Silurian Blog

The long awaited end of season blog!

Published: 27/10/2014
The Joint Warrior survey earlier this month was so busy that the last two blogs were unfortunately neglected. The fantastic team then decided to set themselves some homework and have submitted their own final blog entries. Their blogs are summaries of the trip, their experiences thoughts and feelings. Enjoy!

Jane Putsey (Volunteer in HWDT’s Education centre and Shop)

What a trip, my head and heart are full of sights and sounds experienced over the 8 days. Superlative landscapes, great company and wonderful sightings. I learned so much; about seabirds, the wonders of acoustics, what a Minke whale smells like, how to flush a toilet on a boat, and so much more. It was lovely to see places that had previously just been names on a map, it was an unforgettable week. Many thanks to Andy Tait for capturing it all on a DVD, for each of us to treasure.

Kaitlin Palmer (PhD Student and Sound Trap Saviour)

It takes a special kind of person to volunteer to live on a small boat with nine strangers for ten days and spend what could otherwise have been a relaxing holiday volunteering 8-10 hours a day as well as helping out with chores. It should not be surprising then to hear that this trip was filled with kind and special people.

From the first day in Tobermory waiting in the town square to embark with my fellow volunteers it was clear that, whatever the ocean had to throw at us, this was going to be a positive experience. Of course, it never hurts when the ocean decides to throw gorgeous sunny days, calm seas and a few cetaceans at you.

The land and seascapes we passed were breath-taking, from the steep slopes of Rhum and Skye to the still waters of Loch Eport you could not ask for more breath-taking scenery. Similarly, the wildlife was equally special. My favorites were the evenings filled with biolumenscing plankton, the water like a witches oil, burnt green and blue and white-Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, and days with whistling bow-riding common dolphins.

The juxtaposition of this untouched (or perhaps not recently touched) scenery with the Joint Warrior exercises was similarly jaw-dropping and a little intimidating. It was an impressive show, particularly when we left our small hand-made buoy with attached (and expensive) recording device floating in their path. I'm not big on religion but I was praying that night!

Finally, I can't emphasize enough how great the crew of this ship are. The lengths they all-go to keep the volunteers and each other warm, well-fed and in good spirits is deserving of a medal, or a raise. I can’t thank them enough. Now onto a long winter of analysis!

Simone Prentice (Marine Biologist, second time Silurian volunteer)

The JW survey was an exciting pilot study with plenty of cetacean encounters and beautiful weather. A particular personal highlight was to participate in the creation, deployment and recovery of novel acoustic research equipment - science in action! I had an amazing time on the boat, met wonderful people and in the future I look forward to hearing some of the long term research results.

Kerry Froud (Science Officer onboard Silurian)

What a year. Sitting at my desk in the HWDT office, I reflect upon the last six months onboard Silurian as Science officer. The October wind and rain pound on my window as I enjoy the novelty of sitting in a long-sleeved T-shirt, toasty warm, safe in the knowledge that I am inside and the weather is outside.

Since May my feet have barely touched dry land as we’ve sailed the Hebrides training volunteers and surveying for cetaceans and other marine wildlife. Every survey there are new volunteers, new dynamics, new stories, new jokes (except for mine. I still have only 5 jokes in my repertoire).
Every night a new anchorage or an anchorage lit in a different light. Blazing sun, cold and crisp nights, storm bound days followed by mill-pond calm. Sun rises, moon rises, sun sets, meteorites and bio-luminescence. The sound of corncrakes, moaning grey seals and stags roaring.

To think I have not even mentioned the cetaceans yet! Our research focuses on monitoring cetacean distribution, relative abundance and habitat use. It is these long-term, baseline data that are so crucial in conservation. They enable us to see the slight fluctuations and trends over extended periods of time, highlighting areas of concern that short-term studies just would not be able to tell us. As we survey for marine mammals we often get brief, fast and fleeting glimpses of these underwater creatures as they come to the surface to breathe. Just enough time to confirm the species and take photo identification shots if we are lucky. But there have been some occasions this season where the encounters have not always been so fast and fleeting and the crew and volunteers have had the opportunity to witness these incredible animals up close.

This season we encountered members of the West Coast Community (WCC) of killer whales on not one, but two occasions (including on my birthday). We had multiple close encounters with minke whales, some turning to show their underside as they swam alongside the vessel. Pods of common dolphins, sometimes in their hundreds at first heard whistling through the hydrophone, darted towards Silurian, leaping and bowriding. Illusive white-beaked dolphins sometimes moved so fast I could not get a single photo ID shot and at other times swam along so slowly their bodies could be seen underwater, mere meters from the boat. Porpoise could be heard puffing next to the vessel on a calm day and on some days the usually timid porpoises could be seen approaching the vessel at speed, some even leaping!

It has been a spectacular season, with the weather allowing us to survey considerable distances. Volunteers have come from far and wide to help collect these important data to aid in the conservation of these species. Without these volunteers, this research would simply not be possible. So thank you once again to all those involved in this year’s surveying and I hope to see you onboard again next year!

Andy Tait (SeaLife Surveys Volunteer)

The weather when we sailed out of Tobermory was wonderful, lovely sea and excellent surveying conditions which continued for most of the trip Canna was our first port of call and on the way we had common dolphins bowriding much to the delight of all on board. Also there was a minke whale near to rum and gave good views to all on board. With memories of these wonderful animals we continued on to Canna where we had a beautiful sunset to finish the first day of our survey. The ensuing days we were treated to more wonderful encounters with a few Minke whale sightings, lots of very friendly Common Dolphins, the regular appearances of Harbour Porpoise and grey and common seals 'bottling in the water' as we sailed past. Not forgetting the great views of white tailed eagles wonderful weather of blue skies calm seas and wonderful scenery. We also had sightings of warships from various navies including minesweepers mostly with a frigate and a destroyer in attendance, the special sighting for me regarding the naval ships was a catamaran minesweeper that could 'turn round on a sixpence'!

Looking back on the trip was a wonderful experience for me, working with a lot of wonderful people sharing our joys of the animals coping with the different jobs we had to do during the days of surveying, making new friendships. My special moment really was on the last day when we approached Morar and saw a minke whale I'm sure I saw on two previous occasions in sept. This of course is subject to the ID photos to compare this animals dorsal fin! Thank you again the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for letting me be part of the survey and to the crew thanks for all the friendship I shared with you all during the survey I hope we will all stay good friends in the future.

Rob Gunn (Photographer/Film-maker/Seismic Observer)

As someone who is attempting to change career, to become an MMO (Marine Mammal Observer), this trip was very refreshing and encouraging for me. Everyone I've met who is associated with the HWDT really believes in their work, it was a real privilege to be a part of that crew. And I know that the data that we collected during our 8 day survey can make a real difference where it matters. So, for me there was a feeling of doing something worthwhile, and knowing it was good not just for myself but for some of our local whales and Dolphins too.

Plus we had a real adventure! We meandered our way north from Mull to only 39 miles South of Cape Wrath, dropping anchor in a different Loch or harbour each night, sometimes off the mainland and sometimes hugging the coast of some small island. Once, after dinner, we launched our small boat and landed on North Uist's quiet east coast. Nobody else around, just the stars and silence of the hills, broken by the occasional Stag barking his mating call into the night.

