Silurian Blog

Monday 24th August 2015

Published: 25/08/2015

Revelling Rissos  
Anchorage: Carbost
Lat: 57° 18.26 north
Long: 06°

  The jaggedy teeth of the Cuillins pierce the sky and keep watch over us in this idyllic bay. Three separate bow riding experiences with common dolphins embellished our journey and our encounter with Risso’s dolphins caused drama and much excitement.

We saw a fin… we heard the clicks on the hydrophone… we saw something on Pamguard… Where were they? We waited… the initial sighting having tickled our senses. Another sighting then nothing and yet they appeared to be having a karaoke party into the hydrophone! Further teasing ensued with flashes of fluke and fin and then a 2 metre white shape skimmed under the boat and away into the blue.

The scenery for the rest of the journey was spectacular. Macleod had every right to be proud of his maidens that jutted triumphantly from the ocean.

The tiny island of Wiay morphed from a ray into a ski slope as we skirted its edges. Red throated divers greeted our entrance into calm waters and we finally secured a safe mooring.

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Sunday 23rd August 2015

Published: 25/08/2015

A glimpse of Minke
Anchorage:  Eriskay
Lat: 57° 04.154
Long: 007° 18.761
Distance Travelled: 71.1  

Another day of surveying, and a long one for that. As we had a larger distance to cover (from South Harris to Eriskay), we started at 6:30 and had our breakfast on the go.

Weather was far from pleasurable; the forecast predicted possible gale at force 8. So lots of rain and wind, and sea sickness for that matter (it is highly advisable to take your sickness medications beforehand, as I have learned the hard way). Bad conditions didn’t stop Rachael from sighting a Minke whale though (she’s got several interesting sightings on her list now!). A distinct fin and part of a back were clues to identify it.
The skies cleared after a while, but, alas, no more sightings. Several people seemed to be dosing off during their off hours, including myself – there’s a really snug place under the steering wheel, if you can believe that.  

As we went off effort in the Eriskay harbour at about 18:15, a seal popped up its head by the boat. Nici managed to take a photo, but a controversial one it was – eyes of a common seal with nostrils of a grey seal. It caused some arguing, but Kerry and Brian provided their expert opinions that it’s more likely to be a common seal (should have put a bet on it!).

Now that the day is done, we can relax a bit and recharge our batteries, and a bonny view of Coilleag beach is certainly helpful.

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Saturday 22nd August 2015

Published: 25/08/2015

Anchorage:  Leverburgh
Lat: 57° 47.008’ N
Long: 007° 01.622’ W

I must go down to the sea again,
To the lonely sea and the sky,
In sturdy ship with smiling crew, That keeps us fed and dry,  

Across the Minch we headed out,
To islands cloaked in cloud,
We stood alert, horizon scanned,
‘til “sighting” cried aloud.  

The dolphins danced and jumped and dived,
Tracked by lens and eye,
Quickly seen but quickly gone,
The moment passes by.  

Now moored again and safe from harm,
We cook and eat and ponder Tomorrow, to the sea again,
To watch and wait and wonder.  

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Friday 21st August 2015

Published: 22/08/2015

Seal V Creel
Anchorage: Shieldaig
Lat: 57°31.55
Long: 005°39.21
Distance Travelled: 48.4 nautical miles

We have moored in Shieldaig for the evening. A yellow house nestles amidst chalky white cottages and makes himself known as do the gannets that similarly brandish their mustard heads before they plummet like bullets to catch supper.
On our journey from Isle Ornsay this morning we have sailed through varied terrain. Watching the seals in Kyle Rhea was one of the highlights. Their inquisitive bobbing heads make a change from the relentless tally of creel buoys that we have counted today. On the mast I had a great sighting of a harbour porpoise leaping out of the water. Its diminutive size and chunky body reminded me of a Hector’s Dolphin. If only these shy and elusive porpoises would stay and play!

A rainbow welcomed us under Skye Bridge and past the Kyle of Lochalsh and we headed into the inner sound to be greeted by two cheeky storm petrels. I committed a bit of a faux pas by mistaking a bottling grey seal for the fin of something but apparently this is quite common!

Loch Toridon welcomed us and that is where we have nestled for the night.

P.S- Mono and Kerry were perplexed by an oddly flying juvenile gannet today, so mono dashed down stairs to grab the bird book and determined, by process of elimination, that what they had seen was quite possibly (even likely) a Cory’s shearwater! Unfortunately, our resident birder Jon was busy making a super tasty second breakfast at the time and missed the sighting, much to his dismay. He later told us that this individual is likely to currently have a chick in the Azores (or similar area) and be flying up here for the abundance of food! Bonkers.

