Silurian Blog

Sunday 24th May 2015

Published: 26/05/2015

Porpoising Minke

Tobermory, Mull to Loch Scresort, Rum


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

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

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

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

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

Helena Voet & Diego Rita



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Tuesday 19th May 2015

Published: 20/05/2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Monday 18th May 2015

Published: 20/05/2015

Anchorage: Rum
Distance Travelled: 56.7nm  

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

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

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

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

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

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



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Sunday 17th May 2015

Published: 18/05/2015

Anchorage: Plockton
Lat: 57” 20’ 4’ north
Long: 005” 38’ 6’ west
Distance Travelled: 28.8 nm
Time surveying: 4 hours 48 minutes 24 seconds

Fourth day

We woke to a small hiccup - the generator had shifted in the engine room as we made our toast. This caused a delay, so Kerry gave us an educational presentation based on HWDT’s findings over the years to fill the time. Edd and Jon, with the help of Stewart, fixed the generator just in time for the otter’s breakfast on the shoreline. We had our second breakfast of bacon and egg rolls before setting off around Scalpay and up the coast of Raasay. Today we sighted two common seals, one grey seal and one unidentified seal, along with 5 acoustic detections of porpoises. We dropped the anchor in Plockton, just as the rain set in. Meret and Sarah are cooking up a vegetarian curry before we step foot on land for the first time in 4 days to go to the pub.

After ANOTHER otter sighting, we walked to the pub and noticed a sign stuck to the window of a house with bold lettering that read

"SILURIAN!  Free wifi, showers and coffee"

Jan Storie, (long time dedicated volunteer for HWDT, who can often be seen on local ferries as she records her sightings and educates the masses) had seen via marinetraffic.com that Silurian was in the vicinity and offered her hospitality to the weary researchers. What a lovely welcome to Plockton! Despite her kind offer, the silurianites were quite happy to remain unshowered for another day. But thanks for the offer Jan!



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Saturday 16th May 2015

Published: 18/05/2015

Anchorage: caolas scaleay
Lat: 57 degrees 16.3 minutes north Long: 005 degrees 58.2 minutes west
Distance Travelled: 39.8 nm

First full day

On awakening we woke up to at least 5 harbour porpoises around the boat at breakfast which was a lovely start to the morning. The plan was to head for the Isle of Skye. As we got out of the bay the weather became unpleasant so we headed towards the coast line and b-lined our way down whilst getting a face full of hailstones.

As we approached Kyle Rhea we noticed a lot of birds such as large gulls and gannets feeding, this was then followed by sightings of both grey and common seals which was a good sight to see. Another sighting of a single harbour porpoise was spotted and a few more seals were seen on the rest of the journey as well. At the end of the day it was good fun despite the weather.



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Friday 15th May 2015

Published: 18/05/2015

HWDT2 Blog  
Day 1 Anchorage: Tarbet Bay
Lat: 56˚ 58’ 4” N
Long: 005˚ 38’ 2” W
Distance Travelled: 41.2nm  

This week’s team met on a blue bench after arriving from different parts of the UK. In the gorgeous sunshine we anchored at our mooring for the night with a beautiful view of Tobermory Bay. We all gathered in the saloon for tea, biscuits and introductions then decamped to our cabins for an early night.

  We woke to a chilly morning and left over crumble for breakfast. A few presentations and a safety briefing later, we set sail, making sure we were all prepped and ready to go in our oil skins. We all set about our duties, whether it be on the mast or at the computer, with Stuart spotting a possible basking shark.

We rounded Ardnamurchan Point, which is adjacent to the most westerly land point in the British Isles and supposed sea watching hot-spot. By this point, the bad weather truly kicked in; we were in for a bumpy ride. We started dropping like flies as sea-sickness took its toll, but we didn't let this dampen our spirits.

  On the horizon, in sea state 3, an unidentified cetacean was spotted from the mast by Stewart. Dinner in a cup was passed round as the boat rocked. The rest of the afternoon brought a minke whale, a pod of harbour porpoises, a common seal and more rain.  

We travelled a distance of 41.2nm and surveyed for 6 hours 44 minutes 22 seconds, having to relocate our desired anchoring for the night twice due to the wind not being in our favour, then being too heavy to anchor in Mallaig.  

