Silurian Blog

Friday 3rd July 2015

Published: 03/07/2015

Day of The Dolphin
Anchorage: Loch Dunvegan,
Distance Travelled: 57.8 Miles

Hello world from all of us here on Silurian.  Its our 4th evening and what a great day we had today!

 Last night as we were all conversing around the dinner table after our dessert, we were all joking about how since we did not see a lot of dolphin activity that day during our surveys the following day (today) would be a day full of dolphin sightings…hence the name ‘day of the dophin’ was created.  

It was an outstandingly gorgeous day, sunny and warm with good seas.  It was a SLOW start to sightings in the morning and early afternoon with about 3 common dolphins, 1 basking shark, and 1 elusive Minke.  

However, the day of the dolphin prevailed late in the afternoon when we spotted a group of both Risso’s and Common dolphins and spent almost an hour with them.  The Risso’s actually stuck around for a while where Kerry hopefully got some good photo ID shots and there was even potentially a baby amongst the pod!

The Common dolphins were a fun show all in their own.  They stayed close to the Risso’s but also took time to continuously bow ride, displaying their agility and acrobatics while giving us a good show! It was an amazing sight to see and experience.  We got some great acoustic recordings and I can’t wait to hear the rest!  

We are anchored up tonight in another beautiful location right in front of the old castle of the Clan Macleod, where we enjoyed tea and homemade brownies. Leanne is making Glengorm beef fajitas tonight and we preparing to eat and enjoy a beautiful sunset soon to come!    

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Thursday 2nd July 2015

Published: 02/07/2015

So here we are :)
Anchorage: Loch Harport, Skye
Lat: 57°00’18.137N
Long: 006°20.879W
Distance Travelled: 29.2 Miles

Well after 2 planes, 2 trains, 2 buses, and one ferry ride it was a long 4 days of travel to get to Tobermory all the way from Juneau, Alaska, BUT here we are on our 3rd night of being on Silurian.  Luckily for me, when I arrived in Tobermory in the early afternoon of the 30th the sun was shining and the weather was beautiful.

 These islands here in the Hebrides are some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. Last night we anchored up in the Isle of Rum and what a fantastic place that was also.

 After having ‘toad in the hole’ for dinner Kerry, Jon, Emily and myself went to shore for a little after dinner exercise. We hiked around and looked at an old castle, old houses, and visited the ‘town’.  

Today was our first full day of surveying, starting at about 10am and finishing just before 8pm. We are all starting to get to know each other and have started to get our system down when it comes to changing shifts…What a wonderful group of people.  Being the only individual not from the UK I am thoroughly enjoying being introduced to the culinary and language differences.

  Today was a good day of sighting.  We started off a little slow with some not so fun weather, but as the afternoon progressed the weather got better, the sun peeked through, and we started having more sightings other than creel buoys and rubbage.

 We sighted 3 minke whales, 2 basking sharks, several common and grey seals, and lots of harbour porpoises.  

Tonight we are anchored up in the Isle of Skye and there are no words to describe the beauty of the scenery during our cruise in.  After our ‘off-effort’ tea and chores, we are getting ready to settle down and relax for the evening and enjoy some chicken-chick pea curry prepared by Wendy and Barry!

Cheers from Silurian!        

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Wednesday 1st June 2015

Published: 02/07/2015

Anchorage: Loch Scresort, Rum
Lat: 57°00’.784N
Long: 006°15’974W
Distance Travelled: 29.2 Miles

Having sea kayaked in Hebridean waters for many years and wanting to improve our knowledge of Cetaceans my husband Barry and I decided to volunteer on the Silurian. After spending a week kayaking on the Kintyre Peninsula we took the ferry from Oban to Mull and cycled to Tobermory where we joined the rest of the crew and volunteers.

Our first evening on board was spent having dinner and learning about the various species we may encounter on our 10 day trip. Today started with training on survey techniques and after lunch we set sail and our journey took us north west through the Small Isles to Rum. The weather was beautiful and warm and we had good sightings of Harbour Porpoise aka Puffin Pigs and Common Dolphin.

A fantastic day in good company finished off by good old Yorkshire ‘Toad in the hole’.       

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Thursday 25th June 2015

Published: 26/06/2015

Due to Calmac strikes, two of our fantastic volunteers, Kate and Alastair had to cut their trip slightly short missing out on the farewell meal. They were incredibly missed, however during the evening we read out a sea shiant-ie that Alistair composed during the survey.

Usually on the final night of a silurian survey, we will let our hair down (or brush our hair) and eat out at a local establishment. However this time, volunteer Jan, who lives close by in Plockton,  invited us to dine at her house. I have never had such a wonderful last meal. Her husband Hamish cooked us the most fantabulous indian meal I think I have ever tasted,  complete with stuffed lotus leaves! Their hospitality was overwhelming and rounded of what has ben a truly amazing survey with a wonderful bunch of people. Thank you Hamish and Jan!

I'll leave you now with a sea shanty from Alistair, to be sung to the tune of "wild rover"

Song of the Silurians – a sea shianty  

We’ve cruised the Hebs over by power and by sail,
a-looking for porpoise, for dolphins and whale
But now we’re returning to the bridge o’er to Skye
a-bidding farewell with tears in the eye.  

Chorus: And it’s Oh yes whenever, whenever we spot
We’ll report up cetaceans – confirmed or not.  

Now Kerry’s the girl with tall stories to tell
of cetaceans by name, by size and by smell
She knows them by colour or marks on their fins
And others by way that the buggers do swim.