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Thursday 20th August 2015

Published: 22/08/2015

A Grand Day
Anchorage: Isleornsay
Lat: 57 degrees 5 minutes north Long: 5 degrees 47 minutes west Distance Travelled: 48.4 miles

After climbing into still clammy waterproofs, the weather turned out to be good all day with no rain and enough sun to produce rosy cheeks.

Formal observation was extended today to birds and boats so this data can be used to assess if there any associations with observations of marine wildlife.
 The wildlife sighting frequency today was similar to that of yesterday but without the spectacular dolphin display that we were privileged to see. Today the visual tally was 3 seals, 5 porpoises, 2 dolphins, lots of birds & boats, many, many creel buoys and absolutely zero rubbish! Visual observations misses some things and the “PAMGuard” software (which uses microphones towed underwater) revealed 20 contacts with porpoise individuals or groups.

Today we were able to cut the engine and sail more than yesterday which was exhilarating at times as we sped up the coast towards Skye. We cruised up the Sound of Sleat taking in iconic Scots scenery before returning to drop anchor at Isleornsay. There is the attraction of a rustic pub here but after a delicious and substantial dinner on-board cooked by fellow volunteers, few can be bothered.
It’s been another grand day on the Silurian and there may just be some time to relax and read a bit before nodding off.

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Wednesdays 19th August 2015

Published: 22/08/2015

 First day of effort!
Anchorage: Loch Ceanntraidh
Lat: 56° 45m north
Long: 5° 54m west
Distance Travelled: 28.2 miles

We spent the first evening being royally entertained and waited on by the crew.  After all briefings, along with tips on surviving life together on board the good ship Silurian, we had a first night in safe harbour at Tobermory. We finally set off around midday. We had the best of the weather yesterday evening and during this morning – clear blue skies and sun.

As we departed the rain and wind descended but we spent the next 5 hours travelling with the wind around Ardnamurchan the most westerly point on the Scottish mainland. We had a good few sightings: 2 grey seals, 3 harbour porpoise, 60 common dolphins, 2 common seals. It goes without saying the common dolphins were a highlight (a veritable panorama of cetaceans leaping, frolicking and bow riding) followed by wedding anniversary ginger cake (Great British Bake Off was right – if you cut up the stem ginger into tiny pieces it doesn’t sink to the bottom!) and we have yet to sample the delights of what promises to be a delicious tea of chicken tagine and last night’s date, apple and banana crumble.

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Tuesday 12 August 2015

Published: 13/08/2015

Anchorage: Nave Island, Islay (55 53.9' N, 006 19.7' W)

We are anchored off Nave Island, a small uninhabited island just next to Islay, tucked in a sheltered spot away from the prevailing wind. Dinner is being prepared in a hurry so we can explore the island before darkfall. Nearing the end of our ten day voyage we are finding imaginative ways to use the remaining supplies. Some of the crew are fishing in the hope of finding some fresh mackerel. Some even brave enough to do a spot of snorkelling in a wetsuit to look for crabs and a metal mug that was dropped by the skipper! Arriving on the island we encounter a baby seal in the rocks with its mother fretting close by in the water. We pass by a ruined buiding showing signs of an industrial past, puzzling us as to what it might have been used for. We made for the highest trig point and returned back to the boat to play bananagrams before bed.The day had started off with strong winds from Gunna Sound, Tiree, slowly dying down throughut the day. It was not one of our best sighting days but we still managed to record, harbour porpoise, common dolphin, minke whale and grey seal.

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Sunday 10 August 2015

Published: 11/08/2015

Sunday 10 August 2015
Anchorage: Canna

When you leave land and step aboard a research vessel you enter a different world. Many familiar things seem different. The toilets are the heads, the kitchen is the galley, the driver is the skipper and the biologist is the Science officer. Your cabin is your room and the journey is the effort. Our effort has been dedicated. So far this week we have already experienced high and low pressure, strong winds and driving rain.

And the cetaceans, still the cetaceans drive us forwards. The mast is the focal viewpoint and our eyes are turned toward the horizon. When you step aboard there is much to be learned. identifying cetaceans, how to work the heads, what makes the cooker tick. I've already learned many of those things but then I learned something far more important.