After changing into dry clothes we cleaned the boat and Stuart and Stewart prepped dinner, a lovely ‘stirfry'. After eating, we played bananagrams until we all fell asleep.



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Friday 8th May 2015

Published: 11/05/2015

Friday

  Silurian Bothy Nights  

After the stunning evening of the night before, Friday morning transpired equally beautiful;  calm, clear and view rich.  Edd and Jon skilfully navigated us through the narrow, twisting channel as the volunteers admired the mountains and Kerry worked on the recalcitrant survey technology.  We transected to the south of Colonsay and then westwards to Dubh Artach Lighthouse.

Our hopes were raised as we encountered rafts of Guillimots interspersed with Gannets, Kittawakes, Gulls and even a Bonxie.  However, no Dolphins or Porpoises announced their presence;  was this to be yet another day of Cetacean frustration?  Well, C'est la vie, no one complained as the wind remained light, the sun shone and nature kindly provided us with the flip side of Tuesday's evil weather.

Like the Elders of the Elves sailing for the Grey Havens, we sailed through the Tolkeinesque sea and landscape of the Inner Hebrides, gliding past the dragon-backed mountains of Jura and Mull.  Then, magic!  A confirmed porpoise sighting!  The Science Officer jumped with glee and danced a hornpipe in front of the mast whilst singing a sea shanty.  Thereafter, the first mate produced, for our culinary delectation, a sophisticated dish of global renown;   "Minke, Minke, Minke".     

On arrival at the gentle and cosy haven of Tinker's Hole, by the island of Erraid, Ed proved his navigational skills yet again in the narrow entry channel.   

Given that no-one had showered or even washed for a week the Skipper ordered all able bodied, volunteer matelots into the water. Sarah was first off the plank and dived, gracefully, nay Selkie like, into the clear, warm, turquoise waters.  Alison was next followed by Jess, Kerry and Edd;  the latter two seemingly walking on water like the sea gods of old and both exited quickly,  apparently without getting wet!  Her dive won Sarah the first EMOTD of the day.  Like Victoria Crosses, these awards are given only in exceptional circumstances and unbelievably, this was the first of three this very day.  

Geoff avoided the swim, quoting his age as justification for not diving in (huh! What IS he on about, he's only 78! ). Bruce W also declined on the basis that his body double was not present to take the risk on his behalf.
  After the cleansing process was complete Jon ushered an intrepid group to the Zodiac to travel to Erraid.  At this point, Geoff won the second EMOTD of the day by leaping from the deck of the Silurian straight in to the Zodiac like a young Panther.

 Once on Erraid, Jon led the way by a long wet, dangerous route to a hidden cove with the most gorgeous silvery beach in existence where he intended to swallow dive off a high cliff after climbing to the top. He began his climb as the others watched and wondered (that is, everyone except for Jess's alter ego - Emily Vandal, who tore up the sand and despoiled the pure, pristine environment, completely and absolutely).  Anyway, half way up the dangerous off-width crack gravity took charge and Jon won the third EMOTD of the day, entering the water with the grace of a gannet, flying upside down and backwards, with it's wings tied behind it's back.  

Once the group was back on board Alison and John served up a truly delumptuous meal of "Rich man's poor man's soup".  Then, oh! What an evening and oh! how we all laughed and sang and danced - it was heaven on earth with the voices of angels and the music of the gods of the sea.. Yes, it was the Silurian Bothy Band and they gave of their best with mellifluous and melodious renditions, of amongst others;  Song of the Cetacean Siren, I am a Humming Island, Confessions of a Silurian Volunteer, Porpoise Percussion Protocols, I'm on Effort Sleeping behind my Sunglasses and the famous Sea State Symphonies the latter redolent of Mendelshon's Fingal's Cave - most appropriate as we were within swimming distance of that very place. At long last, the band fell silent and the Porpoise Arm Dancing came to an end.
 
After the expensive and delicate musical instruments were carefully stowed away Sarah used her not insubstantial drawing skills to produce a truly sophisticated piece of art, creating an amazingly lifelike Cetacean and then using her silvery tongue she conjured up a list of words of magic.  