Now we’ve spent all our gold with HDWT
And donning our red tops are braving the sea
Our shipmates are jolly and our boat is a lab
And counting cetaceans we all think is fab


Our voyage began with Skye and its mist
But we quickly returned for some whales that we’d missed
Those pilot they are doomed on a Skye beach to die
Unless Jan and her mates come scurrying by


At nighttime we set anchor for wine and great grub,
The dinghy afloat lest the skipper calls “pub”
We pass by the Shiants with puffins galore
With dolphins and skuas, gannets and more


Now Jon the boat’s mate, his birds doth ken
From the Azores he does come and will return to again
The ship’s heads are tiny but really quite clean
And the galley cooks food that is fit for the Queen.  


The North up by Gairloch where white-beaked we saw,
some porpoise, a minke, and creel buoys a score
And then ‘twas at Ness some shelter we took
Our skipper called Edd, consulting his book


The following morn we rounded the Butt
With seas that we feared would empty our gut
But some whities and whales the Silurian saw
Lashed to the mast and peering before  


“On effort, my laddies”,  Kerry did call
Unleashing her black pipe, her Pamguard and all
We count up the whirring, the snaps and the clicks
To see if the porpoise are up to their tricks  


In Tarbert, on Harris we fouled on a chain
‘Twas revenge of the whalers, who’ll do it again
They boiled up the blubber, their chimney you’ll see
Before slinging your hook and heading to sea  


Up the crows nest did some of us fly As the long Sound of Harris did slowly slip by
Jan called out a shark, a-basking right near
It’s great jaws agate but gave up nea fear.  


That’s the end of our shanty, our voyage and all
And yet for sure the cetaceans still call.
We leave for our shore lives with skills anew
And hope those whales will soon summon you.  


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Wednesday 24th June 2015

Published: 26/06/2015

Anchorage Island of Rona

Yesterday as we sailed through the Sound of Harris there was a lot of sea bird activity, one flock of birds looking at a distance more like a dark cloud due to the numbers swarming between some of the islands. After a very quiet morning this was when it all started going slightly crazy. Jan spotted a basking shark which swam very close past the boat and we were privileged to have great views of it feeding just underneath the surface.  No sooner had we started moving away then another basking shark was sighted, followed by shouts that multiple minke whales had been seen, going in different directions, then a sighting of possible dolphins much further out.

We had good views of two adult minke whales and a tiny minke which is believed to be a calf. After joking the night before about the convoy of animals we predicted we were going to see that day we could not quite believe our luck. To add to the procession, whilst obtaining photo IDs of the minkes, harbour porpoises were also seen together with lots of interested seals who stopped to see what all the fuss was about.

After the weeks training the whole boat swung into action busy ensuring we could spot, identify and record the marine life which surrounded us. Such was the commitment that lunch, a delicious pasta with vegetables and parmesan cheese in a mug, was served at 3.30pm even though our dedicated skipper had started preparing it hours earlier.

We crossed The Little Minch to Skye, seeing the Shiant Islands in the distance to the north and down to North and South Uist and the Island of Bara in the south.

We anchored for the night in Ardmore Bay on Skye and although I kept a look out in the early hours for the Northern Lights I did not see any, possibly due to a mix of cloud cover and the fact that this close to midsummer in the Hebrides it does not ever get completely dark.  

Today we headed north, round the northern tip of Skye hearing common dolphin whistles on the hydrophone and then seeing a group of 10 common dolphins at a distance. The most striking feature of the day was that The Minch, which we have crossed in so many weathers this trip, was eerily calm like glass, we could see for miles but with the exception of sea birds nothing seemed to be moving.

As we turned south down the east coast of Skye towards the Island of Rona seal sightings and sightings of harbour porpoises set a challenging pace for those relaying the information and recording it on the computer. We saw 39 harbour porpoises in total and 28 seals rounding beating Pamguard (the computer system which identifies harbour porpoises from the hydrophone which only recorded 13 harbour porpoises).

We have anchored in a sheltered bay on the Island of Rona with the sound of a cuckoo echoing from the nearby woodland and undeterred Stewart remains determined to try and catch a fish, we wait with baited breath…

Tune in tomorrow for the final instalment of this adventure – will a narwhal appear, will the Orcas be waiting for us in Kyle of Lochalsh and will we ever be able to say no to seconds of dessert.

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Tuesday 23rd June 2015

Published: 24/06/2015

Anchorage: Ardmore Bay, Loch Dunvegan
57 degrees 32.9 N
006 degrees 38.4 W

To the tune of "my favourite things" the sound of music.

Silurian days

Bottle nose dolphins and white beak ones too,
What is the bearing and what was the cue?
Vis’bility skipper?  Sea state is four, Remember the boats please, F1 then store.  

When the swell’s high,
when the wind’s cold,
When we’re feeling bad
We simply remember we’re paying for this
And then we feel much more sad.  

Minke’s with mittens and bad breath on blowing,
Volunteer’s face’s wind burnt and glowing.
Jon’s up the mast-head beating Pamguard,
Edd’s eating leftovers ‘cos skippering is hard.  

When the sail’s up,
when we’re “On whales”,
When the sun is out,
We simply forget that we’re paying for this
A life changing experience, no doubt.

Ear plugs, life jackets and hatches and heads
Fridges that flood and knife thin bunk beds.
We’re all “On effort” whilst Kerry doth bake
Cinnamon buns and wonderful cake.

When gann-ets dive,
when puff-ins fly,
when a sighting’s made
We simply forget all our cares in this world,
May never the memories fade.    