Ah yes, and we also seen lots of Dolphins and Whales! Mostly common Dolphins and Harbour porpoise but also a couple of Minke Whales. It was especially amazing to see the Dolphins bow riding and darting around below the surface, they seem so in tune with each other. Being so close to them has changed my perspective and I won’t forget the experience.

Flora Tickell (student)
Summed up in a letter written to her Grandpa:

Dear Grandpa,

As I think you know, I recently spent a week on a yacht as a volunteer for the HWDT. It was an absolutely amazing experience. I can honestly say that I had the time of my life. I will email some of the best photos of the trip to you. The yacht was called Silurian, and we were told that it was built in the 70s and began its life as a drug smuggling ship! It’s redeeming itself now though. We set off from Tobermory and our journey took us up through the Minch. Every night we anchored in a different small, remote and beautiful bay, including ones off the isles of Canna and North Uist and some off the mainland. The furthest north we got was just above loch Inver, which is only 34-odd miles from Cape Wrath.

Over the week we had the most perfect weather; we were incredibly lucky. The good weather meant there was a very good seastate and so we saw many cetaceans and seals. I think we saw 5 minke whales, of which I spotted two! It was really exciting when a whale was spotted, we would change course and go looking for it so that the science officer could get some good photos of it for photo id records.

We also saw several pods of common dolphins, who seemed to be as excited to see us as we were to see them! They would come leaping over and through the water to the boat and spend some time bow riding. They looked as if they were having so much fun!

Another of our jobs was to keep track of bird sightings. We saw plenty of gannets and shags and razorbills, but best of all we saw a couple of white tailed eagles which flew right over the boat.

The week we were out on the water was the Joint warrior military exercise, when NATO countries get together and practice playing war, so we saw quite a few impressive war ships, and heard their sonar on the hydrophone (a sort of underwater microphone) that we were towing behind Silurian.
The whole trip was incredible.
From Flora

And last but not least...

Laurel (Vet Student)
In lieu of summing up events, I’m summing up our quotes. The best, the worst, and the funniest.

“Creel!” “Did you just say whale?” “Creel” “Seal?” “CREEL BUOY!” “Oh, creel… right…” “No left.”

“What kind of boat is that?” “It’s a lighthouse”

“It’s hydroFUN time!”

“What was that?” “What? Where?” “There.” “I don’t see anything… must be the bow spray.” It was a dolphin.

“You won’t see cetaceans in each other’s eyes!”

“Any minute now………..”

A relay for the relay.

Banana-grams “Is that a word?”

“He’s a good buoy”

“And we’re going to ‘with whales’ because you guys just aren't looking anymore any way.”

“Turtee-tree, and a turd”

“It was either a minke whale or a harbour porpoise!”

“Let’s be honest, no one has even changed their clothes in the past few days.”

“100 metres!” “That’s 42 metres…”

“Look, sleeping on the boat deck in the sun is very hard work!”

“Watch your head.” “Too late.”

“In the name of conservation, we need to shoot it!”

“Over 300 miles travelled, and only one pub.”

Tea. Breakfast. Tea. Second Breakfast. Tea. Lunch. Second lunch. Tea. Cake. Cetacean. Tea. Dinner. Tea.

“I got my pants wet deploying they hydrophone”

“What’s Man-get-out?”

Rice Krispy Omelettes

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The last blog post...

Published: 16/10/2014
Stay tuned for the last blog post from Silurian this year.... A summary from HWDT 11 Survey volunteers and crew...

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Monday 13th October 2014

Published: 16/10/2014

Anchorage: Portree
Distance Travelled: 53 miles

I see London. I see France… I need to tell you something about your trousers…

Well Kerry woke up just about every 20 minutes during the night to check on the GPS signal from Jonathing. Signal was still strong, so just after first breakfast we headed off to go find him. We soon had him in our sight, and before second breakfast was ever a thought we had him back on the boat. Everything seemed to be good, data had been recording properly, and there was much rejoicing.
We were still deep in NATO mine country with a fair number of mine sweepers about. We even got to see one of the destroyers make use of its heli-pad. The helicopter buzzed overhead a few times before shrinking off into the distance. And right at second breakfast we got a minke whale sighting! We quickly shoved our bacon baps in our pockets or our mouths and scanned the area. We saw it a few times all about the place, but couldn’t seem to nail down a pattern well enough to get pictures again. Still there was no better view to be had with our second breakfast.

By lunch we had headed out of the NATO practise area, and that seemed to help with the sightings! The rest of the day was full of dolphins, porpoises, and seals. There was a huge pod of dolphins off on the horizon enjoy their lunch with us. Birds were diving all over the place and there was tons of splashing about. There was no chance of getting a head count because there were that many!
Right around this time, with of all of us hopping up and down from our posts, we got to see a little bit more than normally expected from one of the volunteers. Our relay post was in the process of getting the data from the bow and then leaning into the cabin to shout the information down to the person at the computer. On an ill-fated bend over it became rather obvious that relay had a few holes in their trousers they were previously unaware of. Of course this was very discreetly pointed out at the time, and then brought up again for a laugh as our dinner conversation!

Later in the day, closer to Skye, we ran into some more dolphins that came over for a play. There seemed to be one in the pod with a broken dorsal fin so many photos and videos were taken, not that this wouldn’t have happened anyway. Off and on the rest of the day we seemed to have fairly regular sightings to keep us on our toes. It was helpful because today was the longest day of work so far. We got going at sun up, and worked until after sundown.

So it was no shock that after a delightful dinner we only played a few short rounds of banana-grams before retiring. Handicapping didn’t seem to help much. However we all did agree that, out of everything, we are truly going to miss the regularity, quantity, quantity, and diversity of food once we get back home. In case you had not noticed the trend that all the events in our diary revolve around the times that we get food. We are considering hiring the crew in the off season to work for us off the boat.

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Sunday 12th October 2014

Published: 12/10/2014

Anchorage: Loch Roe

Night John-buoy

Today’s goal was to finally find the NATO ships, and we did. We set off quickly after making friends with a local seal, and within a few hours we were deep in sea mine country. Mine sweepers were everywhere and keeping busy, deploying RIBs and having a cup of tea. It was amazing to see how well some of the ships could camouflage with the land and sea. For a really large ship, we didn’t see some of them until we were right on top of them. We hung around with them for a while and cruised over the spot where a few sea mines were supposed to be (and we are still intact).

There were not any marine mammals in the area that we saw, but listening to the sonar on the hydrophone was very interesting. After several photo ops we headed on up north. Marine mammals were in short supply today aside from our friendly and curious seals at the start and end of the day while at anchor. There were a few far off sightings and one random dolphin bow riding for a few minutes. All this was probably because of the seas not being as kind to us as they have been in the past. Swells got up to 2 metres and being below deck, doing data entry on the computer, was far less fun than the days before. It also made for some close calls with trying to not fall overboard.