Such an evening, such experiences are few and far between, the memories of which must be kept, safe as valued treasures to be brought forth from the vaults of our minds wherein they lie to be used during the dark, lonely days of our old age when we are landlocked, far from the sound of the waves, the smell of the sea and the Cetaceans that we so dearly love..  
Out Bruce Willis



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Thursday 7th May 2015

Published: 11/05/2015

Thursday Loch Tarbet, Jura
55˚  57’ 9 N    005˚  54’6 W
Distance travelled 47.6 Nautical Miles  

Silurian is resting peacefully on her hook in the middle of a stunning wild Scottish sea loch. Despite the choppy seas we have just navigated through down the west coast of Jura, the inner loch is tranquil and calm with just a gentle breeze rippling the peaty surface. Warm sunshine bathes our faces and the only human made thing to appear within our eyesight is a discreet bothy on the far shore. We crept in with the tide through a "keyhole" from the outer loch, and have no other yachts in here to share such a beautiful anchorage with. Only the soothing calls of cooing Eider duck and the summer calls of Wheatear "disturb" the peace.

I've been lucky to enjoy some amazing anchorages in the Caribbean straight out of magazine photo-shoots, but really, in modern crowded times it doesn't get much better than this.  

The day began on the other side of the same ancient mountains in Jura's southeastern  settlement of Craighouse. Gathered around the breakfast table stories and jokes are shared as we have become much more than strangers we were just a few days ago, and friend and companionships have been  swift in blossoming. When we pulled the anchor up it came along with the extra surprise of  a whole bunch of seaweed, and to my delight two types of free healthy food is in the mix; sea lettuce and sugar kelp. The kelp is dried on the stantions, like pairs of socks in the wind as we set off  to the NE up the Sound of Jura.

Already several members of the Silurian crew are adventurous and curious enough in their culinary taste to start looking at the recipe for Sugar Kelp crisps. Two circling White Tailed Eagles bid us farewell as we prepare for the day's surveying.  

Despite good sea conditions and beautiful scenery in the Sound, cetacean sightings are elusive, but both Sarah and Kerry find reward for their dedication with sightings of Harbour Ps, and the hydrophone we lovingly trawl behind our stern also comes up with the data and goods with another 13 H P detections. But we all get to enjoy other pelagic wildlife that has travelled back to these waters from distant seas. Locally breeding Gannets and auks are back from the North Atlantic and the Manx Shearwaters have been even further afield venturing south of the equator,  whilst the Kittiwakes we have been seeing have probably spent months on end far away from the sight of the coast. Just as a sailor friend once told me, "land will lead you astray  you know"- seabirds probably agree. We have also seen "pirates of the sea", squas (dark phase Artics and Pomerines) and graceful "sea swallow" terns.  

The good ship Silurian handles softly through the spectacular and famous tide race of the feared Corryvreckan. Skipper Edd's tidal calculations are obviously spot on, as only would be expected. Having such an experienced, calm and competent captain gives us all  security and safety. Lunch in a cup is served just as Neptune makes the seas a little lumpy, but up at the mast  Geoff and Alison are enjoying the ride with the wind in their faces , as well as keeping their eyes peeled. Geoffs enthusiasm and energy inspire us all at 79 years young. Doug as always is also on the lookout even in his rest time, a gentle nature lover with a wealth of interesting tales and facts from the highlands and islands. Sarah has her "sea maps" out whilst Alison's cheeks smile after sighting a friendly Puffin. John's witty sense of humour always keeps us in check and giggling, even though he has started using Gannet's wingspans as a universal measurement of distance on everything. Jess pops her friendly smile through the hatch and calls "slow down please",softening the seas and even the most hardy of helmsmen with such gentle commands.

Waterfalls and wild beaches drift by on port side.  

The long Scottish spring evenings give us the time to take the dingy ashore before yet another delicious evening meal. We wander along the deserted loch shoreline, enchanted by the peace and the wilderness. Otter tracks are spotted, but so too is something more sinister. I find plastic marine litter from the Basque Country in Spain, Iceland and what I think is Greece or Bulgaria by the language, marring the nature of this otherwise pristine island sea loch. A reminder of the international nature of the problems and solutions facing marine conservation today. Although some would say they are only small grains of sand, my heart is gladdened by being able to help in the meaningful and important research work that we carry out aboard Silurian and the HWDT.  

So many wonderful things and laughter and smiles in one day. I hope we might hear the calls of  divers as we look at the clear nightime skies stretching above. What will tomorrow's survey bring?  