Tea coffee other? and lunch in a mug,
Words of encouragement, smile and a hug
The crew keep us going, seeking our goal
Especially when entombed in Kerry’s hell hole.  

When the buoys bob,
when the seals stare,
When Jan sees a fin,
We try to remember the degrees from the bow
And call the cetacean in.  

Pamguard beats Janguard on most of the days
We blame the swell, the waves or the haze.
Kisses to Fulmers and whistles to whales,
Close to the wind Silurian sails.  

When the sea’s quiet,
when the eyes ache,
when the sky is grey,
We simply remember to comfort ourselves
That tomorrow’s another day.  

Creel buoys and seal buoys, and one handed shackles
Hydrophone mysteries and radio crackles.
Gem’s at the mast head, get ready “ Relay”
For multiple sightings to brighten the day.  

When the light fades,
when we’re well fed,
when talk turns to whales,
We simply remember how lucky we are
To spend 12 days aboard under sails.      

10 pulls on the handle, full movements please,
Gentlemen requested to pee on their knees
Watch for the sea state and clicking shrimps too
Call it the heads please, never the loo.  

When the handle squeaks,
when the tap spurts,
when the suction grips
We simply remember it takes ten minutes at least
To deal with the layers and zips.

  Basking sharks, minkes, din-ky minkes too
Jan is on fire, spots fresh minke poo. Kerry with camera, photos left and right
Stuart’s still waiting for that first fish to bite.  

When the head’s clean,
when the floors swept,
when we’ve all had tea,
We simply remember how good life can feel
On Silurian days at sea  

Stuart’s rice pudding and Jan’s chicken curry,
Leisurely evenings, there’s no need to hurry
John looks for divers and Kate seeks an otter
Rachel’s shortlisted, for the award of top spotter.  

When the boats moored,
when the wine flows,
When we’re warm and dry,
We’ll never forget the friends that we’ve made
When the time comes to say goodbye.

Written by Kate

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Monday 22nd June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

Anchorage: West Loch Tarbert

The weather had definitely changed this morning and it was a windy start. The beaches still looked gorgeous though and it would have been great to take a dip but it was a pretty enthusiastic breeze.

 As we set sail up the loch to the open sea the clouds were grey, the hills were grey, the seals were grey but Jan was pink.  Too much sun the day before gave her a strange complexion which was thought to be the cause of a lower than average number of sightings during the morning. After being consigned to the computer for seemingly an eternity in a rapidly rising sea state Jan emerged green.  Definitely a better colour. Luckily the rolling seas were punctuated with beautiful birdlife.  Gannets, Shearwaters, Fulmars, Kittiwake and Auks as well as the occasional Storm Petrel kept our watchers busy. There was plenty of activity on the sea but what lay beneath?

As we headed towards the Flannan islands some of our stomachs headed elsewhere but we survived and just as well because we were to be rewarded with another wonderful White Beaked Dolphin sighting and then just when we thought it couldn’t get much better we heard yodelling around the mast (yes really!), a phenomenon that wise sailors warn against as, in the wrong hands ,  it often heralds the arrival of a malodorous air.   How true…. A shout from the mast.  Dorsal fin seen and then the Minke.  It accompanied us along the coast disappearing briefly and then reappearing, surfing alongside with Minke mittens to the fore. It was idyllic and a fantastic sighting but there was a down side.   Minke breath, or breaths which smelled terrible.  Rotten cabbage doesn’t do it justice.  It really was stinky….  In fact I shall have to lie down……

Coming in to West Loch Tarbet there were yet more birds to keep the relay busy along with ‘secret sightings’ from deck of harbour porpoises. The anchorage is surrounded by hills which will shelter us tonight from the forecast  North Easterlies. About 2oom from Silurian is the remains of the old whaling station which was built by the Norwegians before the first world war and abandoned in 1930s. The plan is to get over for a look after this evenings meal.

Whilst sitting around the table reading books, writing journals and inhaling the delicious smells wafting up from the galley, a text came through on Kerry’s phone from nine-time silurian volunteer Leanne, informing us that there was a RED alert for aurora borealis tonight! Kerry’s excitement was soon quashed when everyone reminded her that it was cloudy and mid-summer in the Hebrides. But you never know…

Who knows what Neptune & nature will surprise us with tomorrow, Black Red Throated Divers or White Beaked Risso combos perhaps!? Watch this space…another Silurian day awaits us….

A joint blog effort writen by no less that 5 people

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Sunday 21st June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

  Midsummers day in the Western Isles

heading North and West (weather permitting) As we left the bay at Port of Ness our thoughts were of how we could possible top the sightings of the last two days. The hydrophone had not yet been  deployed when the now all too common call of “sighting” was heard.  Still in sight of our last resting place (perhaps an unfortunate term) we were joined by no less than five White Beaked Dolphin. They were very interested in Silurian and stayed with us for about fifteen minutes before heading off for deeper water. For the next five hours we had one remarkable sighting after the other and mostly of the beautiful White Beak.

Jan had her eye in and was on fire with her spotting (probably something to do with the fantastic curry she cooked the night before). At one point she was so excited calling out another sighting, when asked what she had seen she shouted “I’m not sure but it was something with fins”.

On one amazing encounter a pod of 5 were spotted at about 600m. and heading slightly away from us. Within a couple of minutes they had changed course towards us and swam directly under the boat. They seemed to be very relaxed about us being in their playground and stayed with us until they realised the big boat wasn’t going to play. It was a moment we will all remember forever. Even Kerry, our science officer, remarked that she had never seen so many White Beaked Dolphin before. Everything about the day was going our way. Even the weather was with us which meant that we could carry on North to the top of Lewis and then set a course down the West coast, eventually finding an anchorage in Traigh Na Berie beach on the island of Shiaram Mor.