Laughter was in no short supply today though! We have all gotten into a groove with our work and gotten very comfortable with each other. So our mistakes are easy to joke about, like when the mugs went flying across the galley and all broke, and cultural differences have been highlighted. The biggest point of contention is pudding, USA vs UK. In the US is a dessert. In the UK it seems to be everything! Yorkshires, sweet, savoury, dessert, black, white. So any unknown item is now called pudding. We also learned that being able to read was not a pre-requisite for the journey. We started feeling the effects of the elements and to counter it we all broke out our favourite moisturizers and balms. Reading through practical uses: cuts, nappie rash, chaffed skin, and bums…. No wait that’s burns. Right.

The highlight of the day was definitely releasing the buoy for passive recording of underwater sounds, unofficially named Jonathan. He was a little uncooperative during setup but after quadruple checking the GPS and all the other nuts and screws, we lowered the buoy over board and let it go on its way! Our plans are to pick it up again tomorrow after it has been recording and hopefully it will give us tons of unique data! And we all watched Jon buoy floating towards the sunset, shrinking into the distance.

The work day ended in a quiet cove and another amazing dinner was made. The men took to the kitchen this evening and there seemed to be a lot less chaos then there has been so far. That, or they just hide it better. We also played several lightning rounds of Banana-grams, with the Brits being overwhelmed by the dominant presence of the American. Next time the winner has to only make words with two or more syllables, to try to handicap.
The evening concluded with: whisky, hot chocolate, and whiskey/hot chocolates checking on Jonathing every 5 minutes to see if the GPS has updated trying to remember the hysterical things that happened today we forgot to put in the blog and the usual banter.

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Saturday 11th October 2014

Published: 11/10/2014

Anchorage: Gairloch

Yet another gorgeous day on the water. How spoiled we are, October in the Minch and several of us getting mild sunburns. Moreover, our current anchorage allows the more adventurous crew and volunteers an option to *ahem* wet their whistles in the local pub. Several of us have meanwhile opted to stay onboard reading, tinkering and definitely not talking about the politics of whaling.
Or maybe just a little. The species count for the day includes jellyfish, gannets, shags, more gannets, harbour seals and porpoises as well as a group of exceptionally outgoing common dolphins who graced us with their presence for a good 20 minutes or so. The present author, of course, remained completely composed and refrained from all forms squealing, giggling, pointing and jumping up and down. This is serious science we are doing here.

The good karma we’ve stored up in terms of weather has only gently started to fail. While the sun was shining a good portion of the day, we did experience a good patch of rain and the swells were approaching 2m which, of course, caused no green volunteers, crew, or other. Well, perhaps just one. All was remedied by the relentlessly delicious meals that our crew and volunteers prepare. Today we were treated to breakfast of cereal and coffee, second breakfast of egg sandwiches (hobbits anyone?), squash soup for lunch, scones and tea as well as a Mexican dinner prepared by our local New Islander-ite turned Glaswegian. As always, pre-coffee conversations are filled with humorous brain-farts including the current author failing to remember that pants have different connotations in different parts of the world, e.g. Gahh! I got my pants wet deploying they hydrophone. Much, well deserved sniggering was heard.

Today was also the second day of the sound trap deployment which, from a small sample of the data seems to be a resounding success. We were able to pick up the whistles from our delphanid visitors as well as suspected naval sonar. Spoiler alert, we can’t say much about any correlations at this point because we are still lacking enough data (donations gladly accepted). As a bio-acoustics student myself, this should have been by far the most exciting aspect of the day (outside of the scones). However, upon sunset we were all thrilled by the level of bioluminescence at our current anchorage. After deploying Jonathan, our Soundtrap buoy, we were delighted to find that the entire rope was covered with biolumenscing organisms that even lit our hands upon touching the line (my kingdom for a microscope!). So now we are nearing the mid-way point of our trip and starting to approach the NATO joint-warrior vessels.

Tomorrow we will continue to head north using acoustic and visual observations. Our team is quickly becoming dialled in on the data collection process and we hope to provide the Trust with ever more quality points to help them understand the long term ecology of this unique and breath-taking habitat.

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Friday 10th October 2014

Published: 10/10/2014

Anchorage: Loch eport
Distance Travelled: 49.9miles
The flying stag, the swimming slag, and the shag’s antlers… Wait I don’t think that is right.
Today started off with some more training, covering birds and boats. And like most mornings before you’ve finished you’re first coffee, the brain refuses to work. So in place of shags we learned about slags, what they sound like and how they act. Very important for cetacean watching.
We fell back into the groove with lots of birds sightings, and less cetaceans than yesterday. So in place of whales we played with the hydrophone instead. We added a sound trap. Stay tuned for more information on what that does tomorrow.
We also worked on improving our distance estimation skills. Volunteers would call out numbers and Kerry would shout the correct distance. We were off by an average of 50%. If we said 20, it was 67… 80, it was 127. Obviously a skill we need to keep working on. However we got a great reward for practicing our estimating, by going ashore Uist! We got about a half hour ashore to stretch out our legs, which we filled with hill walking, ancient ruins, and stags.
Dinner preparations sounded about the same as yesterday, with some banging of pots and a lot of noise from the kitchen. The result was an extremely delicious chilli over baked potatoes without a hope of left overs. We were practically licking the pot. Tomorrow hopefully will hold some big ships and more cetaceans! Hopefully not at the same time.

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Thursday 9th October 2014

Published: 09/10/2014

HWDT Joint Warrior survey 2014
Lat 57° 03.328N
Long 006° 29.672W
Anchorage: Canna
Distance Travelled: 35.2 miles
Well we are off to an excellent start of our trip! The weather was wonderful our first day to get us going and after a lot of very quick training we were thrown headfirst into the work, with our first sighting within 5 minutes of leaving the dock.
There were a few seals and porpoises to begin the scrambling about the deck and computer, trying to figure out the easiest way to get all the information quickly! Between animal sightings and creel buoys seemingly every 50 metres we had more than enough data to keep ourselves busy.
We headed north from Tobermory, with Canna as our destination. Aside from every experience being new to us volunteers, there were plenty of new things for the crew as well because of the Joint Warrior project going on. There were lots of new noises on the hydrophone and fighter jets flying overhead. Hopefully we will get to see even more military ships. We do need a military presence to study if there is an effect on the local marine mammals.
Things seemed to calm down for a small amount of time before we got near the island of Rhum. We had our second minke whale sighting of the day and we started tracking its movements for a while. After a few surfaces without any pictures useful for identification we headed on our way. However it wasn’t a long time before a small pod of common dolphins soon distracted us from our path again. They played in our bow wake for a good while, where we got to see there were 7 dolphins, with one juvenile! They gave us a great chance for tons of photos and videos and it looked like they were having almost as much fun as we were.
Our sunny day drew to a close as we let the anchor down at Canna, but our marine life sightings did not stop there! After a relaxing tea we started some evening chores, with a very brave person actually volunteering to clean the head. To their surprise they were able to positively identify a Jellyfish in the toilet!
More pictures were taken, but it was not counted in the totals. Some of us took the kitchen in an effort to make some dinner. There was lots of banging pots, a few times things smelt like they were burning and even the question of “What’s Man-get-out?” Still dinner smells excellent now, and if not there seems to be enough flapjack crumbs to hold us over for a while.
Daily totals: Unknown Seals: 3 sightings, 3 individuals Porpoises: 8 sightings, 18 individuals Common Seals: 2 sightings, 2 individuals Minke Whales: 2 sightings, 2 individuals Common Dolphins: 2 sightings, 17 individuals

