may have to be a bananagram rematch, where everyone will try to beat Ed and his Kindle dictionary as he is possibly the most competitive guy on the planet.

-Mairi and Kirsty



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Teen Trip 2, Day 1

Published: 13/08/2014

31.4 miles

7:07 hours survey effort

The first day on board Silurian had a late start after a presentation from Conor about spotting cetaceans and what to listen for on the hydrophone.  We also had a safety presentation and then set off down the Sound of Mull from Tobermory Harbour.  Conditions weren't too good and the first part of the journey went without any sightings.  However the hydrophone picked up some harbour porpoises (4 separate recordings) with some good clear detections. It remained quiet on deck, however those for those doing the acoustic monitoring the awful sound of fish farm ADDs (acoustic deterrent devices to keep marine mammals away) remained present for some time.

After some time,  the first sighting of a harbour porpoise was made where tidal mixing of the water was strongest, this proved to be a great area for spotting the species.  There were 9 sightings of harbour porpoise then, some were tricky to spot in the rough conditions. There were 14 acoustic detections on the hydrophone.

We moored in Loch Spelve, spotting a common and unidentified seal on the way. A delicious dinner was cooked by Mia and Megan of both mushroom and sweet potato risotto and whilst waiting we watched a common seal outside the window (that vanished each time the binoculars came out!). Special mention by popular demand to Tom's cake., which was absolutely delicious. A lot was learnt today, especially that - according to Conor - truffles taste like a rusty fork. An educational trip for us all.

Mireia and Emily



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Monday 4th August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

Canna to Gometra, Ulva
Anchorage: Gometra harbour Distance Travelled: 53.8 miles  

Reaching the mast in sea state seven this morning was like an obstacle course on Takeshi’s castle. The bad weather quickly blew away however, and the day continued like any other now we’ve settled into our routine. The sightings of the day consisted of a basking shark that swam directly next to the boat, two minke whales (one possible juvenile) and two harbour porpoises within five metres of the boat, though there were a total of eighteen porpoise detections on the hydrophone. Additionally a couple of our team members were lucky enough to hear dolphins on the hydrophone, though sadly they did not make an appearance at the surface. We moored up in Gometra harbour for the night, picturesque and serene until a nosy yacht disturbed our peace. We set down the fishing lines and 11 mackerels just couldn’t wait to be eaten, and jumped onto the lines. Dinner of fresh fish and mash was garnished with delicious samphire collected by us on a shore trip to Canna yesterday.  



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Sunday 3rd August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

Anchorage: Canna Harbour Distance Travelled: 49.4 miles

Considering all the sinister flapdoodle that’s been written on this blog in the past three days, today’s post will be both informative and largely truthful – qualities that have been sadly lacking in my absence. With cooler weather comes condensation, and a thin film of damp clings to any and all surfaces, clothes etc. Silurian left Eriskay, which was, I’m sorry to say, pretty grim, around eleven o’clock, and headed east into choppy seas, with Billy humming maniacally to himself at the mast. I suppose the bizarre assortment of song fragments, film scenes, and facile childhood rhymes of the ‘Jingle Bells, Batman smells…’ variety that pop-up unbidden while on visual say a lot about our personalities, though I dread to think what.

We changed course towards Skye to make the crossing more bearable, and saw nothing until 15:09, when a Minke whale was spotted briefly. It dived out of sight, and didn’t seem to resurface. Whilst I was seriously considering whether it had died and sunk to the bottom, two more appeared, although they didn’t seem very concerned with the quality of our photographs. The whale book tells me that their ‘movements underwater [are] unpredictable, and [they] may vanish without a trace’, though I might write to Dorling Kindersley telling them that, in fact, ‘… typically vanish without a trace’ would be more accurate. Apparently, they sometimes ‘get trapped inside small pockets of open water within pack-ice’, which, sad though it is, would be massively more convenient. Sick of Minke whales, which are all pretty similar anyway, we made for Canna, and, much to everyone’s delight, were met with plangent cries of ‘Creel Buoy!’ from the mast once again, which was both reassuring and calming. Indeed I now attach great metaphorical and spiritual significance to them.

For all that, it is galling to read about how ‘gregarious’, ‘inquisitive’, and ‘demonstrative’ Risso’s dolphins are, given that we haven’t seen any yet. Though it is some consolation to think that ‘no sightings’ is as scientifically relevant and informative as if they were leaping onboard for lack of swimming space, it isn’t quite as satisfying.  

So, Canna…which might mean ‘Wolf-whelp Island’, ‘Whale or Porpoise island’ (fittingly), or ‘Knee-shaped island’. Though I suspect that the guidebook author is making most of this up, ‘Knee-shaped Island’, from the Norse, is not unlike other Viking names for things, which tend to be admirably literal – understandably so, given how exhausting raping and pillaging are known to be. Gaelic names for things are typically more poetic and fanciful, such as Tir-fo-Thuinn (Tiree) which translates roughly as the ‘Land Beneath the Waves’, which is both descriptive and beautiful, considering how flat the place is. Nevertheless, the estimable Dr Johnson had only this waffle to contribute: Of the Earse (Gaelic) language, as I understand nothing, I cannot say more than I have been told. It is the rude speech of a barbarous people, who had few thoughts to express, and were content, as they conceived grossly, to be grossly understood.’ Still, I suppose it’s my own fault for using a guidebook that is 221 years out of date. Regardless, it’s hard not to be utterly captivated by this place, so I’ll leave you with a more agreeable quote from Dr Johnson, snide though it is: ‘Of these islands it must be confessed, that they have not many allurements, but to the mere lover of naked nature.’