The sail down the West coast of Lewis is nothing short of spectacular. You really are left searching for the right words to describe it and I’m sure we all feel privileged to be here. A few of us went over to some of the small islands on the dinghy to collect firewood for a Midsummers day bonfire tonight while Kerry got on with the evening meal. Unfortunately our bonfire idea  has been somewhat dampened by the now persistent rain. We’ve just polished off Kerry’s enchiladas so it’s definitely a thumbs down to the bonfire.

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Saturday 20th June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

The east coast of Lewis…

Anchorage Port of Ness
Distance travelled     59.8nm

After a late night with a few people going ashore to explore Scalpay and a lovely stir fry for tea we set off in the cloud and drizzle however the sun soon appeared bringing the first need for sunglasses. First sightings were common seals however soon after 3 common dolphins came past the boat. As we thought we had seen the best for the day more dolphins were spotted leaping out of the water further away from the boat, some of which came quite close by which point we had discovered they were white beaked dolphins that was very exciting for everyone aboard.

There were several more sightings of white beaked dolphins as we left the area we had seen the group. The weather declined slightly however the volunteers were not put off with sightings of harbour porpoises and more dolphins.

Relay had a difficult job of keeping up with large quantities of birds sat together on the water however with a few people working together we managed to count all of them (we think!).  

Coming in to anchor at Port of Ness close to the Butt of Lewis there were yet more white beaked dolphins spotted. Now, after some people going ashore and  watching white beaked dolphins feeding and others having a dip in the sea, while tea is being cooked we are sat watching diving gannets around the boat hoping the white beaked dolphins will come even closer to us.  

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Friday 19th June 2015

Published: 23/06/2015

Out to the islands…

Lat  57 degrees 51.9 N
Long  006 degrees 41.7 W Anchorage Scalpay South harbour Distance travelled  63.7 nm

The craic was mighty last night with tales of mammals and travels. Ashore we met the very hospitable Anthony who told us of his home within an SSI and who lamented the paucity of wildlife. A little beachcombing then back to the boat and all slept so soundly.

The morning dawned grey and damp but things improved as the day drew on.  Our boat identification skills tested repeatedly, we passed Gruinard bay with its sinister history and then a large pod of common dolphins and Minkes were spotted. Excitement mounted as we became for the first time “with whales”. The Minkes kept us on our toes  – playing hide and seek all around the boat.

Boats and birds in abundance we crossed a choppy Minch before the mist gradually closed in.  As we sailed and motored past the Shiants the sea was alive with scores of puffins. It took 3 volunteers to even attempt to count them.

Silurian performed superbly even when under the amateur helm of volunteers and skipper Edd guided us East and around Scalpay into the secure and beautiful setting of South harbour.

A small shore party visited the village and the remainder cooked – and chilled. A long and rewarding day.

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Thursday 18th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

The morning after…

Lat  58 degrees 06.4N
Long  005 degrees 16.4W Anchorage Enard Bay (South of Lochinver)
Distance travelled 53.7nm

The morning after the pasta bake and ice cream combo that is. Stuart was head chef unably assisted by sous chef  (or should that read ‘sue the chef’) Jan.  Gallantly the volunteers and  crew tackled the meal with exceptional heroism in the face of tons of food but with the lure of extra cheese, Maltesers and Flake.  Not only was the pasta bake satisfying but some diners even had seconds and even thirds.  However they did need the help of lifting gear to leave the table. A little was left in the pan which despite being secreted in the fridge disappeared within a few hours.  No one owned up. Black magic I would say.

Our Gairloch anchorage was a safe place to tell folk tales and strange tales and also to play the tactical game of Bananagrams (aka unzip the banana) and also ‘Black Magic’ and much hilarity and strange jellyfish followed as the nearing midsummer sun was setting somewhere else, unseen by us sadly.

After a delicious first breakfast it was all ‘on effort’ as we headed out into rougher waters and we soon managed to get back into the swing of first seal sightings then creel sightings.  Some creels endeavouring to look like something they are not: seals, birds and even human heads.  Very strange. That old Black magic….

Once out into open water the settled weather forecast that I had heard a few days ago seemed a distant memory as we sailed up and then down into the troughs of rather large grey waves.  We must be mad I thought, weakening, but then I looked around.  There were plenty of others in the same boat (not literally) aboard trawlers to creelers on these Scottish waters. At the mast those of us under 5’5” realised that those ‘up’ moments gave us an opportunity to see beyond out normal range without a stepladder.  I may have become quite smug. We also practised the Silurian  exercise programme or Mast-er class with knee bends my personal favourite. It’s an all-round workout so bring it on.  

Soon the day was punctuated by shouts of Skua, Gannet, Fulmars … but for some brave souls there was a shout of  ’bucket’ as the sea played havoc with their breakfasts.

 However as we headed out into the Minch we knew we were in good company as the hydrophone was picking up the classic tones of clicks and whistles.  Sadly, visual sightings were more limited because of the conditions but there was a possible Minke breach in the distance, some Harbour Porpoises and an unidentified Dolphin.

This evening we have settled into a tucked away loch and sit bobbing on a gentle sea with Stuart fishing and some folks venturing on shore to explore and bring back some unsuspecting shepherds for our evening meal which is being created in the galley by Rachael and Gemma. The rest of us are reminiscing about the day’s highlights, reading and enjoying the scenery as we dream about what tomorrow will bring in the way of answers. Will Jonathan find his blue faced Fulmar, Will Stuart catch anything now he’s broken the rod, will Kerry bake us another delicious cake….?  As they say in ‘Gone with the Wind’  tomorrow is another day… watch this space….