Standing on the deck tied in, facing into the wind, I'm learning to contemplate the fate of the cetacean. We've had our identification lessons and tested our eyes, our ability to recognise them. On the mast, it's not about those scientific skills, it's a lesson in the lifestyle of a porpoise or a whale. The water stretches ahead, inhibiting the landlubbers aboard. When I sight a head or a fin or a splash all I can do is look for a bit more creature to confirm my initial report.

The creature can dip down under the waves, swerve and turn into the tide, ride the swell. All I can do is wonder where it went and hope it will reappear again yet briefly. The creature has the upper hand. But then I find myself so much more aware of how precariously it lives. We've been learning the history of British waters and the whale. When I was a child the basking shark was regularly seen in the area I grew up and today the whale population seems healthy but around here in The Hebrides and Western Isles there were once far more animals.Their distribution is recorded in the Whaling industry archives. A helpful record that indicates the significant deline since the nineteen-hundreds. Two species have disappeared in this area since the seventeen-hundreds.

People have memories of cetaceans along the shoreline and there are stories to be told. Today though we accept that these animals are scarce and hard to witness. The contrast between those childhood stories and the current picture frightens me.

The cetacean may be disappearing.

In the future, I'm learning that our own stories of current scarcer numbers will be hard to contemplate for those who will never have seen one.

I came to the Hebrides hoping to see an Orca. I've learned that the 'resident' group only has seven members and they haven't reproduced in living memory. They've been sighted for around thirty years and had adults in the group from the beginning of recordings. If they haven't reproduced in living memory this group is doomed.
They may be an iconic creature for us, they may grow to 9.8m long but they may be something no longer seen in this part of the world fairly soon.

I came hoping to see one, like every other casual observer, hopeful, selfish and optimistic but since arriving I now fear NOT seeing one. An orca was stranded a couple of days ago at Malin Head. It may have been one of the seven. One text book suggests a normal family group can number between three and twenty five. Our precious seven, isolated here in these Celtic waters, seem so very fragile now. When they are gone, that family, specific to this area, likely to have it's own acoustic repetoire and genetic characteristics, will no longer exist.

I dread not seeeing them.

Not because I cannot return to keep searching but because time is running out.

Today we travelled through the beauty of the channel that separates Skye from the Scottish mainland. We were witness to stiller waters and some more rain. The wind had abated and the seal, harbour porpoise and minke whale populations were active. Yet every member of the team had sighting-less periods at the mast. Each time there is no sighting, I begin to wonder if the cetacean population message will ever be heard.

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Sunday 9 August 2015

Published: 09/08/2015

Sunday 9 August 2015
Anchorage: Staffin Bay, Skye

So far i have thoroughly enjoyed the boat trip, i was apprehensive at first, it being a completely new experience for me. Especially because you are stuck in a small area with strangers. Luckily they are a nice bunch of people with a wide variety of jobs and knowledge; i am enjoying listening to their stories and look forward to hearing more.
I have already learnt so much on this trip, firstly that i should appreciate being able to shower whenever i want at home and not have to worry about running out of water. I never thought i would be able to identify and differentiate between so many sea birds, now on the fifth day i am feeling fairly confident in my ability.

Last night was the first where we were rolling around and trying to stay in the bed, though after a while it became quite relaxing and suprisingly i slept fairly well. As i am writing this i am having to hold onto the laptop to prevent it from falling off the table; it feels almost like a roller coaster.

6 sightings of common dolphins have been recorded in the last couple days, totalling 52 individuals. Grey seals and harbour porpoises have also been spotted fairly regularly, along with a disputed sunfish sighting. Some still arguing it was a basking shark.
As it gets progressively more windy and the sea gets rougher, the sightings have decreased in frequency and volunteers have been forced to retreat inside. Though despite the wet and windy conditions everyone is having a good time and looking forward to getting back out there.

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Thursday 6th August 2015

Published: 07/08/2015

Mooring: Loch Eynort S. Uist

Th second day of this research trip saw a brighter morning for the crew and volunteers. Their bunks were well slept in and bright music roused all those aboard.

A day of shyer animals and slightly less diversity than yesterday.

The day began with seabird identification training for the recently arrived. Bird data supplements the cetacean survey information. Boat traffic is also recorded for each half hour of the survey.

Initially though dry, the watch was quiet but this gave an excellent opportunity to see a great skua give chase to a large gull and successfully steal his midmorning snack, fifty metres from the Silurian.
This was a well timed opportunity to apply those bird ID skills in practice.
Our first cetacean group were common dolphins who briefly skirted the bow. Three groups (a total of eighteen animals) featured through the day.