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Published: 09/10/2014


Leaving Ornsay this morning, the team had high hopes for the day ahead. After listening to the weather, we were not sure what was in store for us, but we were delighted to see that the ocean was flat calm, the sun streaming through the clouds, creating a lovely effect over the lighthouse as we past. Cameras clicking, we all attempted to get the perfect shot. The days sightings began relatively slowly with some birds and creels here and there. No one was complaining though, as the journey was beautiful, motoring past mountains capped with beautiful white clouds, whilst zig zagging across the Sound of Sleat, minimal white caps visible. Soon enough we came across a group of porpoise, sightings coming from both sides, unfortunately no pictures were captured…. they are so hard to photograph! And so, we carried on…
‘There is something big over there’ said Emily as Kerry came up on deck. Looking through the binoculars only birds and seals were immediately obvious. But then, the moment we have all been waiting for…. ‘Sighting, Minke Whale!’, and there it was! A dark back, with small dorsal fin, rolling through the water, contrasted against the smooth calm water, right in front of Silurian. That was it, we were ‘with whales’, Kat was doing a great job entering bearing distance heading below, resisting the urge to run up the stairs and watch. As soon as the data was into the computer the whale had dived, it was then up to all volunteers to keep their eyes peeled to spot the minke when it next surfaced to breathe. Sure enough, as soon as Kerry could say, ‘any minute now’, it would be up, swimming in various directions through the glassy, mirror like water. Often we were startled, only to hear its blow just meters behind us. We couldn’t have asked for a better sighting (although it was a little bit of a cheeky minke, only allowing Kerry to photo one side of its dorsal fin). As the water was so flat calm, we could see it surface, from its head breaking the surface, all the way through its roll, before diving back down to the depths of the sound. After a number of amazing encounters with this individual, we decided it was time to carry on, and continue our survey to see what else was in store for us. Oh, and before I forget, we also had two porpoise and a few seals at the same time too J.
Following on from our minke encounter, we began our coastal survey, motoring around Loch nan Uamh, during which we saw a number of curious seals. After a few light showers of rain and some of Tom’s veggie lasagne in a cup it was time to move on and begin our next transect across to Muck. The crossing was a lot better than we had imagined it would be this morning. Bird records were increasing and as we approached Eigg, Kerry received a friendly phone call from Connor and Vivi (HWDT Sightings and Strandings Officer and Intern) who had spotted us out and about along with a number of active gannets, whilst they were out on Eigg for HWDT’s Costal Community Road Show. Sure enough, as we reached the SE of Eigg gannets became a predominant bird sighted by those on relay, and sightings started rolling in. A number of porpoise were seen swimming through the area close to Silurian, in addition to more seals, bottling, as they do. And if that was the end of the day, then I’m sure we would have all been over the moon, but in reality it was not. Little did we know that around the corner was about to be, what I would call, the quickest and most exciting sighting of the day.
Iain looked down at the water, in a bemused fashion, from his position at the mast, trying to work out what this object was as it floated along past Silurian. From initial observation it looked like some plastic rubbish, floating at the surface. But then we twigged, it had a fin, flapping at the surface, the object was flat and circular in shape, about a meter across, with one of it’s eyes clearly visible as well as its open mouth. You’ve got it…. it was a little SUNFISH. Pippa was so surprised that instead of shouting ‘sighting’ as we all have so clearly been taught, she went for ‘KERRY, Kerry, Kerry, kerry’. After some slight confusion, data was entered into the computer, whilst Kerry came up, slightly confused with flour all over her hands, after her secret baking session. Limited photos were taken as the whole encounter lasted just but a few minutes. To add to the excitement, porpoise were sighted at the same time, last seen swimming towards the sunfish. Wonder what they thought of it? Probably not quite the same reaction as Pippa, screaming and dancing as the celebration commenced, to mark the out of the ordinary sighting, along with the other volunteers on deck.
The final portion of our transect into Muck went quickly, with all admiring the stunning views of Eigg, shrouded in a blanket of cloud as the sun began to set behind Muck. Waves breaking, seals chilling, the inquisitive ones swimming up to the boat to check us out and don’t forget the one highland pony madly cantering around on the beach, that was that, we were anchored. After a busy photo session, with almost all on deck admiring the setting it was time to eat Tom’s delicious scones, with no less than jam and clotted cream. We all then went across to Muck for a wee drink, unfortunately the Hotel was closed this evening, so after a quick chat to the cows and seals it was back to the boat we went. Dinner this evening was a hearty risotto meal, with a few of us worrying that if we didn’t get off this boat soon we would look more like the seals surrounding us than human! There is no way you can say they don’t feed you on here! This evening’s entertainment has included card games and singing, and now it’s time for those few of us still left around the table to retire and head to our beds, for one last reflect on the days adventures.

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Thursday 25th September 2014

Published: 09/10/2014


Distance Traveled: 41.7 nautical miles

Yesterday we promised an update on the presentations that we had been working on during the storm bound day in Plockton. Every member of the crew, (both volunteers and core crew), produced a piece of art based on a key word that was handed to us prior that morning. There all sorts of beautiful pieces, but I think it is worth mentioning that the Skipper wrote 6 short poems (one for each volunteer), which has resulted on some of us acquiring nicknames! It was a truly fun evening!
Despite the severe gale warning we decided to set off this morning and resume our research trip. Looking for a relative sheltered coastal survey itinerary, we headed to Loch Hourn via the Skye Bridge. After spending a rather quiet day in Plockton some of the crew of volunteers were starting to get Cabin Fever….. To the point that one particular Dutch volunteer woke up in the middle of the night shouting “Seal!!! Seal!!! it’s a Seal!!!” (either that or ”creel!!” “creel!!”) And that was probably all the evidence that the skipper needed to decide to head on out again! He was probably worried about the morale/sanity of the crew!

Kyle Rhea was one of the most challenging stretches for navigation, but the volunteers and crew enjoyed being back at sea. The crews on the mast got “treated” to a much needed exfoliating shower (with pure Hebridean Sea salt) that according to the First Mate, lots of women would happily paid money for! This stretch also offered us some of the best sightings of the day. We had in total:
6 porpoise sightings with 14 individuals counted in total; 3 common seals; 4 unidentified seals; 15 confirmed acoustic porpoise events; 4 non confirmed.
Due to the stormy weather we have not had that many bird sightings, but we did come across a large flock of kittiwakes near Loch Hourn.

Last night we challenged the skipper to cook a lovely evening meal for us (the standard of cooking is extremely high on the Silurian!) so whilst he does so, we are all relaxing and sharing the stories of the day. The first Mate has kindly remind us that we are probably one of the crews with the largest appetite he’s had, so it won’t be long before the 2ndbreakfast and the afternoon cakes also start to get rationed! Just like the showers….Water has been strictly rationed but some of us were treated to the privilege of a short Navy shower tonight, which has been much appreciated. There are a large number of happy individuals because of this! We are now writing this blog and hoping that the skipper’s lasagne is as good as his poetry.