Jon- Silurian first mate



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Saturday 9th May 2015

Published: 11/05/2015

The “longest day”- No- Not the film- But day 7, HWDT1

Anchorage- Gometra

This was by far the best day so far for weather, birds and minke whales. Even the sun was shining all day! We started off by doing a ‘U-turn’ with Edd in charge. Then it was full speed ahead towards the Arctic Circle. The ancient mariner (Geoff) was placed before the mast for the 1st hour and frequently ‘disciplined’ for looking at the sails instead of the wild life! Fortunately, for him, he was not thrown overboard or keel hauled!!   When he was ‘relay’ or ‘computer’ the instructions were usually supplied in duplicate because he was unable to understand their strange accents.

“there was an old fella called Geoff who was remarkably deaf his interpretation of their observations was often the main cause of grief!”  

The Silurian crew were unable to catch any fish overnight, but somehow did manage to catch a creel buoy instead! They are still looking for a suitable method of cooking it and a bigger utensil that will hold it. A recipe has not yet materialised, but with a few herbs, seaweed and carrots, it should provide another substantial meal. These citizen scientists will eat almost anything, and prefer not to question the origin of the species until well digested- we don’t go in for recycling meals.  

A good deal later, in his ‘rest’ period, Geoff was allowed to take the helm, which is why we followed a rather wobbly ‘straight course.’  Fortunately, Edd didn’t have to do a U-turn to correct the deviations and we sailed on towards the Treshnish Isles with good views of Eigg, Muck and Rhum on the horizon.

Geoff’s attempt to identify the sonar noises was of little use to the Navy- he couldn’t distinguish a nuclear sub from a singing shrimp- Even an ADD was only observed from about 200m.  

After about 12 hours on duty the crew and volunteers were so knackered that even the game with animal cards was just too much for anyone. Most of us went to bed before the next day started. It’s a hard life being a volunteer!

Signing off- The Ancient Mariner. (Almost 79 years old!)

P.S- we had a “whale of a time” and even saw some minkes- but no killer whales or basking sharks.



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Wednesday 6th May 2015

Published: 09/05/2015

Day 3
Anchorage: Jura
Lat: 55˚ 50” 2 N Long: 005˚ 56’ .6” W
When the madness sets in….  

Today had started off pretty normal, we all got up, had breakfast, Edd did some great manoeuvring to get the Silurian out off the side of the pier and we set off on a calm sea, all kitted up ready for a day surveying……We set off from colonsay, headed along the sound of islay, with Islay on one side and Jura on the other, and then out into the deeper water…..this is where things started to go awry……. the wind had  started to get up and the swell along with it, however us hardy lot continued to battle on, it was at this point I took my position on the left side of the mast,  We have to have our life lines on at all times and I am writing this blog now forever thankful that they were created…..due to a HUGE crashing wave coming at the boat at the time I was checking the million white caps for possible dolphins found me crashing to the ground and sliding right across  to a surprised Doug (aka bruce willis) and almost off the side of the boat, my safety guaranteed due to my life line, Saviour Bruce managed to pick me up, drenched, bedraggled and a little shocked as everyone came to check I was ok, which also saw me being given the first of todays E.M.O.T.D,  10 minutes later my shift at the mast was over, 20 minutes later surveying was over for the day, the wind had beat us…..however then something magical happened, we had all got on well from the start and conversation never ran dry…..but with time on our hands we could all really get to know each other, it started slowly with everyone stood (or in jess's case napping) watching as Ed, John and Kerry safely anchored us in our port for the night, Jura.

Things were kicked off with freshly made cup of tea and fresh cooked brownie, courtesy of Kerry.  The decision not to go ashore was quickly made as we were sheltered, however the wind was making a safe landing impossible . So armed with tea and cake we sat around the table chatting, Geoff, one of the volunteers, got out some old photos he had brought with him, some were of a catamaran he had once owned and the others were of some of his time in Tanzania, the photos were followed up with stories about his time there.    

After this the group broke up slightly as Jeff and Jess went to make dinner and I went to spend some time with Kerry at the computer learning all about Pamgaurd (the programme used with the hydrophone, as this is an aspect I have found extremely interesting on this trip.    

We then all found ourselves back around the table where conversation turned to sayings and what they meant, which led Ed to produce a book about sea sayings and more useful(?) knowledge was lapped up.