As conditions in the wind and weather developed the harbour porpoises were more reticent. Although three put in a surface appearance a further fifteen were recorded on the hydrophone.

The day remained fresh and generally dry until mid afternoon.

Two minke whales also put in brief appearances but weren't seen by all aboard this time.

One grey seal was spotted.

The latter part of the day brought lower cloud and stronger head winds turning the water surface much darker.

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Monday 27th July 2015

Published: 06/08/2015

Teen Team Blog
Anchorage Arinagour, Coll
Distance Travelled 29.7nm

Today was overcast as we set out on our first voyage as a team. Leaving Tobamory we had two brief encounters with Harbour Porpoise with fleeting glimpses of small dorsal fins cutting across the bow, one was at first mistaken for a Dolphin.

The sightings then went quiet for a while until out in the sound where John’s eagle eye found a small Minke whale which was set on staying just too far away from the boat for good identification shots to be taken, except for one occasion when it came up heading directly on our beam. All in all a great spot so near the beginning of our trip. After leaving the whale (as it evidently had no intention of staying in one place) we carried on with the transects and once again the seas went seemingly quiet.

Our first notification of another possible sighting was as one of the team heard whistles over the hydrophone and lo and behold 15 minutes later the shout came on deck of a group of Dolphins 300m of the starboard bow. They were heading straight for us! And within a minute a pod of around 15 Common Dolphins was playing around the bow, needless to say the whole crew was ecstatic. They stayed with us for 5 minutes before some of the group lost interest and swam off ahead but most were still with us, the excitement was increased further still by john spotting a Basking Shark in 700m to windward of us. We set off in pursuit of the shark taking the dolphins, which were desperately trying to distract us with tail and body slaps, with us. Sadly the shark was had disappeared and the dolphins soon followed suit.

The rest of the journey was peppered with the odd seal spotting but nothing quite as impressive as earlier in the day. The day finished on a high with another elusive Basking Shark sighting sadly the animal disappeared and we had to carry on to our anchorage.   

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Thursday 30th July 2015

Published: 06/08/2015

Day 4
Anchorage: Gunna sound

Upon waking up in the morning to find the sun shining, we decided to go ashore after breakfast to investigate the beach. After shedding most of our layers under the warmth of the sun, we wandered along white sand to ‘Death Cave’, a small hole in a cliff which turned out to be a slight anticlimax after all the build-up but which was nonetheless pretty cool, before heading back to the Silurian to set sail.

Heading out of the bay, there was what seemed like a never-ending string of ‘seal’ and ‘creel’, but the flat water and bright blue sky could not have been more different to the rough sea the day before and it felt pretty amazing not having to hang on for dear life when surveying at the mast.

Not half an hour after casting off, a minke whale was spotted – and then another, and then another! Matt, from up in the crow’s nest, had an excellent vantage point for watching them, and pointed them all out as the rest of us ran around frantically, trying to catch a glimpse.

After leaving the minke whales, Eilidh spotted harbour porpoises from the crow’s nest, and several more seals were spotted. A while later, Jon noticed a breaching minke whale, but as we started to sail towards it we were distracted by the sight of a basking shark. As we neared, we were delighted to see that there were in fact four basking sharks, swimming around and feeding. The sky started to cloud over as we watched, and soon the rain started too, so we continued on our course. The rain eventually stopped and the wind died down a little, but the sky was still grey as we neared the island of Tiree. Aa we approached our anchorage the shout came from the mast that another basking shark had been spotted. We began to move towards it, and the number of sharks in the water just kept going up and up – from one, to four, to seven, to at least nine. We spent over an hour there, watching their triangular dorsal fins cutting through the waves and their huge wide mouths beneath the water; occasionally they came so close to the boat they nearly headbutted our bow!

The rain came on again and so we left the basking sharks in peace, with no danger of swimming into boats, thrilled after the incredible encounter with so many wonderful creatures. We finally dropped anchor at Tiree around six o’clock in the evening, after an amazing but tiring day.

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Wednesday 5 August 2015

Published: 06/08/2015

Wednesday 5 August 2015
Anchorage: Loch Scresort, Isle of Rum.

After starting the day with cetacean identification and general surveying training we set sail from Tobermory just after midday.