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Wednesday 17th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

The adventure continues
Lat   57 degrees 41.718
Long  005 degrees 41.167 Anchorage  Loch Shieldaig,Gairloch Distance travelled 41.3 nm

Even Stuart slept well last night!

Having been initiated into cetaceans and seals and creel buoys on our first day, this morning we learnt about identifying sea birds and boats. The ‘on effort’ post of Relay suddenly became a whole lot busier! It was a grey day to start but the water was calm until we entered the Sound of Raasay. Further monitoring showed all the local fish farms had obliged by turning off their ADD’s and Jan checked with a land based friend who said the pilot whales had not been seen since the previous evening, leading us to hope they might have made it out into deeper water.

Once ‘on effort ‘we followed multiple transects between Raasay and Skye, passing Portree on our port side and the Raasay ferry, then headed north to Staffin and past Rona. Level with Portree a whirly (mini-typhoon) was spotted and Alastair and Stuart took the helm on occasions during the day.

Second breakfast bacon butty was eaten ‘on effort’. Despite great vigilance at the mast the cetacean sightings were occasional and all harbour porpoise, but Rachel excited us all by seeing an unidentified ‘blow’. Kerry kept us straight with the birds and as the day went on the difference between fulmers and gulls, and guillemots and razorbills became a bit clearer but more practice is definitely needed.

  We sailed, rather than motored, when we could, which was exciting as we had a choppy sea together with wind waves so we were very glad of the safety lines and mast handles as the boat rolled.
Delicious home-made veg soup and croutons at lunch time warmed all. Further from the coast we saw many puffins, guillemots and fulmers.
The last sighting of the day, as we entered Gairloch turned out to be a black buoy not a seal and sadly the computer entry of 22 harbour porpoises was amended down to 2!

The anchorage is peaceful, diaries are being written, Kerry has gone ashore to practice for the Mull half marathon, Stuart & Jan are in the galley and Alastair is opening the bar! A great day.

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Tuesday 16th June 2015

Published: 19/06/2015

Only the beginning of the Adventure…

Lat: 57 degrees 16.5 North
Long: 005 degrees 59.26 West Anchorage: Between Skye and the island of Scalpay, just south of Loch Ainort

Distance Travelled: 35.4 nautical miles (3274.5 Gannet wing spans – don’t ask)

Our first day surveying, having met up at the boat at Kyle of Lochalsh last night, just before the bridge to Skye.
Setting off this morning we saw a grey seal before we had even reached the bridge to Skye, but it was only just after we had left the bridge behind us that a breaching Minke made the most spectacular sight against the backdrop of the mainland (and a very big splash)! This was one of two Minkes seen when we stopped to observe, we saw two harbour porpoises just after this, one very close to the boat and five further sightings of seals during the day  (2 common seals, 1 grey seal and 2 unidentified).

We also had some spectacular views of great skua during the day, evidently enjoying the wind. We ran ahead of the weather on transect towards Raasay, before changing tack and sailing with the wind behind us and the sails looking spectacular on Silurian up past Applecross. We had planned to anchor overnight at Torridon but when we were almost there we got a text which made us make a 180 degree turn and retrace our steps with our heads turned into the weather under full power. We had been asked to go and monitor whether pilot whales which had been seen at the bottom of Loch Ainort, Skye yesterday morning were still there or whether they had been able to find their way out of the loch to open water. Following a recent mass stranding of pilot whales on Skye it is thought that these may be some of the remaining members of the pod. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust are working closely with local businesses to see whether temporarily switching off acoustic deterrent devices nearby will encourage the whales to find their way out of the loch.

The weather closed in as we headed back with some regular waves in the face for the brave volunteers spotting at the mast but the wet weather jackets and over-trousers provided by HWDT did their jobs in keeping us warm and dry and we were ably supplied with hot drinks and a delicious risotto in a cup for lunch.

We are now anchored tucked in between Skye and the island of Scalpey, just south of Loch Ainort and listening to a very nice CD of mellow fiddle music gifted to the boat by a volunteer earlier this summer.  A day of amazing experiences but there is only more to come. The adventure continues…

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Friday 12 June 2015

Published: 13/06/2015

12 June 2015

Anchorage: Fladday Harbour, Raasay

N 57 28.6', W 006 01.3'

Survey effort : 54.9 nautical miles / 9hr21.

We awoke to view that was both eerie and wonderful: streams of puffins, guillemots and razorbills spilling out of the fog from the hills in front of us. The Shiants are a remote island group 12 miles east of Harris, where we anchored the previous evening. Skuas patrolled the bay as we hauled anchor and the mist began to clear as we rounded the Shiants. A calm and silvery sea beckoned with the impressive hills of Harris in the background. Not long after leaving the Shiants we encountered a pair of minke whales... then another and then four whales spread out over a large area of fast flowing tide. The activity came to a peak when we recorded four species of marine mammal in just 2 minutes: grey seal, common dolphin, harbour porpoise and minke whale, all associated with diving gannets and frantic kittiwakes. Some incredible behaviour was witnessed including a half-breaching minke whale, some sub-surface lunge-feeding and rapid surfacing.