Then it was dinner time, we had set the table and as we all sat around waiting for the dinner to be brought through.  Tonights menu being lunch time leftover cous cous, Mushroom and leek risotto, served with home grown lettuce (provided by me) and then treacle or ginger sponge and custard for afters, plenty to go around as always, even though our second E.M.O.T.D went to Jess for falling up the stairs with risotto in hand and forcing the cleaning crew to come out as some of the risotto ended up all over the floor, this all had us in stitches and laughter never stopped then, as after dinner we decided to play a game.
firstly Kerry got out a folder which was made up a couple of years ago for "storm bound days" from this she gave us 4 riddles, which took us a while to get but a lot of fun was had guessing, then a couple of us produced our own riddles. After a little discussion was had as to which game to play next it was decided that from a deck of British wildlife cards we would all take one, put it on our foreheads then go around and try to guess what we were, this had us crying with laughter, literally, we had everything from funny man John trying to say "grey" using his nuts , Kerry not realising there were THAT many species of frog,  Ed nearly going through every british species smaller than a cat to get to rabbit, to the joker of the pack going to Jess for eventually getting around to false killer whale, which started a whole new discussion for a different day……….

Needless to say we all went to bed that night with sore cheeks from laughing so much.   And on a final note S.O.T.D goes to PAMGUARD, who despite conditions being what they were, detected 2 Porpoise clicks  

Over and out Sarah (volunteer)  



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Tuesday 5th May 2015

Published: 09/05/2015

Blog Day 2
Anchorage: Colonsay
Lat: 56˚ 04’ .280” N Long: 006˚ 10’ .856” W
Distance: 41.2 miles
Time: 6:57:01  

Welcome to the second day on the good ship Silurian, with a full compliment of pigeon-hawks, Bruce Willis’ long lost twin and epic ship boarding manoeuvres in high winds.

  Today started off with the knowledge of easy training time being over and full days of cetacean surveys beginning. Our early morning breakfast was proceeded by a quick seabird identification course, a new task for the person on the relay station to undertake. Thankfully, most seagulls could be lumped together under ‘large gulls' and shags/cormorants are now to be known as ‘shagorants' - it was nice to see realistic expectations of our bird i.d. skills. The descriptions of the birds were also a lot more informative and helpful than yesterday's late night conversation, where a description of a cuckoo that could be heard (and seen by John - our on-board, bird guru) was given as looking like a ‘pigeon-hawk', an idea that took hold and seemed to gain a life of its own.  

Our trip out of harbour was quick to show how spoilt we were by yesterday's weather. For a large part of the day, conditions were given as ‘poor' sightability, rarely getting above 1.5 nautical miles in visibility, compared to yesterday's 10nm. It was also very wet, with a side order of soggy. Cold feet and dripping oilskins hanging up in our rooms were an inevitable result from today's journey.  

Other more relevant results are our two harbour porpoise sightings which included a total of five individuals (S.O.T.D, goes to Sarah, who managed to spot a single porpoise in very adverse conditions). There were also 11 harbour porpoise detections through our sound equipment, and one very exciting moment had Kerry running up onto deck after hearing a possible bottlenose dolphin (sadly this wasn't seen) at the same time as a porpoise was detected acoustically. (Bottlenose chasing a porpoise??)

Bird sighting of the day was a (probable) Arctic Skua, and lots of Kittiwakes, Razorbills and other gulls and auks were seen. I personally got very excited at seeing the Great northern sea divers which seemed to hang about our harbour.   We finished up at Colonsay, in still wet but somewhat calmer conditions. We even organised a trip to shore, which involved John taking us in two groups of three (girls first, then guys), using the onboard inflatable dingy.
We had a very nice wander about the village, which was positively teaming in terms of Hebridean Island communities, saw the Minke whale skeleton at the local community centre, and ended up at ‘The Pantry' café. Here we were enticed inside, sopping wet outerwear and all, by the friendly owner. Douglas took it upon himself to make today's dessert by buying essential ingredients, such as tiffins, millionaire's shortbread and the local Colonsay slice.  