An early sighting of a grey seal was called shortly after leaving the harbour.
We then sailed north past Ardnamurhcan Point and it wasn't long before we got our first lone harbour porpoise sighting. In choppy conditions it is not a surprise that the hydophone picked up more porpoise detections than we saw.
This was followed by an excited call from the mast as not one but 5 basking sharks were sighted, including one very large animal! As the day went on we had a total of 8 individuals.
After a brief lull in sightings, the excitement quickly picked up again as two distant, but large splashes were seen. Unfortunately we were unable to identify the cause of these.
As we sailed north towards the Isle of Rum the sea state calmed to zero, however the visability soon dropped to 1nm. The rain came in, but this didn't dampen our spirits as the hydrophone picked up dolphin clicks and whistles.
We were then joined by 5 common dolphins which associated with boat, giving us great views in calm conditions.
A further 14 sightings of harbour porpoises (with a number of 41 individuals) were seen before we headed into a very soggy Loch Scressort.

Chocolate brownies and tea have been enjoyed and dinner is now on the stove.

After a fantatic first day on board we are all looking forward to day 2 on Silurian.

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Wednesday 29th July 2015

Published: 31/07/2015

Teen Team Blog Day 3
Anchorage: Vatersay
Distance Travelled: 61.6nm

We set off from last night’s anchorage at the Isle of Barra at about 9am. A grey seal waved us off from the bay in which we had spent the night. A few minutes later, Eilidh spotted a harbour porpoise. After leaving the bay we headed North then West through the Sound of Barra towards the Atlantic Ocean.

Along our route there were gannets feeding and many other bird species including fulmars and guillemots. As we entered the Sound of Barra a white tailed sea eagle made an appearance circling over the Silurian. After passing through the Sound we moved out onto the Atlantic Ocean to the West of the Outer Hebrides. The water was rougher out here and we all got knocked about a lot but it was quite an adventure. Towards the end of the day we headed East passing to the South of Berneray, where we saw a large number of puffins which were presumable nesting on the nearby cliffs along with gannets, kittiwakes and fulmars.

We then moved North towards our anchorage point. Our planned anchorage at Berneray proved to be unsuitable, so we carried on further North until we reached the the Island of Vatersay, where we made our anchorage at 18.45 after a very long day. At our anchorage some brave souls decided to go for an evening swim; Matt lasted all of 10 seconds while Eilidh and Izzy lasted much longer with their tough Scottish genes. The boys (and Kerry) made a surprisingly good job of fishcakes and fajitas for dinner

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Tuesday 28th July

Published: 31/07/2015

 Teen Team Blog Day 2
Anchorage: Barra, North Bay Distance Travelled 44.2 miles

After spending the night in a sheltered area around the island of Coll to begin our day of surveying, we had hoped to see the basking shark that had been spotted in the area the night before however it was nowhere to be seen. The day began overcast and relatively calm as the previous day had left off and we followed the shoreline of the island and head out towards the isle of Barra. The day’s sightings began fairly quiet with the odd sighting of a porpoise or seal. However after a couple of hours a group of around 5 common dolphins appeared and just like the day before began swimming along side of the boat, they stayed for a couple of minutes before losing interest and disappearing back into the sea once again.

The rest of the days sightings were fairly limited, however we were kept busy with the extra task of the day of identifying and recording bird species and types of boats.

During the afternoon the winds picked up allowing the use of the sails to drive the boat towards our destination. It also began to rain at points which didn’t particularly provide ideal conditions for sightings and the boat became quite rocky. Towards the end of the day and coming into the bay surrounded by the Isle of Barra that we would spend the night in we were able to see gannets diving at great speeds into the water to catch fish and had the final task of recording the seemingly endless number of creels that had been placed in the water around the island.
After 7 hours of surveying and 44 miles of sailing we finally reached the night time stop after a pretty successful day.  

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Tuesday 21st July 2015

Published: 26/07/2015

 A Filmmaker’s perspective
Latitude: 056 degrees 32 minutes North
Longitude: 006 degrees 44 minutes West
Anchorage: Port Ruadh
Distance Travelled: 45.9 miles    

I am privileged to be travelling on Silurian as an on-board camera operator – striving to shoot footage that illuminates the amazing work that HWDT and the resident volunteers are accomplishing and showcases the wildlife and beautiful landscapes of the Hebrides.