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Tuesday 5th August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

T Gometra to Tinker’s Hole Anchorage: Tinker’s Hole
Distance Travelled: 49.6mi

We started off today sailing out towards Staffa, which as we all know is home to Fingal’s cave; Fingal being the name the Scots gave to Finn MacCool, which would make for a much better name in my opinion. The wind was beginning to pick up by now and because of the forecast, it was decided today was going to be a coastal survey throughout. We sailed back towards Mull and Loch Na Keal passing by Inch Kenneth, the final resting place of the Scottish kings, and the resting place of our dolphin dreams.

We continued our journey with the Hebridean Whale and Nothing Trust down the Loch and we came to the sudden and horrible realisation that we were not alone in our Hebridean universe…tourists. Our first mate Edd tried valiantly to navigate the civilians as we continued ‘doing science’ but they matched our every turn with insouciant arrogance… the scallywags. Unfortunately for my self-righteousness they turned out to be a necessary evil as they had actually attracted a white tailed sea eagle (just a fluke, but not the one we wanted).

Continuing down Loch Na Keal and back we managed to get the sails up and catch the wind past the ‘wilderness’, getting up some speed as we sailed towards Loch Scridain and our arch nemeses… the creel buoys. By this point we had, to put it simply, ‘lost it’ and calls and songs of various tones and pitches resonated from the mast. Soon enough the old war cry of creeeeeeel buooooy rang out and it was reassuring to know that the distances called out were unfailingly accurate 60% of the time, every time. So we wouldn’t have to re plot the buoys on the return up the loch; oh wait… We then saw some puffing pigs, also known as Phocoena phocoena, before heading towards Iona, where the skipper was only moderately concerned about grounding in the sound. Soon we came off effort and have anchored in Tinker’s Hole where the water is clear and the anchor is almost secure.



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Saturday 2nd August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

Fashionable Soup and Stealthy Dolphins
Anchorage: Eriskay
Distance Travelled: 49.8 miles

With the start of every new day comes a mixture of noises. The first of which is the breakfast bell, unless you’re bunking with Phil and then you will be greeted with flatulence and snoring, lucky me. The second is the intro to ‘How do you like the eggs in the morning?’ to which a previous geography teacher of mine stated she liked hers fertilised, but that’s a different story entirely. With our fasts adequately broken, we left Gott’s Bay at 9 o’clock heading due north before turning west into Gunna sound, between Tiree and Coll.

As the Inner Hebrides disappeared into the distance, the sea of the Hebrides appeared daunting as the swell rose and the wind fastened. Storm Petrels, Fulmars, Gannets and Auks soon became prominent circling the boat with fleeting glimpses of Sooty Shearwaters and Great Skuas. A group of Harbour Porpoises seemed confused with their identity as they surfed the waves like Common Dolphins, which we have yet to observe, and a Basking Shark graced us with its presence, as we headed north, for a matter of seconds before returning to the abyss below.

Lunch was both delicious and fashionable; the wind made sure that the majority of Ed’s soup made it way on to our faces and down our jackets, Kerry wore her soup better than the rest of us.

The word ‘ninja’ is not one you would expect to associate with dolphins, but given today’s encounter with three White Beaked Dolphins, I think it is a suitable term with which to describe the largest member of the Lagenoryhnchus family. These robust dolphins joined us for several minutes on our bow, before disappearing back into the waves from which they appeared. For me this brief encounter is our best wildlife sighting so far adding a new species to my cetacean list and a new tick in my Whale and Dolphin book. With my geekyness pushed to one side, I will now avert my attention to our evening whereabouts. With another 49.8 miles under our belts we are now moored up in Eriskay anchorage in the Outer Hebrides. The rain is drizzling down, the wind is picking up and Goblin Island, the Gaelic translation of Eriskay, grows more sinister with every passing minute. Dinner is in our bellies and our bunks are beckoning. Let’s hope that tomorrow morning all I hear is the familiar introduction of ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning’, and for the record I like mine with a smile.



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Friday 1st August

Published: 05/08/2014

 About Time
Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree 
Distance Travelled: 61.1 miles

After leaving our anchorage in West Loch Tarbert on Jura, we didn’t see anything worthwhile for a long time and having grown accustomed to the shout of “creel buoy” it was a pleasant change not to see any. We headed out into the deep Atlantic and I was stunned by the vastness of the water as land was left behind.