The trip back was probably the most life defying act of the day, and led to the inclusion of the E.M.O.T.D, or ‘Epic Manoeuvre Of The Day' award, currently held by Douglas. The sea, during our short stay onshore, had become much worse with extremely (from our perspective) high waves. John, who needed someone confident in the boat to jump on board to secure the dingy, volunteered Douglas to come along with Sarah and I, who were more than a little nervous. It seems that Douglas wanted to live up to his status of Bruce Willis' long lost twin (a title that had been given through yesterday's late night conversation, due to his slight resemblance to the actor and the fact he has a twin called Bruce) he stepped gracefully from the  inflatable side of the dingy, onto the platform which was alternatively moving from as high as our chests, to below sea level - in an entirely un-synced way to our craft.   The rest of us were not nearly as graceful in our boarding manoeuvre, despite Doug's best effort to keep the boat steady and getting thoroughly soaked for his pains. My attempted jump onboard failed when I lost confidence halfway through and ended up doing a slow-mo fall backwards into Sarah's lap. Sarah didn't attempt the jump, having looked fairly terrified during the whole procedure! Instead we powered the dingy to the side of the Silurian, where Edd and Kerry, who had stayed behind, lowered the ladder down to us so that we could scramble up in relative ease.    

The spectacle we made was probably quite interesting to the party left behind on shore, who were trying to work out how best to signal that they would be fine staying the night in the harbour, really, rather than try to make the same journey. In the end I managed to phone my Dad, the other John, to tell him that they could take a break in the local café while we brought the Silurian alongside. By the time everyone was back on board, thoroughly drenched, we were all very grateful that Sarah had recovered from the adventure to make a truly welcome and delicious meal of chicken with veg and white sauce, with Doug's café cakes for afters.   Signing off for now, Alison (Volunteer).       



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Tuesday 5th May 2015

Published: 09/05/2015

Blog Day 2
Anchorage: Colonsay
Lat: 56˚ 04’ .280” N Long: 006˚ 10’ .856” W
Distance: 41.2 miles
Time: 6:57:01  

Welcome to the second day on the good ship Silurian, with a full compliment of pigeon-hawks, Bruce Willis’ long lost twin and epic ship boarding manoeuvres in high winds.

  Today started off with the knowledge of easy training time being over and full days of cetacean surveys beginning. Our early morning breakfast was proceeded by a quick seabird identification course, a new task for the person on the relay station to undertake. Thankfully, most seagulls could be lumped together under ‘large gulls' and shags/cormorants are now to be known as ‘shagorants' - it was nice to see realistic expectations of our bird i.d. skills. The descriptions of the birds were also a lot more informative and helpful than yesterday's late night conversation, where a description of a cuckoo that could be heard (and seen by John - our on-board, bird guru) was given as looking like a ‘pigeon-hawk', an idea that took hold and seemed to gain a life of its own.  

Our trip out of harbour was quick to show how spoilt we were by yesterday's weather. For a large part of the day, conditions were given as ‘poor' sightability, rarely getting above 1.5 nautical miles in visibility, compared to yesterday's 10nm. It was also very wet, with a side order of soggy. Cold feet and dripping oilskins hanging up in our rooms were an inevitable result from today's journey.  

Other more relevant results are our two harbour porpoise sightings which included a total of five individuals (S.O.T.D, goes to Sarah, who managed to spot a single porpoise in very adverse conditions). There were also 11 harbour porpoise detections through our sound equipment, and one very exciting moment had Kerry running up onto deck after hearing a possible bottlenose dolphin (sadly this wasn't seen) at the same time as a porpoise was detected acoustically. (Bottlenose chasing a porpoise??)

Bird sighting of the day was a (probable) Arctic Skua, and lots of Kittiwakes, Razorbills and other gulls and auks were seen. I personally got very excited at seeing the Great northern sea divers which seemed to hang about our harbour.   We finished up at Colonsay, in still wet but somewhat calmer conditions. We even organised a trip to shore, which involved John taking us in two groups of three (girls first, then guys), using the onboard inflatable dingy.
We had a very nice wander about the village, which was positively teaming in terms of Hebridean Island communities, saw the Minke whale skeleton at the local community centre, and ended up at ‘The Pantry' café. Here we were enticed inside, sopping wet outerwear and all, by the friendly owner. Douglas took it upon himself to make today's dessert by buying essential ingredients, such as tiffins, millionaire's shortbread and the local Colonsay slice.  