As we made our way south and east around the north coast of Skye, all eyes were peeled for a humpback which had been seen in the area this morning (Thanks to skipper Nick Davies of whalewatching boat Orca 1 for letting us know!). Although we did not see the humpback on our trackline, our final full survey day for this trip was a memorable one with so many incredible encounters. We are heading for the Isle of Raasay now to anchor up for the night. Skipper Edd and First Mate Jon are treating us to Mexican food tonight which will go down well after a hard day's work.

Conor Ryan

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Thursday 11 June 2015

Published: 13/06/2015

Anchorage : Eilean Garbh (tr. "Rough island"), The Shiants

N 57 54.1', W 006 21.2'

Survey effort : 62.1 nautical miles / 10hrs30.

An epically long passage into the wind, from Loch Laxford in sutherland to the Shiants. Tough conditions for most of the day but a curious young minke at the end of the day was a well earned treat! It swam under the boat while we were in neutral, giving everyone great views beneath the sea. We ventured ashore to explore the seabird colony, carefully and quietly so as not to disturb the nesting birds. We foraged some seaweed and had a hearty meal of beans, bangers and mash. Conor Ryan.

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Tuesday 9 June 2015

Published: 12/06/2015

Survey effort: 43 nautical miles
7 hrs 32mins

Anchor: Stornoway, Lewis
N'58 degrees 12'6
W'006 degrees 23.4

With an overcast start we managed to cross The Minch on complete wind power up to 6 knots. We all saw plenty of
creels and sea birds but the main visual sighting was two common dolphins and their calves that were bow riding.
The dolphins were coated in diatoms which is an algae that grows in exceptionally cold water. Closely after we saw a performance from
an artic skua chasing a tern to make it regurgitate its food.

The Silurian moored up at Stornaway with an unexpected shock of Sammy the grey seal making an appearance right next to Conor's hands
tying the fender. One of the volunteers, Rod, got to meet up with his brother and mum and the rest of the crew headed straight for the
showers! After talking about the free Wifi and how good to see showers we attempted to fish for...anything. Sadly our
willpower for fishing changed as soon as we heard someone say pub. Ending a lovely day with a cold Guinness in front of a coal fire.

Another fantastic day on board the Silurian.

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Monday 8 June 2015

Published: 08/06/2015

Anchorage: Aultbea, Loch Ewe (57 degrees 50.2' N, 005 degrees 35.3' W)
Survey effort: 8 hours / 48.1 nautical miles

Our second day began with a tantalising glimpse of blue sky and bright sunshine, turning into clouds, wind and rain as soon as we began surveying. Everyone was in good
spirits and hopes were high for some interesting sightings during the day. Our first official sighting on the survey was a fleeting glimpse of the dorsal fin of a
harbour porpoise (Phocaena phocaena), with the key sighting of the day being a small pod of 4 common dolphins (Delphinius delphis) that appeared at the bow of
the boat and proceeded to bow-ride for several minutes, causing screeching from me and mass excitement from everyone on board with everyone abandoning their posts to
get a closer view.
Several minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) were also sighted, being nicknamed 'mysterious minkes' as they disappeared as soon as we began to approach, giving us
only tantilising glimpses of their backs and fins as they melted out of sight. The weather conditions were good with great visibility, despite the waves on the surface.
In total 20 harbour porpoise encounters (P. phocaena) were picked up on the hydrophone over our 7hr 56min survey covering 48.1 nautical miles.
Our anchorage tonight is in Loch Ewe and we arrived at 17:51.
Key species: Harbour seal (Phoca vitulina), minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), common dolphins (Delphinius delphis), harbour porpoise (Phocaena phocaena),
cormorants/shags, gannets (Sula bassana), great skua (Stercorarius skua), Arctic skua (Stercorarius parasiticus), guillemot (Uria aalgae), kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
Atlantic puffins (Fractercula arctica), razorbills (Alca torda), Arctic/common terns (Sterna paradisaea/ Sterna hirundo).

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Sunday 7 June 2015

Published: 08/06/2015

Anchorage: Camusteel, Applecross (57 degrees 24.06' N, 005 degrees 48.78' W)
Survey effort: 3 hours / 12.2 nautical miles

On the first day of our trip, our group squashed ourselves and our luggage into 2 small cars to head down to Kyle of Lochalsh from the local hotel in Balmacara.
We had spent the night before in the hotel as the boat was stuck in Loch Duich with a mechanical issue and we were getting on really well as a group. We soon realised that this
that this was a good thing as soon as we saw our quarters for the week ... 'cosy' would be an understatement.~
We set off after talks on the marine mammals and the software used for the accoustic data (PAMGUARD) and sightings data (LOGGER) but sadly didn't see anything on
our first survey. We pulled into anchor at Applecross at 18:45 and passed several groups of harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)
hauled out onto the rocks in groups of ~10 to ~30 individuals, including several pups.
Before dinner, a group of us went ashore to explore a part of the peninsula, resulting in many wet feet as we traipsed through some rather marshy fields before heading back
around the beautiful rocky shoreline, seeing some interesting wildlife in the process.
After a delicious dinner of chilli con carne, courtesy of our science officer Conor, two volunteers braved the climb up to the crows nest to take in the surroundings
and (more importantly) braved the climb down!
Key species: Harbour seal (P. vitulina), Pink sea squirt (Ascidia mentula (?)), Oystercatcher (Haemotopus astralegys), Kittiwake (Rissa trridactyla), Black headed gull
(Lacrus ridibundus), Guillemot (Uria aalgae) and Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo).