The rocking of the boat played havoc with a couple of our volunteers, which turned out to be our luckiest moment of the day; as our homemade chum(der) quickly attracted a couple of basking sharks. It was the first proper sighting we had had in a long time and if only for a couple of seconds it was a huge relief and was all that we needed. Soon after this I stood gobsmacked as I happened to see a basking shark breach spectacularly, leaving just the splash to be seen by everyone else. It didn’t take long for us to be quickly spurred to action by a minke whale which had all eyes out to sea waiting for it to reappear… Yet we still missed it.

We have anchored in Gott Bay, Tiree and I’ve just watched an amazing sunset over what seemed to be the edge of the world after a swim around the boat. After that, nothing I could say would be worth the time it took to type. So that’s it.



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Saturday 2nd August 2014

Published: 05/08/2014

Fashionable Soup and Stealthy Dolphins
57'04.022
007'17.559
Anchorage: Eriskay
Distance Travelled: 49.8 miles

With the start of every new day comes a mixture of noises. The first of which is the breakfast bell, unless you’re bunking with Phil and then you will be greeted with flatulence and snoring, lucky me. The second is the intro to ‘How do you like the eggs in the morning?’ to which a previous geography teacher of mine stated she liked hers fertilised, but that’s a different story entirely. With our fasts adequately broken, we left Gott’s Bay at 9 o’clock heading due north before turning west into Gunna sound, between Tiree and Coll.

As the Inner Hebrides disappeared into the distance, the sea of the Hebrides appeared daunting as the swell rose and the wind fastened. Storm Petrels, Fulmars, Gannets and Auks soon became prominent circling the boat with fleeting glimpses of Sooty Shearwaters and Great Skuas. A group of Harbour Porpoises seemed confused with their identity as they surfed the waves like Common Dolphins, which we have yet to observe, and a Basking Shark graced us with its presence, as we headed north, for a matter of seconds before returning to the abyss below.

Lunch was both delicious and fashionable; the wind made sure that the majority of Ed’s soup made it way on to our faces and down our jackets, Kerry wore her soup better than the rest of us. The word ‘ninja’ is not one you would expect to associate with dolphins, but given today’s encounter with three White Beaked Dolphins, I think it is a suitable term with which to describe the largest member of the Lagenoryhnchus family. These robust dolphins joined us for several minutes on our bow, before disappearing back into the waves from which they appeared. For me this brief encounter is our best wildlife sighting so far adding a new species to my cetacean list and a new tick in my Whale and Dolphin book. With my geekyness pushed to one side, I will now avert my attention to our evening whereabouts. With another 49.8 miles under our belts we are now moored up in Eriskay anchorage in the Outer Hebrides. The rain is drizzling down, the wind is picking up and Goblin Island, the Gaelic translation of Eriskay, grows more sinister with every passing minute. Dinner is in our bellies and our bunks are beckoning. Let’s hope that tomorrow morning all I hear is the familiar introduction of ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning’, and for the record I like mine with a smile.



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Thursday 31st July 2014

Published: 02/08/2014

Seal sunday (not)
Anchorage: West Loch Tarbert, Isle of Jura
Distance Travelled: 72.8 miles (!!!) 

Today was the first full day of surveying and it felt like we were on effort for a thousand hours, though in fact I’m told it was only 10 ½ hours. We were roused out of sleep by the breakfast bell, and food and coffee was followed swiftly by a lecture on bird and boat identification from our excellent science officer. Though I wouldn’t call myself a massive bird enthusiast, I gladly threw myself into surveying birds when it was my turn as Relay. Initially knowing almost nothing about seabirds (they’re all just different coloured seagulls really), I am actually very proud of now knowing the difference between a guillemot and a black guillemot.

It was a long day but it’s flown by, and though slightly hampered by overcast conditions and on-off drizzle, spirits remained high in the hopes of cetacean sightings. Eight harbour porpoises (including two adults with a calf) were spotted, but the seals really stole the show. On our travels 15 common seals, 5 grey seals and 7 unidentified seals were sighted in the water, with more posing on the rocks of a spectacular island archipelago we travelled through.

Now we have moored in a stunning, secluded harbour, void of all other boats so we are seemingly alone in the Hebrides, bar a couple of terns. The evening was wrapped up with a quick visit by some of us to the shore, to a beach so full of pebbles it was not unlike the place Jack Sparrow was stranded on in that pirates of the Caribbean film (you know the one). The weather tomorrow is supposed to be the best yet, and anticipation is high.



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Wednesday 30th July 2014

Published: 31/07/2014

HWDT7
Tobermory to Puill Dobhrain
Anchorage: Puill Dobhrain
Distance Travelled: 27.6

Reading through blog posts from previous trips I couldn’t help but notice frequent mention of cake. Undoubtedly cake would have been very welcome after a day in which cetaceans were conspicuous only in their absence (barring a questionable porpoise sighting by the so –called ‘scientist’ on board), but it was not to be. Having already omitted to actually record the first hydrophone recording, I then turned off the cake-laden oven, congratulating myself for preventing an explosion, and, not undeservedly in my mind, was expecting gushing praise. It was dismaying to be met with derision and scorn.