The trip back was probably the most life defying act of the day, and led to the inclusion of the E.M.O.T.D, or ‘Epic Manoeuvre Of The Day' award, currently held by Douglas. The sea, during our short stay onshore, had become much worse with extremely (from our perspective) high waves. John, who needed someone confident in the boat to jump on board to secure the dingy, volunteered Douglas to come along with Sarah and I, who were more than a bit nervous. It seems that Douglas wanted to live up to his status of Bruce Willis' long lost twin (a title that had been given through yesterday's late night conversation, due to his slight resemblance to the actor and the fact he has a twin called Bruce) he stepped gracefully from the  inflatable side of the dingy, onto the platform which was alternatively moving from as high as our chests, to below sea level - in an entirely un-synced way to our craft.   The rest of us were not nearly as graceful in our boarding manoeuvre, despite Doug's best effort to keep the boat steady and getting thoroughly soaked for his pains. My attempted jump onboard failed when I lost confidence halfway through and ended up doing a slow-mo fall backwards into Sarah's lap. Sarah didn't attempt the jump, having looked fairly terrified during the whole procedure. Instead we powered the dingy to the side of the Silurian, where Edd and Kerry, who had stayed behind, lowered the ladder down to us so that we could scramble up in relative ease.    

The spectacle we made was probably quite interesting to the party left behind on shore, who were trying to work out how best to signal that they would be fine staying the night in the harbour, really, rather than try to make the same journey. In the end I managed to phone my Dad, the other John, to tell him that they could take a break in the local café while we brought the Silurian alongside. By the time everyone was back on board, thoroughly drenched, we were all very grateful that Sarah had recovered from the ordeal to make a truly welcome and delicious meal of chicken with veg and white sauce, with Doug's café cakes for afters.   Signing off for now, Alison (Volunteer).       



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Monday 4th May 2015

Published: 08/05/2015

Hwdt1 Blog
Day 1
Anchorage: Loch Spelve
Lat: 56˚ 23’ 0” N Long: 005˚ 43’ 2”

The six volunteers had travelled from all over the UK to arrive at Tobermory and begin our research and conservation adventure. We boarded the HWDT vessel, the Silurian, where we met Kerry (biodiversity officer), Edd (skipper), and John (1st mate). The new team gathered around the table below deck to introduce one another and talk about the exciting experience that was finally about to begin.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner of pasta and a fruit crumble dessert, courtesy of John, shortly after which we all retired to our cabins. For most of us it was the first time sleeping on a boat like this, with shelf-like bunk beds inches from the ceiling - it feels like camp!  

After our first night onboard the Silurian, we got up to have breakfast and prepare for our survey training! Kerry taught us about the kind of animals that we were likely to see (from common dolphins to basking sharks and orcas if we're lucky), and some of the distinctive features we could use to identify them. By midday it was time to put our new found knowledge to the test, and we began our first survey heading south along the coast of the Isle of Mull. Alison and Geoff were the first observers, standing on either side of the mast with binoculars at the ready. Douglas and Sarah were positioned at the computer below deck, ready to record any sightings, course changes, and environmental conditions. Also, every 15 minutes, they listened to the audio being recorded by the hydrophone (an underwater microphone being towed behind the boat). John started off on "rest", while Jess was in the relay position, passing messages from between the observers and data loggers. We rotated around these positions every half an hour, for a total of 6 hours and 38 minutes surveying time. It was great fun, and by the end of surveying we had all had a chance to practice and get used to the survey protocol.  

Alison (spotter of the day - S.O.T.D.) was the first to spot a cetacean, a harbour porpoise that turned out to be the first of 7 porpoise sightings of the day. Most of the porpoises seemed to be foraging, and there was one sighting of four of them swimming together. During surveying, we were also lucky enough to see what we think is an Icelandic Gull, some puffins, and an unidentified seal (who cheekily showed himself after we finished surveying).

It has been a thoroughly enjoyable first day, leaving us all a little tired and excited about the wonderful smells coming from the kitchen thanks to Alison & Sarah's cooking. We are currently anchored in a beautiful sheltered bay, where that same unidentified seal is probably lurking around watching us still. We are very excited about what we could see tomorrow!    



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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.
PUDDING

“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
Mangetout
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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28/9/14

Published: 09/10/2014

28/9/14


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

25/9/14

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
P4-7

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
P5-7
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
P1-3

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.

P4
I enjoyed hearing the voices of whales and dolphins.
I found out it took 1 hour for the sea squirt to fill up.

P5
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.

P6
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.

P7
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
P1-P7

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.
P5-7
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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