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Sunday 31st May 2015

Published: 31/05/2015

  Due to the gentle rocking of the boat, everyone got an undisturbed night’s sleep in our cosy bunks. We woke up to fine weather in Loch Na Droma Buidhe but as the forecast predicted, the Gale Force 9 storm meant our journey had to take place in the shelter of the Isle of Mull and the surrounding Lochs.
Upon leaving the bay we travelled into the oncoming wind making it a bumpy start to our first full survey day. As we sailed south down the Sound of Mull thousands of white horses greeted us, sadly, this was about all we could see until our ‘first lunch’ arrived. After our bacon butties we sighted a bobbing harbour seal and the fin of a harbour porpoise. Birds were out in force in the storm, with many sightings of soaring gannets and an entertaining mid-flight harassment of a kittiwake by a skua. Changing course east along the Lynn of Morvern another harbour porpoise was seen above the rolling waves. Only remaining in the Lynn of Morvern for a few hours we turned around to head towards our anchoring for the night, Loch Spelve.

Once the Silurian tacked back around, it was aiming straight towards ominous clouds. Faster than anticipated the storm was on us with waves hitting the side of the boat and hammering those on the mast keeping look out. As fast as the storm approached it passed and a beautiful evening surrounded us.

Entering Loch Spelve a ‘mega-rainbow’ framed the sky. Whilst anchoring down for the night seals peacefully mill around our temporary home and we settle down after our wind-swept day. -  

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Saturday 30th May 2015

Published: 31/05/2015

SMRU Group 3

The trip officially began with us sitting in Tobermory harbour wondering what the Silurian would have in store for us (and praying that weather would be kind). Hot tea was waiting for us onboard along with the beaming smiles of the crew and the promise of adventure.

After bunks were selected and the keen adventurers settled in, Kerry the local marine mammal guru and team leader began the introductory chats. An amazing, and much appreciated, dinner was prepared for us by the crew and filled our bellies with warmth and delight. Who knew you could prepare such home-cooked gourmet food in such a temperamental stove? There was even ice cream!

A night of storytelling and games led into a good night’s sleep on the water, with all of us cosy in our bunks. Leaving the protection of Tobermory harbour we powered westwards on the lookout for marine mammals (and birds too…we are not biased!). We had some fleeting glimpses of fins (dolphin species?) and then a few successful ID’s of common/harbour seals. As well as the sightings, the towed hydrophone managed to detect 7 porpoise click events. Despite great weather and clear visibility (seeing as far as the Outer Hebrides, which is something that Kerry and the crew have not experienced in many weeks) the marine mammals did not cooperate. But in spite of the lack of sightings, the spirits were up, the scenery stunning, and Jon’s soup was incréable!!

After a successful first day with great weather, Brian, our location expert and skipper extraordinaire, navigated us into Loch Na Droma Buidhe to escape the oncoming storm.

We sit here eagerly awaiting the dinner of Bangers and Mash being prepared by James and Julia, excited for the stories, exploring the area and games that tonight has in store.
Tonight’s forecast read: ‘Hello, Severe Gale Force 9 Warning’!   

Stay tuned!!

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Wednesday 20th May 2015

Published: 29/05/2015

  Anchorage: West Kyle of Carna
Lat: 56˚ 39’ 5” N
Long: 005˚ 54’ 2” W
Distance Travelled: 46.1nm
Time Surveyed: 8 hours 24 minutes 35 seconds  

What a day. We woke up to the Stornoway Coastguard informing us of better weather conditions for the day ahead, which was the much needed good news we were all waiting to hear after experiencing bad weather and limited sightings yesterday.

We enjoyed Stuart's rice pudding and homemade raspberry jam for breakfast before setting sail. We set off with high spirits for the day ahead; we were not disappointed.

Warmer weather and calmer seas brought us 17 sightings! First off was a grey seal, then an unidentified seal. Next up was a small pod of harbour porpoises followed in quick succession by a bow-riding common dolphin, 2 unidentified dolphins and the much anticipated minke whales. We went ‘with whales' and all gazed out in awe at the beauty they brought, for many of us this was our first encounter with a minke. After Kerry noticed a more hunched back, we knew the whale was about to dive so we all spread out around the boat keeping an eye out for where they would surface again. During which time, a bow-riding porpoise was spotted, a rare phenomenon indeed. A further sighting of a minke lead to Stuart tripping in excitement, which leads to hysteretics when we later realized it was all caught on the BBC film camera.

On the way to our anchorage, more harbour porpoises were spotted, which brings us to a grand total of 9 for the day. Edd, Meret, Eva and Jenna went out on the dingy to explore the beautiful surroundings, spotting common seals both in the water and hauled out on little islands. Then the rest of the group went out to the nearby beach to try and catch some fish.

Upon their return a hearty, much needed, middle-eastern style meal awaited, prepared by the lovely crew. We ate until we could eat no more, leaving plenty for tomorrow's lunch, which is ideal as the BBC will be on board so it'll save the hassle of cooking up something new. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is our last ‘full' day onboard the Sulurian… What a week it's been.

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Wednesday 27th May 2015

Published: 28/05/2015

Day 1
57° 00’.786
006° 16’.274
Distance travelled: 29.7 nm

A Rockin’ Day

As part of our master degree in marine mammal science, we had the opportunity to volunteer on the Silurian for a couple of days and gain experience in the field. Until now, the work that we have accomplished during this course has been mostly theoretical, so it is wonderful to join the crew for field work.

For 5 of us, today was the first day of line transect. We travelled for about 5 hours from the Island of Mull (Tobermory) to Rum, going between the islands of Muck and Eigg.

Overall, I think that the process of rota is a fantastic way on getting hands on the different roles on the boat without missing on anything!