Silurian left Tobermory around two o’clock in changeable weather, which apparently is to be expected in the Hebrides. I had nodded along quietly during the explanations of cetacean identification, how to log data, and what to do when anyone fell overboard, and am currently hoping that I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember most of what I was told.

The journey was uneventful, which probably explains the slightly hysterical and inappropriate jokes I’ve been making, received in baffled silence by whoever happens to be near. But, as in all places, bird enthusiasts had plenty to occupy themselves with; the loudest yelp of the day came as a puffin flapped wildly along the surface of the water off the bow. Gannets, guillemots, razorbills, and shags, among others, provided what I think can be fairly described as entertainment, given the lack of Killer whales. Other than that the only noises coming from the front of the boat were ‘Creel buoys!’, ‘Sighti…Oh, no wait….yeah, yeah it’s nothing,’ and the occasional throat clearing.

The ‘scientist’ tells me the hydrophone picked up four ‘acoustic porpoise events’, which I’ve been trying to make a joke out of, but it’s the end of the evening, and all my attempts have been lame. A propitious start, I think…things can only get better etc etc.  



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Wednesday 23rd July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

Edge of the… Outer Hebrides?
Lat: 57 00.5 Long: 007 23.7
 Anchorage: Barra Sound

Day two began with a brisk start, following an introduction to many of us on bird species.  This helped us identify the species of birds and how this could indicate cetacean presence.  The sailing started at 10:30 and continued until 17:15. In this time we managed to travel 53.9 miles making our total journey 87.9 miles so far.  On the journey travelling from Tiree to the North of Barra we experienced some large Atlantic swell, and very interesting coast scenery by travelling between Berneray and Mingulay.  

Although expectations were high for sightings, very little were spotted until the last 45 minutes of sailing.  Despite this 6 porpoises were detected on the hydrophone (underwater acoustic sound detector.) The only marine mammals spotted were seal variations although large splashes were believed to be dolphins or whale species although they were, and cannot be confirmed.  

Many of us new to the Atlantic ocean had expected to receive their sea legs by this point in the journey but were surprised and disappointed to discover that this was not the case and the Atlantic waves had an annoying effect on our stomachs.  

In total we managed to spot 2 regular seals, 13 grey seals and 2 unknown dolphins.  After a good 8 hours hard at work we are now moored in the sound of Barra with a surprising amount of seals investigating the boat.  

Early in the day we found a stowaway at the bow of the boat in the form of a pied wag tail, this was unusual since this was a landbird, 25 miles away from land.  We must have brought him from Tiree by mistake.   Hopefully he won’t mind living in Barra.  

Silurian out.



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Thursday 24th July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

Day 3
Lat: Long:
Distance Travelled:
Barra boys and baby Risso’s

Day 3 started off with the sound of Cat Stevens and the rest of Kerrys ‘morning’ playlist. It was perfect weather for sightings and we all started the day full of anticipation, sensing we were finally going to get lucky. Sure enough, 9 or 10 Bottlenose Dolphins including a calf took a keen interest in the Silurian, wowing us with their sick aerial skills and bowriding for a good half hour. We got some great photos for identification and a long clear recording on the hydrophone. This definitely made up  for the two previous days of seeing nothing but grey seals and thousands of fulmars and we would have been happy if this was the only sighting of the day, but soon later we also saw three Risso’s Dolphins, including another calf! Although they were a lot more elusive than the Bottlenoses we saw earlier, we did manage to get some rare, high-quality recordings.

Later on we had a possible Minke Whale sighting. Although we would have loved to have seen one up close, it was not to be and we couldn’t confirm the sighting. Even so, we had a fantastic day with beautiful weather and some great sightings. We hope our luck continues to hold up!



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Wednesday 23rd July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

Edge of the… Outer Hebrides?
Lat: 57 00.5 Long: 007 23.7
 Anchorage: Barra Sound

Day two began with a brisk start, following an introduction to many of us on bird species.  This helped us identify the species of birds and how this could indicate cetacean presence.  The sailing started at 10:30 and continued until 17:15. In this time we managed to travel 53.9 miles making our total journey 87.9 miles so far.  On the journey travelling from Tiree to the North of Barra we experienced some large Atlantic swell, and very interesting coast scenery by travelling between Berneray and Mingulay.  

Although expectations were high for sightings, very little were spotted until the last 45 minutes of sailing.  Despite this 6 porpoises were detected on the hydrophone (underwater acoustic sound detector.) The only marine mammals spotted were seal variations although large splashes were believed to be dolphins or whale species although they were, and cannot be confirmed.  

Many of us new to the Atlantic ocean had expected to receive their sea legs by this point in the journey but were surprised and disappointed to discover that this was not the case and the Atlantic waves had an annoying effect on our stomachs.  

In total we managed to spot 2 regular seals, 13 grey seals and 2 unknown dolphins.  After a good 8 hours hard at work we are now moored in the sound of Barra with a surprising amount of seals investigating the boat.  

Early in the day we found a stowaway at the bow of the boat in the form of a pied wag tail, this was unusual since this was a landbird, 25 miles away from land.  We must have brought him from Tiree by mistake.   Hopefully he won’t mind living in Barra.  