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Wednesday 24th September 2014

Published: 25/09/2014

A hard Act to Follow
Distance Travelled: 41.7 miles Anchorage: Isleornsay

Tonight`s chefs are in despair following last night`s triumph by the Anglo/Dutch duo`s presentation of Patates Fricasse with Isle de Mull Gourmet Saucisson and Broccoli Brouillee avec sauce d`Oignon avec Granule de Gravy Bisto. But we`re sure they will rise to the challenge.

We are learning more and more.  Yesterday we discovered that dreadlocks and velcro should be kept well apart and that anti-sea-sickness pills don`t work. We also had a crash course in identifying cetaceans, (marine mammals such as whales dolphins and porpoises); pinnipeds (seals, of which more later), and fish, (sun fish and basking sharks). Kerry the chief scientific officer makes sure that the boat is travelling at the correct speed and that we all know how to collect environmental and acoustic data at 15 minute intervals and communicate with each other (involves clear and loud shouting such things as `What`? and most commonly `Was that `creel` or `seal`?) and enter the eventually agreed data into the computer.

We all take turns at everything, 30 minutes data entry, 30 minutes observing the starboard quadrant ahead, 30 minutes the port quadrant ahead, 30 minutes relaying messages while logging birds and ships when there are no messages to relay and 60 minutes rest and recreation, during which you can even go and bother the skipper who is otherwise trying to steer the boat. He pretends it lightens up his life.

Tom the first mate is a rather sinister character (not) who in between baking cakes and delivering tea and buns to everyone also keeps the ship in one piece. A particular triumph of his has been to repair a lever essential to the waste disposal system. A grateful crew are unable to think of an adequate reward…

Today`s crash course was in bird and ship identification.  Given the vibrant international atmosphere on board this led to questions about the difference between between a ship and a boat and such like subtleties, extending to the difference between a ship and a sheep.

Meanwhile as the day went on sightings developed from an `unidentified dolphin` through a number of definite seals and then a rush of porpoises (porpoises on today`s evidence are always in a terrific rush) whose visual identification was satisfyingly confirmed by Emily who on the acoustics was seeing a lot of porpoise clicks.

The day culminated with the triumphant identification of a grey seal engaging in `bottling` behaviour, (i.e. just hanging around) which on closer examination turned out to be a buoy. But in my defence it was certainly just hanging around. A convivial evening lies ahead. And as for tomorrow? It`s going to be fun…

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Tuesday 23rd September 2014

Published: 25/09/2014

choppy beginning
Distance Travelled: 29 miles
Lat: 57. 00.77 Long: 6.16
Anchorage: Rum harbour  

First day of the trip, and straight into rough seas, all the volunteers were feeling pretty seasick from before the Ardnamurchan lighthouse until we reached the shelter of the isle of Rum in the Inner Hebrides, one of the volunteers decided to share lunch ;-) with the dolphins, they didn`t appreciate it so tomorrow it will be better.

The sea was pretty choppy most of the day, 4 grey seals were spotted when we were leaving Tobermory harbour, and we had an unconfirmed sighting of a bottlenose dolphin. However it was too rough to spot much else. At the end we spotted a unknown dolphin, so fast diving that unfortunately we could not spot it right. Thankfully the forecast is good for tomorrow.

The kitchen is smelling divine so hopefully it will taste as good in a minute.  

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Education Trip

Published: 22/09/2014

Comments by the primary school children, summing up their experiences whilst on board Silurian.

Silurian along side Salen Pier.

Day 1 – 15.9.14

Lochdonhead Primary School

Alex - My favourite bit was the look tank. I liked the secret mirror. I wished we could sail.
Kara – I enjoyed the touch tanks. I learnt that crabs eat starfish. Wish we could have learned more about the computer.
Harry – I wish we could sail. The best bit was the secret mirror. I liked Tom’s pet.
My favourite bit was looking around the boat trying to find Pippa’s chocolate biscuit. I liked looking at the crabs and lobsters in the pot. I wish we could have more time next time.
Struan – My favourite bit was the crab and the lobster. I also liked the dolphin noise. I wish we could sail.
Ella - My favourite part was that we got to play the name game and I liked my name Ella the eel and I wish we could stay longer.
Ewan – My favourite thing was holding the sea animals. I liked the name game. I wish we could of sailed.
Ellie – Thank you for inviting us to visit your boat. I enjoyed being able to explore the boat. I also enjoyed feeling the sea animals. I wish we could have stayed later.
Grace – My favourite bit was the name game. I learned that crabs eat starfish. I wish we got to stay for longer.

Day 1 - 15.9.14
Home School group
Tam – I liked looking at the sea creatures, my favourite one was the lobster.
Callum – I really enjoyed the touch tanks. Especially the hermit crab.
Rhiann – I loved the crab. The crab was fiddling about.
Breagha – Today I learnt about how whales and dolphins have different calls to communicate. I’ve enjoyed looking at the crabs, lobsters and the velvet swimming crab. I thought the best thing about today was when we got to hear the sounds on the computer. It was so funny when the lobster splashed us all.
Leo – I liked claws, she was gentle.
Sorley – I liked when the lobster splashed me.

Day 2 - 16-9-14
Salen Primary
Laurence P7 – I enjoyed every minute of the workshop of the Silurian! It was really exciting getting to hold all the crabs and starfish and seeing a lions mane jellyfish up close over the side of the boat.
Oggy the octopus – I enjoyed the trip to the Silurian and learned a lot about the ocean. There is four letters in left and four in port and port is at the left.
Euan P6 – I enjoyed the searches especially down below and I enjoyed the touch pot and I liked the fridge.
Johnnie the jelly fish – I liked the bit when we saw the animals
Louie the lobster – I really enjoyed it, I learnt a lot, my favourite thing was claws. I loved it so much I hope she is still up and running.
Iain – I enjoyed every part of the Silurian workshop because I find it really awesome learning about the sea because there are a lot of animals we learned today.
Emma P7 – I really liked the quiz and the pools. My favourite thing was seeing the lions mane jellyfish and being tied to the boat! I learnt a lot of facts and sounds.
Unknown – I enjoyed looking at the animals in the touch tank. (great illustrations to go with this one)
Fraser the flounder – It was very interesting, I liked looking around the boat, it was weird that the bed was so narrow. I learnt a lot at the workshop.
Nicola P5 – It was really fun and I liked it because it was all really interesting.
Donald – I like all sea animals and I really enjoyed claws.
Alexander P5 – I enjoyed the boat itself and it was fun when we saw the animals in the tank. We learned about the sound of the whales and dolphins.
Unknown – I liked the boat a lot. I learnt a lot of stuff like when you see an animal in the sea you shout “sighting” and you also shout the degrees and what animal you think it is. I enjoyed the touch pools and my favourite animal would have to be claws.
Sarah – I enjoyed all the sea animals in the tank. Thank you for the trip to the Silurian.