This morning we set off from a small sheltered bay on the West of Mull, and immediately sailed towards Staffa guided by an array of sea birds; puffins, gannets, kittiwakes and terns. We started identifying the bulbous and oddly shaped Treshnish Isles, but the sea was still a little rough, and the wind high. I have to admit the sea lulled me into a false sense of security and I took a small nap after second breakfast, (yup we get two breakfasts – it’s hard work). I went back on deck with the express intention of filming gannets diving in SloMo. If you imagine a baby giraffe trying to ice skate whilst holding numerous heavy objects, you will have a good idea of what I look like with my camera gear, on deck,  in a gale force wind. I am very happy with some of the gannet shots though on later inspection!

Suddenly there was a shout from Hilary to my left; a sighting…… and then straight afterwards one from the starboard side too. We were surrounded, and what was to ensue was the amazing spectacle of three Minke Whales, surfacing and re-surfacing around all sides – it took us a wee while to work out that this was the case rather than a super speedy, shape-shifting Minke which seemed entirely possible under the circumstances.

I scuttled below deck to have a look through my footage, and just as I had started, another call came from above… I leapt up, swung my camera round and managed to get half an arm through a life jacket before I saw a thrashing shape through the window. We had almost collided with a basking shark which had turned its entire body onto itself and was now swiftly diving below us into the depths. Kerry’s face said it all, and I’m afraid I could only describe the expression with expletives!

 Some would say it has been an exciting day. Stewart’s sugar-tastic  rice crispy cakes have perked us all up now and as I look out of the window I can see Tiree’s beautiful white sands to my left and the open sea to my right. On our last evening on the sea I can’t help but believe that the Hebrides of Scotland have lured us in with their danger, wilderness and raw beauty.
I know I don’t want to go home.  

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Saturday 18th July 2015

Published: 20/07/2015

Summer in the Hebrides
Anchorage: Craighouse, Isle of Jura

Overnight out fabulous skipper again anchored us in such a sheltered place that the scary noise of the wind was the main thing we noticed. So we all slept really well, no problem turning up for 7.30 breakfast.

Looking at the weather, we did wonder how we would manage to see anything. However, once travelling, even with maximum reefs in both sails, exciting sea state at least 4, and wind up to force 7, at least!, Carol STILL managed to see 2 porpoises, so she really needs some kind of medal.

In view of the difficulty of sighting in such exciting weather, we were then stood down in favour of acoustic recording only.  Pamguard will tell us how many we may have missed!

We then sailed closer in to Jura and down its east coast. Half the sky was now blue, though the wind was still pretty much gale force. As the sea settled a bit we were back on watch again until we reached our planned anchorage off Craighouse, main settlement on Jura and home of the Jura distillery.

After lunch, which was finished sublimely by another example of Kerry’s baking skills, with clearing weather as forecast, we all went ashore in the dinghy, courtesy of our skipper. We can confirm there is a really good shop in the village, or is it a town?  There are pleasant walks with fabulous views, or you could run up and down one of the “Paps of Jura” if you were a masochist. Best of all, the hotel bar, which undoubtedly has a direct line to the distillery next door, had a fantastic ambience, matched only by its craft lager and delicious single malts. Added to which the skipper could keep a close eye on Silurian at anchor with his binoculars from the bar window. Some of our number even elected to have hot showers at the hotel, the rest of us trusted to our essential antibacterial merino wool base layers. Now we are back to the Silurian, and in eager expectation of the meal to come, and of weather much more conducive to “sightings” tomorrow. Watch this space!

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Friday 17th June 2015

Published: 17/07/2015

The saga continues …
Latitude: 056° 09.846 N  
Longitude: 005° 33.143 W Anchorage: Loch Craignish, moorings near Ardfern
Distance Travelled: 38.4 nm  

Our training continued with birds and boat recognition which from now on will also form part of the data we collect. We will never malign weather forecasters again – it did indeed blow a bit today as predicted. Then it blew a bit more; then later on still more. In spite of selecting a relatively sheltered area for today’s survey it actually got quite lively towards the latter part of the afternoon with confused seas, strong winds and plenty of spray for the mast volunteers.
Sighting conditions were not brilliant and although the skipper seemed to be enjoying himself hugely, the volunteers were secretly quite pleased when they could stop ‘enjoying’ it and we picked up a mooring in a sheltered part of Loch Craignish.

We doubt Kerry will allow this part of the blog to survive; we suspect she is altering the data to show every day is tropical and with wall to wall cetaceans …….
Actually we did really well in spotting one porpoise in poor sighting conditions whilst Pamguard also only picked up one – our 100% detection rate greatly impressed us!

The day was rounded off by haggis, neeps and tatties which were excellent, accompanied by a ceilidh CD which by common consent was slightly less so.