Silurian out.



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Tuesday 22nd July 2014

Published: 24/07/2014

Whales and dolphins and sharks and sunfish…
Lat: 56º 31’ 408 N
Long: 6º 52’ 889 W
Anchorage: Tiree
Distance Travelled: 34 nautical miles  

… Are yet to be sighted. But we can’t complain: On the very first day we have seen 16 seals and a porpoise, and collected a great recording of the porpoise.

We also saw some stunning Scottish scenery, and a load of birds. Way too many birds.  Upon arriving, we were bombarded with information.  However, we managed to filter out a few orders, like “Clean the toilets” or “Write a blog post” which were not what we wanted to hear.

Everyone became aware of the existence of a lot of cetaceans that we’re pretty sure Kerry just made up, like the South-Hamptonish Minky Red Striped Porpoise. The boat cabins are too hot (Scotland is having a sudden heat wave!) and too small but the duvets are not stained.

So far the weather has been forgiving, due to our regular sacrifices to the wind gods. We’ve been treated to some Deep House, courtesy of CF the Cool Frood. which was ham and decent. (This apparently means ‘Cool’ in teen talk?)

We are currently anchored off the coast of Tiree, drinking in the beautiful beaches like delicious malt whisky. Mmmmmmmmmm. With all this put together we honestly have nothing to “whale” about! (booo) Silurian out.  



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Thursday 17th July 2014

Published: 20/07/2014

Lat: 56° 45.236 N
Long: 05° 54.264 W
Anchorage: Loch Ceann Traigh
Distance: 61 miles in 10 hours 56.4 seconds

A visit from Gwendoline.

Grey seal 21, Harbour porpoise 22, Minke 2, unidentified dolphin 3, Common dolphin 2, White beaked dolphin 1, S E 8 and Common seal 2

We woke to a much calmer and thoroughly more pleasant outlook for the day ahead. Sadly the Barra Boys and Girls didn’t make an appearance for breakfast, or provide a leaving party as we sailed out of the Sound of Barra. Though we did spot a heron and Golden eagle as we left our mooring. However the glorious weather and sea state made sure we didn't feel too down hearted about not seeing the bottlenose, as we seemed to glide effortlessly out in to the Minch in almost perfect sighting conditions.

A harbour porpoise or two made an appearance and we settled in to the beautiful crystal clear waters. It was much easier to see all the different types of jelly fish ranging from large lion mane to small moon specimens.

Then the fun began all over again as we reached a patch of shallower water. First it was two seals then some dolphins, but they didn’t come to bow ride and our first minke of the day.
It was confusing at first, seeing multiple dolphin fins, and then a minke, thinking did we really see dolphins as well? But the hydrophone confirmed it andwe got a white beaked dolphin recording to prove it!

The minke sighting was one of the most amazing experiences…. At first it was fairly stealthy and we were unsure whether we wouldget closeenough for photoID. That soon changed. The minke was surfacing right next to the boat, too close for pictures to be taken of the dorsal fin at times. Some of us can now say that we got minke blow in our faces (water vapour from the blowhole as it surfaces), that is an experience we won’t forget!! It got better, the minke was playing with Silurian, rolling under the water so we saw its white underside, bowriding, swimming under the boat from side to side. After some length of time, Kerry decided we should leave this minke alone, but it didn’t want to be left, it tried to keep up with us, frantically swimming, in the end it tired and we left the amazingly sociable minke. What an encounter!

The sea state improved to nearly perfect sighting conditions, however the second minke we encountered was not playing game, and so photo id was harder.

We arrived at our mooring Loch Ceann Traigh, with a fairly quick and at first extremely cold swim in the clear waters, all taking care to avoid the jellyfish. Although we had a delicious, warming curry with all the extras looking on a beautiful, picturesque sunset.


This has been a wonderful day with Gwendoline.


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Wednesday 16th July 2014

Published: 19/07/2014

At least we tried!
Anchorage: The sound of Barra (something seems familiar)
Lat: 57° 0,582 N
Long: 07° 23,803 W
Distance: 16 miles in 2 hours 32.5 seconds

Once again the weather was not on our side, as the wind was forecast to pick up. After another long lie, and a gentile breakfast we set about trying to photo id the minke whales from our previous encounters. This proved not as easy as the killer whales. Partly due to the greater number of previously photographed minkes (there’s a HWDT database with around 130 individuals), but also due to the fact that even though each individual fin does have distinguishing marks, notches and scaring, some of which are natural, others caused by boats and entanglement in ropes and discarded fishing nets, it is very difficult to make a definite identification to the untrained eye.

Finally the wind died down and we set out for a coastal survey, meaning we stayed close to the coastline of Barra and neighboring islands. As the water was shallow it meant the hydrophone was not put out. At first the conditions were not too bad, but gradually the rain became heavier and the wind more changeable. Lunch at the mast was entertaining, and involved a very tasty butternut squash and sweet potato risotto, with added natural sea salt from the occasional large wave! There were many gannets also enjoying their lunch, with groups of the birds diving on a regular basis round the boat. However the Barra Boys, a fairly well known group of bottlenose dolphins (who despite their nickname, are not all male!) proved to be hiding, and we have yet been able to tick them off of our rather long sighting list.