Claws - The gentle brown (edible) crab.
Evening of Day 2 - Tobermory Guides and Scouts
Anna – I enjoyed listening to the hydrophone and watching for sightings. I also enjoyed picking up the crabs and the starfish.
Harry – I enjoyed holding the velvet swimming crab and spotting the seal. I hope I can go on a trip like this again.
Hannah – I really enjoyed watching and learning about the hydrophone, I enjoyed steering too and learning about the wildlife in and around Mull.
Hector – I liked steering the wheel and picking up the giant edible crab called Claws. Actually I like all sea creatures peaceful of not.

Day 3 – 17.9.14

Dervaig Primary School

Malik – The sea urchin can protect itself very well.
Michael – The brown crab is called Claws.
Angus – The starfish is covered in spikes.
Bea – I listened to the sea animals on the computer.
Jovis – The starfish can grow its legs back.
Finn – The sun starfish moves quicker than the other starfish.
Mimi – The starfish looked like the sun.
Evie – The big crab called Claws was trying to attack the hermit crab.
Ellie - The brown crab tried to eat the sea urchin.
Harris – The swimming crabs have paddles at the back.
Robyn - The sun starfish moves quicker than the other starfish.

I enjoyed hearing the voices of whales and dolphins.
I found out it took 1 hour for the sea squirt to fill up.

I leaned that dolphins, porpoises and whales have different shapes and sizes of teeth.
I was interested in the sun starfish’s eating habits.
I discovered that not all lobsters are blue.
I enjoyed learning about the characteristics of whales and dolphins.

It was good to find out about the safety on Silurian, especially being tied to the mast.
I enjoyed learning about the different sorts of dolphins, whales, porpoises and seals.
I learned about different animals in the touch pool.

I learned that whales use baleen to drain the water out so that they can eat the plankton.
I learned what the shout is when a whale, porpoise or dolphin is spotted – ‘Sighting!’.
I enjoyed Andy telling us what it is like to live of Silurian, I also enjoyed using the laser distance finder.
I learned about how starfish regrow their legs if they lose one.

Day 4 – 18.9.14
Ulva Primary School

Ashley – On the Silurian I learned about a big spider crab. I touched the spikes and it was kind of sharp. Lifeboat: It was scary at the side of the lifeboat because we were so close to the sea. THA: I liked the big green spiky starfish because it was my favourite colour.
Ajay (P1) – I touched the sea squirt and it felt like a rock.
Kate (P2) – I learned that sometimes they go looking for whales and dolphins for 10 days.
Eilidh (P4) – I learned that port is for left because it has four letters and starboard is for right because it doesn’t have four letters.
Arwen (P5) – I learned what a hydrophone is used for and I learned that killer whales have different languages just like people.
Aaron (P7) – I learned that crabs don’t always have legs, some have flippers instead. I also learned how noisy the animals were.
(In reference to velvet swimming crabs, who have flattened paddle like back legs)
Sam (P7) – I learned that the port side is left and the starboard side is right.
A rare red lobster!

Day 5 - 19-9-14
Bunessan Primary School
P4 -7
Group 1
Rachel – I liked looking around the bottom deck
Amy – I liked the Silurian it is amazing, it has very small beds, its big and really cool. I liked the touch tank. Everyone was very nice and I learned a lot.
James –I liked picking up the sea creatures. (Great illustrations to go with this one)
Silke – I liked the Silurian treasure hunt and holding the scuttly spider crab. It was fun looking at the controls and listening to whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals. I learnt a lot there.
Isaac – On the Silurian I liked to see how the crew would live and look for dolphins and whales.
Jack (P7) – I liked holding the crabs and starfish. That is the biggest brown crab I have held.
Sam (P7) – I liked holding the crabs and starfish.
Claire – I liked touching all the animals and looking for the things. It was really interesting and fun.
Lawson (P5) – I liked holding the starfish because it was so soft.
Bea (P5) – I liked looking and holding animals and looking for the things. I loved picking up Claws the crab.
Unknown – I liked to hold crabs and lobster because it was my first time.

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Wednesday 10th September 2014

Published: 16/09/2014

Leaping Porpoises- must be a full moon
Anchorage: Loch Scresort, Rum

Thinking our luck must by now have run out after all our incredible sightings, we set sail not expecting to see much. We had to set off early so as to make our tidal window under the Skye bridge and through Kyle Rhea. Once again the sun shone brightly and we all enjoyed the beautiful scenery as we passed between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland. Given the hundreds of creel pots down this stretch, we all got a lot of practice at estimating distances- something that perhaps would have benefited us at the start of the trip. Luckily, it appeared we are all now much better at judging distances at sea than we were.

We then had a repeat of the day before, only this time with porpoises. As pod after pod of harbour porpoises passed by the boat, we struggled to keep records of how many in each group. It was a bit of a scrabble on deck and below with lots of shouting. But with the help of all crew we managed to get it all down and saved.

A special treat was seeing so many of them leaping. Porpoises are renowned for being elusive and tricky to spot as they rarely come out of the water more than to show their dorsal fin and take a quick breathe. But, as Kerry predicted, we saw many leaping out the water, something that she has been observing around the full moon. As the day came to the end and we made our way over to the Isle of Rum, we had a repeat with porpoise sight after porpoise sighting. Only this time, we had it covered and recordings were made calmly and orderly. We are now working as a great team- what a shame tomorrow is our last day.

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Tuesday 9th September 2014

Published: 16/09/2014

Dolphins Dolphin’s Everywhere!
Anchorage: Loch

The day was not looking promising for cetacean sightings. The warm sun from the day before had left us and we were once again wrapped up warm in our layers. Still, endless cups of tea kept us all happy. Then spirits lifted as a few quiet whistles were heard on the hydrophone. We were then quickly joined by a pod of 7 common dolphins on the left, a welcome sight after hours of nothing. Then just as quickly a pod of 5 on our right, then 7 right ahead and before we knew it there were dolphins everywhere we looked. As far out at 500m either side of the boat we could see more and more leaping dolphins joining in with the fun. Several calves were spotted bowriding with their parents, which of course was followed by lots of ‘ahhs’ on board. Just as quickly as they joined, they left us, clearly with more pressing needs now playtime was over. It was quite a sight to behold and we were all left feeling uplifted and once again amazed at the wildlife living here in the Hebrides.

Kerry gave us all a talk in the evening on the research that the HWDT are conducting, a talk which took 3 times as long as planned as we all had so many questions to ask and stories to tell from our trip so far. The day ended for Tom and Kate with a drink ashore in a little local pub, while the rest of us educated Kirsty on the classic game on charades. Quite a challenge for a group of girls who like to talk A LOT! All in all, another amazing day here in the Hebrides. Just when will our luck run out?!

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Sunday 7th September 2014

Published: 11/09/2014

Lots and lots of Gannets
Distance travelled: 61 miles Anchorage: Leverburgh  

It was a beautiful morning, with the sun shining over The Village on St Kilda. We set off and heading around the back of the islands, seeing the tallest sea cliffs in the whole of Britain. Around the back of Hirta, we made our first sighting, although it wasn’t one of our usual animals, but a huge Blue Fin Tuna, leaping clear out of the water. It gave everyone a surprise, and made us all doubt our previous sightings. The tuna was then followed by about 2-3 common dolphins.