Rule 2. If no new rule is invented, rule 1 must be invoked

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Thursday 16th July 2015

Published: 17/07/2015

Once upon a time in a bay not so far away…
Latitude: 056° 19.274 N  
Longitude: 005° 35.983 W Anchorage: Ardencaple Bay Distance Travelled: 28 nm

At the end of a glorious sunny day in Tobermory, our multi-talented first mate (not currently paying attention) made a wonderful dinner and we made a quick dash to the Co-op for “supplies” (other supermarkets are not available). Wig quickly learned that insulting the Skipper is a bad idea, and we all learned that flattery works well with all of the crew.

Everyone found their first night on the boat and berths surprisingly comfortable and cosy (even the taller of us had plenty space). And lots of cups of teas have been consumed throughout (what is it with people and tea? It’s horrible……).

Today started with a crash course in cetaceans while Silurian was refuelled. This included marvelling at self-focusing binoculars and a laser range finder (used to test our distance estimation). Once we were on the go however sightings were rare; 2 seals and eventually some creel buoys being the extent of our recordings.

The biggest excitement may have been Amy cutting out the power with all her fancy devices. At the end of the day we were reassured that we weren’t all blind when Kerry had checked Pamguard for the number of acoustic porpoise events it had recorded. It only picked up 2 – so we weren’t missing much.

Once again a delicious meal has been had (this time prepared by Carol) and currently as we sit in the bay the wind is beginning to pick up – with worse winds forecasted for tomorrow. Sooooo that’ll be interesting.

Rule 1.  All following blogs must contain a new rule for the future days.

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Tuesday 8th July 2015

Published: 09/07/2015

Time to Kill Tuesday Anchorage: Loch Scrisort, Rum

Ahoy! Well it’s day 7 here on Silurian and we finally had a break in our good luck with cetaceans.  Our morning started off so promising with several porpoise sightings and a single common dolphin sighting almost immediately.  It was a rainy, windy morning with limited visibility which made spotting fairly difficult.

 The afternoon continued to drag on and on with no whales or dolphins, only several more harbour porpoises and seals :( but we found a way to keep ourselves occupied.  

Tomorrow is pirate day, so during our slow surveying, we spent the time contemplating our pirate outfits and pirate names.  We are all thinking of names to be drawn out of a hat and then we are going to get our creative juices flowing tonight to try and come up costumes to match….OR ELSE…you walk the plank if yours is voted the least creative!  Also, everyone will have to be called by their pirate names and pirate names only, tomorrow.  If you call someone by their normal name, you get a tally marked against you. Whoever has the most tally marks at the end of the day gets the Black Spot!!!...and you still walk the plank.

 Let the games begin, may the odds be forever in your favour!

Aside from developing our pirate plans, we also passed by some amazing scenery today.  We passed by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa and got a great look and some great pictures.  Tonight we are anchored up in Bunessan and are enjoying another fine evening.  It’s not raining so we are taking advantage of our nice weather on deck.  Tim and Emily are preparing a fine dish of haggis and neeps for dinner tonight. Emily is sitting next to me as I type this trying not to cut her fingers off peeling potatoes (with a potato peeler I hasten to add)…you can’t rave hard without your fingers Emily.

 We anchored up at an early hour this evening so hopefully we will be able to go ashore tonight and do some exploring.  Wish us better luck tomorrow with our sightings and pirate updates to be continued!

Goodnight everyone!

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Saturday 5th July 2015

Published: 09/07/2015

Surprise Splashes & Sharks Sunday Anchorage: Vatersay

The beautiful weather has returned! Today’s predictions varied, from shark Sunday to sunfish Sunday then settling at cetacean Sunday, which didn’t prove to be as effective as dolphin day.

Again seals and two porpoise sightings saw us off from our anchorage with high hopes for the day, a warm sun and good conditions stayed with us throughout. We were all confident that we would have a good day of sightings as we headed south to Barra. Then, as the day wore on, this did not seem to be the case. Hours passed with no sightings as we were teased by whistles on the hydrophone but no sightings and even worse- the large splashes.

Wendy and Barry first caught sight of a large splash far away, another one spotted soon afterwards. The idea was pitched that it looked like a breach, so everyone kept their eyes peeled for whales or sharks in the following hours. Fortunately, this was not the last we saw of these splashes. Rhianna spotted another large, distant and breach-like splash later on and without further sightings of the culprit we came up with the ‘Raving Basking Sharks’ theory, they obviously wouldn’t come close and let themselves be seen because it’s a Sunday- they’re supposed to be resting! Enter ‘The Mystery of Shrew Island’ which I’m sure will plague our minds tonight.