As the sea state worsened we headed back in to the Sound of Barra and moored up not far from where we’d left off. Katie who has been suffering with tooth ache went for a lie down with a hot water bottle to help ease the pain. Kerry had the brilliant idea of making her a recycled ‘Seal well soon’ purse, which we all helped decorate and a lot more thought was given to two new boat based games. Hungry Narwhals was transformed in to a finger version using a cardboard egg box pod and little paper squid. We have also devised a board game, based on getting your boat to St Kilda from Tobermory, via various different routes, incorporating sightings (which mean points), storm-bound cards (forfeits), tide-line cards (questions) and all manner of other nautical themed obstacles.


The smell of this evening lasagne is now proving too distracting and the table needs to be cleared ready for dinner.


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Tuesday 15th July 2014

Published: 19/07/2014

Calm day, crazy afternoon
Anchorage: The sound Barra
Lat: 57° 0,582 N
Long: 07° 23,803 W
Distance: 67.1 miles


The morning started out promising with harbour porpoise sightings and grey and common seal sightings. After these sightings though, it died a bit down and we did not have another sighting for almost the rest of the day and we started to fear that we would not see much of anything today. It wasn't until we were about 45 minutes from our anchorage in Barra, that we saw our next sighting… a Minke! From that point on things started to go absolutely crazy. Shouts were coming from all around the boat... "sighting Minke!" At one point we had about four minkes around the boat, which made Kerry and Tom just about crazy, since they were trying to get photo ID for all of them. Just when you think things cannot get more hectic then this, we also had several harbour porpoise sightings together with the minke sightings and gannets were diving into the water all around us. We all got really excited when we saw a baby harbour porpoise and soon after a whole group of them foraging around the boat. We even managed to get photos of these harbour porpoises. After about an hour and a half we decided to continue our survey thinking the excitement had died down a bit, but we were then faced with 4 more minke whales and then minutes before we anchored we had loads of grey seal sightings.

So, even though we saw little during most of the 11 hour and 20 minute day, in total we had: 9 harbour porpoise detection's on the hydrophone, 8 grey seal sightings (18 individuals), one unknown dolphin, 5 harbour porpoise sightings (11 individuals) and 4 minke sightings (at least 8 individuals).


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Monday 14th July 2014

Published: 19/07/2014

Day 6
Serenity on toast? You can only pick one word.
Lat: 57°29’2N
Long: 6°26’6W
Anchorage: Loch Greshornish Distance: a couple of meters drifting in the strong winds

After yesterdays really ‘uneventful’ day, the weather turned against us, we generally could do with recharging our batteries, as so we found ourselves having a storm bound day. Which if we hadn’t had such an outstanding couple of days it could have been seen as a bit of a dull thing to do. However having been so lucky with our seasons worth of sightings in five days, and a much needed lie in, we planned various activities.

The morning started with an informative presentation from Kerry explaining how important the research data we’re collecting is, and how great it is that HWDT now has 12 years of sighting data collected by volunteers aboard Silurian. The data is extremely useful, showing the densities and distribution of harbour porpoise are, and which parts of  their habitat should not be disturbed. We also learnt that there have only been a handful of Killer Whale sightings over the ten years and we were lucky enough to spend two hours with four of them.

The second activity, which had not yet, at the time of writing, reached its full conclusion, involved writing down one word which remind us of the journey so far. These words were then placed into Kerry’s flat cap, and we had to randomly pick one and create an art project.

We also used the photo id catalogue of Killer Whales spotted in Scottish, Irish and Welsh waters to identify the individuals we saw yesterday. We were sure we had seen John Coe, due to his very distinctive dorsal fin nick, and decided that he was travelling with Money Penny and Lulu. The second male we positively identified was Aquarius.

We then had a couple of rounds of Twenty questions, where we chose a random playing card with a picture of a cetacean or pinniped, held it to our forehead and tried to guess which one you were. This soon turned into us trying to mimic the animals movements and sounds, to be followed by charades.

The team got down to making their art creations, while Stuart cooked lunch. Further card games ensued while Kerry feverously prepared a fabulous North African and Middle Eastern feast after which, with very full stomachs we settled down to an evening of cultural entertainment.

With stories of local Sea Kelpies legend, beautiful drawings of our previous encounters with puffins, cetaceans and card games, a poem entitled Giggles, a fully working light house miniature, a narwhal based- fishing for squid game and a bedtime story about a minke whale named gwendoline who wanted to find the shiny things in the ocean. We too went to dream land soon after, having had far too much excitement and laughter for one storm bound day.



