Silurian Blog

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
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 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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Monday 4th August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

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

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



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Sunday 3rd August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

Anchorage: Canna Harbour Distance Travelled: 49.4 miles

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

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

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

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



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Tuesday 5th August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

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

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

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

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



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Saturday 2nd August 2014

Published: 06/08/2014

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

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

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

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

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



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Friday 1st August

Published: 05/08/2014

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

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

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

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



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Saturday 2nd August 2014

Published: 05/08/2014

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

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

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

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



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Thursday 31st July 2014

Published: 02/08/2014

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

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

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

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



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Wednesday 30th July 2014

Published: 31/07/2014

HWDT7
Tobermory to Puill Dobhrain
Anchorage: Puill Dobhrain
Distance Travelled: 27.6
Reading through blog posts from previous trips I couldn’t help but notice frequent mention of cake. Undoubtedly cake would have been very welcome after a day in which cetaceans were conspicuous only in their absence (barring a questionable porpoise sighting by the scientist on board), but it was not to be. Having already omitted to actually record the first hydrophone recording, I then turned off the cake-laden oven, congratulating myself for preventing an explosion, and, not undeservedly in my mind, was expecting gushing praise. It was dismaying to be met with derision and scorn.
Silurian left Tobermory around two o’clock in changeable weather, which apparently is to be expected in the Hebrides. I had nodded along quietly during the explanations of cetacean identification, how to log data, and what to do when anyone fell overboard, and am currently hoping that I’m not the only one who doesn’t remember most of what I was told.
The journey was uneventful, which probably explains the slightly hysterical and inappropriate jokes I’ve been making, received in baffled silence by whoever happens to be near. But, as in all places, bird enthusiasts had plenty to occupy themselves with; the loudest yelp of the day came as a puffin flapped wildly along the surface of the water off the bow. Gannets, guillemots, razorbills, and shags, among others, provided what I think can be fairly described as entertainment, given the lack of Killer whales. Other than that the only noises coming from the front of the boat were ‘Creel buoys!’, ‘Sighti…Oh, no wait….yeah, yeah it’s nothing,’ and the occasional throat clearing.
The ‘scientist’ tells me the hydrophone picked up four ‘acoustic porpoise events’, which I’ve been trying to make a joke out of, but it’s the end of the evening, and all my attempts have been lame. A propitious start, I think…things can only get better etc etc.


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Wednesday 23rd July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silurian out.



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Thursday 24th July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

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

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

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



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Wednesday 23rd July 2014

Published: 25/07/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silurian out.



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Tuesday 22nd July 2014

Published: 24/07/2014

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

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

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

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

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

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



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