Getting close to anchorage, we were accepting that the day would not yield anymore cetaceans. Thankfully, we were wrong. Barry’s deafening cry (well at least to me, sat next to him- he can shout very loud!) of ‘Minke!’ had us all scrambling to stations as the calm waters gave us great viewing opportunities. We remained with this sneaky Minke for a while, as it kept surfacing behind the boat following a dive (spotted by Bill each time!).

Just when we thought we were done for the day, a Basking shark was spotted from the back of the boat; very close and also very small (cue the juvenile debates), around 2.5 metres. This small shark came right towards our boat slowly, giving us brilliant views of the whole shark and the inside of its huge mouth (though photo ID shots were photobombed by an intruding seal).

   A delicious dinner was cooked and served by Kerry as we enjoyed the beautiful anchorage. Myself, Rhianna and Jon went ashore to explore both beaches late on, nicknaming one of them ‘The Beach of Death’ as it had no people but plenty of dead animals, including skeletons of a large mammal (Jon thought it was a deer) and a baby seal. Hence Team Alpha had a ‘rave in the cave of death’ at the end of the beach before coming back and board Silurian, ready for tomorrow to be another great day!

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Monday 6th July 2015

Published: 07/07/2015

Bottlenosed breakfast
Anchorage: Loch Scrisort, Rum
Distance Travelled: 58

“Mola Mola Monday” from everyone on Silurian.  After a beautiful sunny evening anchored up in Vatersay, this morning proved to be a little different.  We woke up to heavy fog and since we were not going to be able to sail off as usual, we sat at breakfast evaluating what we were going to do until it cleared.
 When our skipper Tim walked onto the deck he said “hey, there’s two bottlenose dolphins right here by the boat” and we all thought he was joking. However, much to our surprise and amusement, seven of the "Barra Boys" were swimming all around allowing us to have breakfast with the bottlenose.
 They stuck around for over an hour giving us some great photo ID shots, swam all around the boat, played with one of our buoys, and displayed their acrobatics while bow riding the other boats; giving us an all-around exciting morning!!

Once we were finally able to sail off, the day turned out to be a good day for sightng cetaceans (5 different species).  Aside from the bottlenose at breakfast, we had several common dolphin sightings including a massive pod of approximately 100 swimming hastily in a long line and several other pods of about 25 individuals each.

 We also had a good run in with Risso’s dolphins again where we saw a calf, one with a missing dorsal fin (nicknamed Stumpy), continual breaching, and observed them within close proximity to the boat…it was awesome.  

We rounded off the day with a Minke sighting, seals, and some harbour porpoises.  

We are back in the Isle of Rum tonight where we are going to fill our bellies with homemade puttanesca and fishcakes (with Pollock and rock cod caught from the boat this morning).  It’s been another great day! Till  next time everyone, cheers!

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Saturday 4th July 2015

Published: 07/07/2015

Day 4
Swell Saturday
Anchorage: Lochmaddy
Distance Travelled: 56.6 miles

After three beautiful days of great sightings and conditions, it was only fair for the weather to catch up with us today. Today’s predictions therefore were bleak, all happy with the brilliant dolphin encounters of the previous evening. Following a lovely sunset on Skye and a trip ashore for some of us (in which Jon convinced Rhianna otters are black and white in the UK and the cat on the road in front of us was an otter- until the binoculars came out) we all went to bed in great spirits.

The morning brought overcast skies and the promise of rain yet we had a good start with a Harbour porpoise, two Common seals and more unidentified, yet it slowed as we hit the rain.

A pod of twenty Common dolphins was spotted swimming ahead, then shortly after returning in the direction they had come from, brightening our morning along with two briefly visiting us.

The weather improved around lunchtime as we headed away from Skye, as soon as we got our soup and bread multiple Common dolphins (or ‘standard dolphins’) descended upon us. Although they may have had inconvenient timing again, the brief bow riding had us commenting on how good the day was despite our poorer conditions and our luck seemed to be continuing.

A Grey seal and an unidentified dolphin later, the wind and swell picked up so we were being hit by the sprays and holding on tight. Our luck diminished giving low visibility, strong winds and pelting rain which resulted in no sightings for the rest of the day.

Now we’re drying off and looking forward to a delicious meal of burgers, chips and salad from Rhianna to celebrate Independence Day! Rave hard, from Silurian!

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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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