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Sunday 13th July 2014

Published: 14/07/2014

Day 5
Just an uninteresting, boring day… Lat: 57°29’2N
Long: 6°26’6W
Anchorage: Loch Greshornish Distance:  

After the very wet day yesterday, todays sunshine and calm (ish) wind was bliss. The wildlife, we figured, were having a lie in, seeing as the first sighting early on was 2 porpoises, and the next sighting was hours after this, again 2 porpoise individuals. Among multiple porpoises were some common dolphins, with an adorably cute calf (oh so small!) and a Nemo of the common dolphin world (a floppy dorsal finned individual). These commons were interested in Silurian, bow riding and being very photogenic.

The next sighting was also intriguing, a well-known “seal shark” in English this is a seal, mistaken for a basking sharks dorsal fin, this made us all a giggle.

"Sighting" was shouted, “it’s 1000 metres away, it isn’t a dolphin but it is larger than a minke whale”, at the same time 3 porpoises travelled past about 100 metres away. These porpoises were mistaken for the animal 1000 metres away, and as Kerry frantically looked along the coast line for this mysterious animal, she finally squeals “it’s a flippin’ killer whale!” We followed John Coe and co. (tee hee) for over an hour, thinking we weren’t going to get very close to them at all, it turned out we had them surfacing around 50 metres away from us. Nappies were nearly being needed, on mass! Once we had photo ID of all 4 (possibly 5... photo id will confirm this tomorrow ) we left them to it, and went on our way, just finding creel buoys and a couple of seals. Tomorrow we have the task of identifying the other male and two female Orca individuals.



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Thursday 10th July 2014

Published: 14/07/2014

Day 2
Not another minke! And there are those dolphins again.
Lat: 56 55.481
Long: 7 31.785
Anchorage: Vatersay
Distance Travelled: 67.0 miles
What a day, surveying for 12 hours 32 minutes and 47 seconds!
Sightings were few from Tiree for a few hours, we were asking ourselves “where are they all?” Then we had the first Silurian basking shark sighting of the season, followed by many others. At 12:27 we had the first porpoise acoustic detection of the day and after this it went mental. We had found the wildlife!
We had 6 basking shark sightings (1 possible re-sighting), common dolphins bow riding and leaping completely out of the water, in total 2 sightings with 90 individuals, at a similar time to the commons we had white beaked dolphins also being playful – 1 sighting with 15 individuals.
With only two sightings tabs on the computer it was an information overload, especially as common and grey seals kept popping up and bottling (just sticking their head out the water and drifting with the waves) in total we had 2 common seals, 16 grey seal sightings with 17 individuals. As well as all this we had 5 porpoise sightings with 7 individuals, the hydrophone also recorded two more detections in the afternoon.
Minke whales were also abundant with 8 sightings and a staggering total of 12 individuals, most of which came to investigate the yacht, swimming under the yacht showing its white mittens and occasionally white underside. Sadly one minke had thin blue rope/plastic strapping attached around its head, and another had some sort of fishing gear or maybe a parasite off its left side – we are still puzzling over this! The minke whales were all seen travelling along a tide line, miles from the nearest land, where the bringing together of different water bodies also unfortunately brought together many items of marine litter.
As we travelled further towards Vatersay, the sea state increased and so we had 5 sightings of unidentified dolphin combining to 9 individuals, as well as 2 unidentified seal sightings. As well as all these marine mammals there was a lot of bird activity, gannets, kittiwakes, fulmars, gulls, shearwaters, skuas (being bullies like usual), and beautiful landscapes. So really it couldn’t have got any better.
Basking shark

minke whale

White-beaked dolphin

White-beaked dolphins

Minke whale with blue plastic strapping around it's head


Common dolphin


Skua harassing a gull


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Saturday 12th July 2014

Published: 13/07/2014

Day 4
Title: Damp weather and shiP scones
Lat: 57°35’6N
Long: 7°08’9W
Anchorage: Loch Maddy
Distance travelled: 44.5 miles  

The day started out nice, though a bit colder than the days before. Leaving our anchorage we saw a lot of creel buoys along the shore line and only 21 min after starting the observations we had a grey seal sighting. Little over an hour later we had another grey seal sighting. After that we heard a faint dolphin whistle on the hydrophone, so faint that we started to doubt whether we had heard it correctly. Luckily, less than a minute later a shout came from the mast, dolphin sighting! And a group of 8 common dolphins were spotted in the distance. We were quite excited hoping the day would turn out similar to the day before. Unfortunately it started raining in the morning and it did not stop all day. Sightings were sparse then, though we did have a sighting of an unknown dolphin and another sighting that possibly was a basking shark.

At the end of the 7 hour and 40 min surveying day we anchored at Loch Maddy and nine damp people gathered around the table, curious about the treat of the day: Scones! The first batch turned out flat, so when Kerry saw them she called them ship-scones. We heard something entirely different and all started laughing, from then on unable to say the word shiP-scones without laughing.



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Friday 11th July 2014

Published: 13/07/2014

Day 3
Swimming birds and flying whales Lat: 57°03’4N
Long: 6°29’4W
Anchorage: Canna
Distance Travelled: 45.2  

After the incredible day we had yesterday, spirits were high this morning and everyone was excited and ready for another busy day at sea, despite the slightly bad turn in the weather. Within a couple of  minutes  we were off to a promising start with seal sighting, however  it was quickly corrected to a creel buoy, not so exciting!