As we circumnavigated the islands, we headed out to Boreray, and the two stacks beside (Stac Lee and Stac An Armin). These stacks are the seasonal home for around 45,000 breeding pairs of gannets. This made for an interesting bird count, with even the computer struggling with the numbers!

From there it was a long trip back to Leverburgh, seeing only seals on the way. It was worth it for going to St Kilda and we were treated to beautiful warm weather the whole way back, allowing us to shed our fleeces, base layers and thermals and let our arms and legs get some much needed vitamin D.

So despite a perhaps lull in cetacean sightings in our trip out past the outer Hebrides, we were all more than happy to take in the staggeringly beautiful sights of St Kilda in the glorious sun.  

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Monday 8th September 2014

Published: 11/09/2014

Dolphins Dolphin’s Everywhere! Anchorage: Loch Shieldaig

The day was not looking promising for cetacean sightings. The warm sun from the day before had left us and we were once again wrapped up warm in our layers. Still, endless cups of tea kept us all happy. Then spirits lifted as a few quiet whistles were heard on the hydrophone. We were then quickly joined by a pod of 7 common dolphins on the left, a welcome sight after hours of nothing. Then just as quickly a pod of 5 on our right, then 7 right ahead and before we knew it there were dolphins everywhere we looked. As far out at 500m either side of the boat we could see more and more leaping dolphins joining in with the fun. Several calves were spotted bowriding with their parents, which of course was followed by lots of ‘ahhs’ on board. Just as quickly as they joined, they left us, clearly with more pressing needs now playtime was over. It was quite a sight to behold and we were all left feeling uplifted and once again amazed at the wildlife living here in the Hebrides.

Kerry gave us all a talk in the evening on the research that the HWDT are conducting, a talk which took 3 times as long as planned as we all had so many questions to ask and stories to tell from our trip so far. The day ended for Tom and Kate with a drink ashore in a little local pub, while the rest of us educated Kirsty on the classic game on sharades. Quite a challenge for a group of girls who like to talk A LOT! All in all, another amazing here in the Hebrides. Just when will our luck run out?!    

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Saturday 6th September 2014

Published: 07/09/2014

Yo ho, a pirates life for us Anchorage: Leverburgh
Distance travelled:  54 miles

With no television, we have to make up our own entertainment, so last night was spent creating pirate costumes as today was Pirate day on the boat. Everyone was rudely woken up by the Pirates of the Caribbean theme blasting at full volume through the saloon. Breakfast was served pirate-style with everyone rocking their homemade pirate costume. We were missing one person at breakfast as Kate decided to make a break for it and hijack the cal-mac ferry, like a true pirate, well that’s what we imagined though she had really gone for a nice stroll and breakfast.

Set off at 9 into the rough seas. By 10 we were at the mercy of the wind with all the sails up. It was such a nice experience, with a little bit of peace and quiet between the waves. In keeping with the pirate theme, a large tall ship appeared on the horizon, looking like a massive pirate ship. It passed us by without firing its canons, to everyone’s delight, and disappeared into the fog, just like a scene from a movie.

It wasn’t until 12ish that we saw our first cetacean, 1 harbour porpoise! Then less than 1 hour later, a sneaky minke was spotted, but as with most of the minkes, it appeared once then disappeared off the face of the earth. As we headed back across the sea, we were joined by a pod of 7 common dolphins, bowriding, which saved the day as the weather was awful and the spray off the water soaking everyone stupid enough to sit outside.

As we headed into the harbour, a sea eagle was spotted soaring over the water. We put the anchor down in Leverburgh, and Kerry made a beautiful Moroccan feast. The crew then got their pirate gear back on and told their stories about the new kettle.  

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Friday 5th September 2014

Published: 07/09/2014

Playful minke
Anchorage: Loch Maddy
Distance Travelled: 53.9 miles  

We left Stornoway this morning which was bright and sunny and before too long we encountered grey seals, and common seals. There were many sightings of porpoise, eight in total with twenty individuals which tallied with six acoustic detections.

The highlight of the day was our encounter with a minke whale, which instead of previous sightings disappeared never to resurface, this one was curious and swam round the boat several times and gave us a special display for several minutes, to the delight of everyone on board who all managed some special photographs.

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Thursday 4th September 2014

Published: 07/09/2014

The Eagle has Landed.
Anchorage: Stornoway, Lewis Distance travelled: 53.8 miles  

Waking up to a beautiful view out over Tarbert Harbour, we all felt well-rested and optimistic for the day ahead. Just a few minutes in came the shout of SIGHTING, two harbour porpoises, good start. Not long after we spotted two sea eagles gliding, which was a nice treat.
Within the first hour, we also had a Minke whale sighting, however, we lost it after it dived, just as happened the previous day, shy Minkes. The next few hours were rather uneventful with just the occasional seal sighting.

We came into the Shiant Islands or the ‘fairy islands’ formed of columnar Basalt rock. This cluster of islands lies between the Little Minch Sea and the Greater Minch and is a truly spectacular sight to behold with an enchanted feel about them, hence their name. Mountain sheep nimbly pranced around the steep, jiggered edges of small islands, making our efforts of walking around our boat seem rather clumsy in comparison. The Shaint’s were clearly a good breeding ground for birds, they were everywhere making it difficult to count them all, not helped by the fact that they did a loop before leaving, unsure whether we had counted the same birds more than once.

With our anchorage for the night ahead of us, we had another porpoise sighting, two followed shortly by a pod of at least 5 unidentified dolphins. And not long after, another Minke whale! Once again, the Minke dived, and was never to be seen by us again. But maybe he’ll pop his head up and wave us off on our way out tomorrow morning.  

End of day stats -4 harbour porpoise, 2minke whales, 3 grey seal, 1 unidentified seal, 5 unidentified dolphins.

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Wednesday 3rd September 2014

Published: 04/09/2014

Day 2
What a killer of a day!
Distance Travelled: 69.5miles Anchorage: Tarbert, Harris

  After a shaky start yesterday, the team were back in action after a good night’s sleep. The day panned out to be rather spectacular. First up was a pod of 10 common dolphins bow-riding with the Silurian. This gave us all much excitement and photo opportunities, if only they would stay still long enough! Next up was the holy grail- the Orca!!! We first spotted a large male up ahead and quickly turned our survey effort from ‘transect’ to ‘with whales’. All that mattered now was staying with the Orca to get close enough to get a dorsal fin shot for us to identify which one of the West Coast Community it was. As he went below the surface, the anticipation was palpable as we scanned the ocean to spot where he resurfaced. We weren’t left disappointed, as another animal had come to join in the fun.
After an hour of playing with these magnificent creatures, we left them to their day. It was evident we were a lot more interested in them than they were with us. This little treat was of course pre-arranged by the team as a birthday present for our lovely Science Officer, Kerry. We are pretty sure it was the best present you can give to a marine mammal enthusiast.
If that wasn’t enough, we had sightings of more dolphins in the afternoon and the day finished with a Minke whale.

As far as days goes, today has to be up there with one of the best (especially since everyone had found their sea legs). All that is left to do now is sit back and enjoy a nice thai green curry and a slice of birthday cake. Tomorrow is going to have to be pretty good to top today!

End of the day stats- 2 harbour porpoises, 26 common dolphins, 2 orcas, 1 minke whale and 2 unidentified dophins.     