We had a few sightings of porpoises, and quite an important number of seabirds. However, I have to say that some of us underestimated the rockiness of the Scottish waters and had a hard time handling it, haha!

The crew is absolutely great, they are very kind and joyful, and it is wonderful to work in such a good atmosphere! Even when some of us were really sick, they were so nice and I am really thankful to all of them. Plus, the first night they cooked for us and it was delicious, and they are always offering refreshment and cookies during the day. The ambiance is really great! I would recommend this experience to anyone who likes the sea and can handle the Scottish waters


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Sunday 24th May 2015

Published: 26/05/2015

Porpoising Minke

Tobermory, Mull to Loch Scresort, Rum

With an early start at 7:30am, we gathered in the saloon for breakfast.
After that, we had a thorough briefing on the survey methods that we would be using,
the marine mammal species we would possible come into contact with and the different
bird species in the area.
As soon as we set sail, we had 3 Harbour porpoises in close proximity of the boat.

Around 11am, we actually started our survey effort rotation and not long after, a minke whale
broke surface and porpoised once. More than half of the body was clear of the water and resulted
in an amazing sighting.

The wind got stronger and the swell increased in size. At that point, about half of the survey team
wasn't doing 100%. However, the ones that had found their sealegs could compensate and continued watching out for

Besides to marine mammals, quite a lot of bird species were recorded. Amongst them were some very cute black guillemots, a flock of about 750 Manx shearwater and lots of gannets plunge-diving.

After a very moving first day on the Silurian we dropped anchor in Loch Scresort, where 2 harbour seals greated us just outside of the bay.
Time for dinner now.

Helena Voet & Diego Rita

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Tuesday 19th May 2015

Published: 20/05/2015

Anchorage: Gott Bay, Tiree
Lat: 56˚ 30’ 7” N Long: 006˚ 38’ 4” W Distance Travelled: 44.2nm    

We set off from our anchorage in Rum after a quick breakfast in glorious sunshine and with the promise of better weather lifting everyone's spirits. Perhaps today we could get our first proper sighting of a minke whale or dolphin.

Heading towards the Coll, we passed the islands of Eigg and Muck, and soon the swell in the open water started to get very rough - reaching 2m from trough to peak eventually! The wind returned too, but thankfully it remained sunny for most of the day, and we sighted two seals bobbing happily in the waves.

  We were glad to reach the Cairns of Coll and pass into the shelter of the island. The cetaceans didn't put in an appearance for the rest of the day, but we saw lots of bird life, including Manx shearwaters, kittiwakes, gannets, auks, Great skua, Pomarine skua and an impressive Long-tailed skua. We also noted many terns, which nest on the ground on Gunna, between Coll and Tiree - these are also called ‘sea swallows', and bizarrely we saw a normal swallow near them flying over the waves a long way from the shore.

Although we didn't see them, there were also 15 detections of harbour porpoises with the hydrophone.  

We headed for the deep water again but the swell soon got rough, so we made a beeline for our anchorage in Tiree. This low-lying island is one of the windiest and sunniest places in the British Isles. The whole crew was feeling very worn out, as well as wind-burnt and salty-skinned. We rested in the bay, first gobbling down some freshly prepared - if lopsided - cake, followed by an enjoyable dinner of chicken noodle stir fry, cooked by Eva and Jenna, and warming rice pudding from Stuart.

The incoming ferry provided some evening entertainment in an ‘it-looks-like-it's-headed-straight-for-us' kind of way, and with some handbrake turns that made our helmsmen envious. If the wind calms down, we're hoping to go to shore tonight to explore.

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Monday 18th May 2015

Published: 20/05/2015

Anchorage: Rum
Distance Travelled: 56.7nm  

Today was different to the other days so far. I could tell something was different as soon as I woke up. It was bright, so bright! Could it be?! Yes, indeed the sun was shining!!

Plockton lay there still and calm lit up by its rays. With such a good start to the day we set off with high hopes, thinking of all the things we could potentially see in these calm conditions. However as I stood at the mast hoping to catch a glimpse of something my hands, toes and face slowly started to go numb.
Though it was nice and sunny the wind was icy cold and I ended up wearing more layers than the previous days.

The good weather brought another issue: the stunning scenery! I found myself gazing at the dramatic green-brown hills and snowy mountains against a blue sky in the distance rather than keeping a lookout. As we passed under the Skye Bridge the creel buoy sightings started again. "Creel buoy!" is something we've all shouted far too many times, if only we could shout "Sighting!" just as often. After over half an hour of pairing the buoys and estimating their distance I was glad when we turned into the Kyle Rhea.
The first time through we'd seen multiple seals, so everyone got their binoculars ready. I secretly hoped we'd see a harbour porpoise. The tide with us we cruised through this narrow stretch at up to 9 knots and spotted quite a few grey seals along the way. Just as we'd passed through the main bits I looked back and there was the distinct triangular dorsal fin of a porpoise! We saw another 6 individuals later on and picked up 19 click events on the hydrophone.

As we motored on the sightings decreased to nothing but marine debris, we all got a chance to helm!  

Just before anchoring Stewart spotted something shoot past the boat. As of now everyone who saw it has a different opinion of what it was.  Was it a common dolphin, a bottlenose dolphin or maybe a harbour porpoise? We know it was grey, very fast and very small, so we decided it must have been something like a "common bottle porpoise".

In the evening we had a delicious pasta bake and almond cherry cake for dinner. Sarah, Jenna and John went ashore to explore Rum a little, which they all thoroughly enjoyed. Let’s hope the good weather continues!  

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