The morning went on to be very exciting, with 2 porpoises and 2 seals’ (1 common, 1 grey) to start us off, followed by a possible Risso’s dolphin sighting which unfortunately was too fast and fleeting to be 100% sure, though with its slow surfacing and tall grey dorsal fin, Kerry was almost sure of it.
We then had a Minke whale and a basking shark all within 5 minutes. Next up… ORCA!!! Or so we think, there was a very excitable shout from the mast of ‘I think it’s an Orca’ which had everyone out on deck, eyes in every direction, eager for a look at the elusive whale! However, 20 minutes later still no more sign of the Orca, however the description of the tall, black fin that popped up and down quickly was very unlikely to have been anything else! Having calmed down from the Orca excitement another Harbour porpoise was spotted, followed by another spectacular sight of a Minke whale fully breaching twice in quick succession! After this things started to slow down a bit.

As we made our way through the choppy waters towards our mooring at Canna, the number of sightings dwindled with only 3 seals and a Harbour porpoise spotted over the last few hours. Once at the mooring we had a little friend come and visit us in the form of a Grey seal, bottling less than 2 meters from the boat and posing nicely for some photos. After a much shorter day of only 7 ½ hours of sailing, we all headed ashore to explore the local area.



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Wednesday 9th July 2014

Published: 12/07/2014

HWDT 5
Day 1 
Information overload, snack stops and endless shouts of creel buoys.
Lat: 56°30’08N Long: 6°48’00W Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree
Distance Travelled: 32.15 miles

Day one began with us new recruits being bombarded with information on numerous cetaceans, seals and the various procedures involved with surveying the local area. After a brief (but mandatory) snack stop, and a replacement hydrophone for our slightly dodgy one, we were ready to start our first afternoon on the water.

We set of from our mooring in Tobermory eagerly; and with several sightings of creel buoys within the first few minutes the afternoon got off to a promising start, but as the day drifted pleasantly on with some lovely weather, signs of life were scarce to say the least. The only visual encounters were a (probable) porpoise, spotted by skipper Stuart and first mate Tom; and some distant unidentifiable dolphins seen by 8 time volunteer Leanne.

Things looked a bit more abundant on the now working hydrophone, with 5 porpoises detected throughout the afternoon, one being a perfect example of a porpoise train; a series of detections that show a single porpoise moving past the boat (not multiple porpoises in one long line). Despite not seeing any record breaking number of animals, a good time was had by all as some wonderfully sunny and dry weather helped us settle into life on our new home.



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Wednesday 9th July 2014

Published: 12/07/2014

HWDT 5
Day 1 
Information overload, snack stops and endless shouts of creel buoys.
Lat: 56°30’08N Long: 6°48’00W Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree
Distance Travelled: 32.15 miles

Day one began with us new recruits being bombarded with information on numerous cetaceans, seals and the various procedures involved with surveying the local area. After a brief (but mandatory) snack stop, and a replacement hydrophone for our slightly dodgy one, we were ready to start our first afternoon on the water.

We set of from our mooring in Tobermory eagerly; and with several sightings of creel buoys within the first few minutes the afternoon got off to a promising start, but as the day drifted pleasantly on with some lovely weather, signs of life were scarce to say the least. The only visual encounters were a (probable) porpoise, spotted by skipper Stuart and first mate Tom; and some distant unidentifiable dolphins seen by 8 time volunteer Leanne.

Things looked a bit more abundant on the now working hydrophone, with 5 porpoises detected throughout the afternoon, one being a perfect example of a porpoise train; a series of detections that show a single porpoise moving past the boat (not multiple porpoises in one long line). Despite not seeing any record breaking number of animals, a good time was had by all as some wonderfully sunny and dry weather helped us settle into life on our new home.



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Wednesday 9th July 2014

Published: 10/07/2014

HWDT 5
Day 1 
Information overload, snack stops and endless shouts of creel buoys.
Lat: 56°30’08N Long: 6°48’00W Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree
Distance Travelled: 32.15 miles

Day one began with us new recruits being bombarded with information on numerous cetaceans, seals and the various procedures involved with surveying the local area. After a brief (but mandatory) snack stop, and a replacement hydrophone for our slightly dodgy one, we were ready to start our first afternoon on the water.

We set of from our mooring in Tobermory eagerly; and with several sightings of creel buoys within the first few minutes the afternoon got off to a promising start, but as the day drifted pleasantly on with some lovely weather, signs of life were scarce to say the least. The only visual encounters were a (probable) porpoise, spotted by skipper Stuart and first mate Tom; and some distant unidentifiable dolphins seen by 8 time volunteer Leanne.

Things looked a bit more abundant on the now working hydrophone, with 5 porpoises detected throughout the afternoon, one being a perfect example of a porpoise train; a series of detections that show a single porpoise moving past the boat (not multiple porpoises in one long line). Despite not seeing any record breaking number of animals, a good time was had by all as some wonderfully sunny and dry weather helped us settle into life on our new home.



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