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Tuesday 2nd September 2014

Published: 04/09/2014

What a Chunderful Day!!
Anchorage: Loch Scresort, Rum Distance Travelled: 29.6 miles  

After our first night of introductions, with team members Kirsty, Karen, Kate, Natalie, Sara and Gemma, and crew members skipper Tim and first mate Tom, and of course scientist Kerry, we settled down to some Bananagrams! Grudgingly, we had to tear ourselves away to get to bed, for our 7.30 am breakfast on our first survey day.

After breakfast, came the science intro to teach us all the species we’re hoping to see, and correct survey techniques, followed by a further safety briefing from Tim. We set sail at 12.30 (a tad later than planned!), and within 2 minutes we had our first sighting! A lone Grey Seal! With all the new information to get our heads around, chaos ensued on the first watch, information and questions being yelled all over the place. Leaving the safe confines of Tobermory the swell started to pick up, as did our lunch! One by one the team donated their lunch to the sea, and the survey rota went out the window. Good team work and quick thinking made sure all stations were covered for the day and surveying continued.

After the initial few half hour rotations, the different roles had sunk in, and despite being a few team members down, the surveying felt pretty ‘slick’. After a quiet few hours, with just a few shouts of CREEL BOUYS, we headed around the Isle of Rum, and sightings picked up. 2 Porpoise’s and a pod of Unidentified Dolphins (likely commons) were seen with lots of whistles being picked up by the hydrophones. ‘Secret Sightings’ (not detected by those on watch), were made of more Unidentified Dolphins and a Porpoise. Gradually the team members that succumbed to sea sickness began to perk up and again a full team effort was going strong.

As we headed further around Rum, Sara got increasingly excited about rocks and the chance to get off the boat! The sea became flat again with the sea sickness abating (for most!) We are now anchored in Loch Scresort on the Isle of Rum, settling down with some tea, ginger nuts and chores, looking forward to some dinner and another night of Bananagrams!

End of the day stats – 1 Grey Seal sighting, 1 unknown Cetacean (or marine mammal), 2 Harbour Porpoise sightings, with 3 individuals in total, 3 Unknown Dolphin sightings, 9 acoustic porpoise detections, 2 of which tallied with visual sightings.

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Thursday 7th August 2014

Published: 29/08/2014

Title: Colonsay to Loch Creran
Anchorage: Loch Creran
Distance Travelled: 48.1 miles

This morning, still reeling from the heuchter teuchter of last night’s concert, we woke to the tinny rattle of fiddle music from the deck saloon, the scientist having bought a CD during the interval. The kitchen, all mixter-maxter from Mexican night, needed cleaning, regrettably. Needless to say, we were in a sorry state when we left our anchorage on Colonsay.

The inveterate hostility of dolphins towards Silurian continues unabated, and an early sighting of some puffing pigs was met with groans of boredom and frustration. Boundless and bare, the lone and level seas stretched far away etc etc. But, it being such a braw day, there was no need to hap-up. We sailed by the west coast of Jura, with the Paps obscured in low-lying cloud. The name Jura may be from the Old Norse, meaning ‘Udder Island’, providing what I imagine would have been a rare moment of levity aboard the long boat whilst looking for more monasteries to burn down.

Many of our plans during the trip have gone agley, inducing hysterical blethering and occasional absentmindedness from people at the mast, and the scientist has been forced to issue a few shirrackins, threatening at times to skelp our doups!

In his ‘Journey to the Western Isles’ Dr Johnson noted that ‘A man of the hebrides…as soon as he appears in the morning, swallows a glass of whisky…’ Our Skipper, convinced it would be rude not to observe local custom, has taken the task on with gusto, judging by the regularity with which he discreetly lobs an empty crate overboard. This may explain how we were suddenly and without warning caught in a whirlpool off the north-east coast of Jura just before lunch, the boat shoogling wildly in the erratic waves. Indeed, I almost tummled my winkies! Having made it through the whirlpool, the crew appeared pretty shilpit and fushionless, and we stravaiged hopelessly towards our destination.

Hallirackit as ever, we anchored in Loch Creran, and I was overcome with feelings of relief and regret. This may be due to the battering I took during today’s passage, but is probably due to the fact that tomorrow is our last day of surveying. I fear anything I say to sum up will be unsatisfactory, and am forced to leave you once again with a quote from Dr Johnson, which, I feel, provides a fitting description of our time on board Silurian:

‘Such a seat of hospitality, amidst the winds and waters, fills the imagination with a delightful contrariety of images. Without is a rough ocean and the rocky land, the beating billows and the howling storm: within is plenty and elegance, beauty and gaiety, the song and the dance.’

P.S. Just to clarify, the Skipper has been dutifully abstemious and nothing but reliable all trip, but that isn’t as funny as if he were a roaring drunkard, so I’ve decided to ignore reality in the service of humour.

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Wednesday 6th August 2014

Published: 29/08/2014

Tinker’s Hole to Colonsay
Anchorage: Oronsay on Colonsay
Distance Travelled: 49.6mi

The familiar sound of ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning’ resonated through the Silurian this morning with the intention of it bringing us good fortune on today’s passage, much to the bemusement of the volunteers. That being said, it would appear that it worked as it wasn’t long before the boat was surrounded by circling Cetorhinus maximus (decimus meridius), Basking Sharks. In his book ‘The Basking Shark in Scotland’, Denis Fairfax explains that “Water streams into the cavernous mouth and pharynx and exits via the gill slits so that feeding and respiration go on simultaneously.” I have also noted this behaviour among certain crew members over breakfast; definitive proof, if any was needed, of evolution by natural selection.

With the sea shimmering like a mirror, we headed south towards Colonsay where we meandered around searching for other marine beasties. There was an excess of Lions Maned Jellyfish, frequent encounters with inquisitive Grey Seals and the occasional passing puffing pig, yet there was still a lack of dolphins, even with a tip off from another vessel. Despite our lack of large cetaceans, spirits remained high and sarcastic comments regarding the naming of the Hebridean ‘Whale and Dolphin’ Trust were surplus. One such remark suggested that it should be more aptly known as the Hebridean Seal and Shark Trust, which I don’t think will catch on considering Kerry’s reaction. (WE HAD WHITE-BEAKED DOLPHINS!-Kerry)

With the end of every day comes a new destination, fine cuisine and a search for the nearest pub, and today we finally found one. It goes without saying that by 20:00 our bellies were full and our thirsts were quenched. All that remained of the evening was to enjoy the music of a Scottish Folk Band in the village hall, and with the purchase of the trio’s CD we finally have something else to listen to in the morning.

I will now leave you with the final stanza from Norman MacCaig’s poem, ‘Basking Shark’.
“So who’s the monster? The thought made me grow pale,
For twenty seconds while, sail after sail,

The tall fin slid away and then the tail.

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Teen Trip Day 3

Published: 15/08/2014

Day 3

10 hours survey effort

67 miles

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

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

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

-Mairi and Kirsty

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Teen Trip 2, Day 1

Published: 13/08/2014

31.4 miles

7:07 hours survey effort

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

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

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

Mireia and Emily

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