On board Silurian
Silurian is HWDTs research and
Most weeks April through October she is either monitoring
the waters of the west coast of Scotland for whales, dolphins, and
porpoises, or serving as a floating classroom for one of the many Argyll
island primary and secondary schools.
log below to find out what Silurian and her crew have been up to each
week and all about the whales, dolphins and porpoises they spot!
To find out about the latest marine life sightings spotted elsewhere,
If you would like to send the crew an e-mail with your questions click here.
Click here to view the Silurian Log archive.
After over 4000 miles at sea during the 2004 season and hoards of children and volunteers aboard, Silurian
was well overdo for rest and repairs. Skipper and crew were kept very busy the past couple of months giving Silurian a complete overhaul, preparing her for the 2005 season of marine life monitoring and education work. This involved extensive work both above and below decks such as painting and varnishing, updating the instrumentation and science station, and improving and replacing various other systems on board. Also, safety features on the boat were repaired or upgraded such as strengthened guard rail and new non-slip paint. And finally, after months of having only one of the two loos on board functioning, they both now work!
Now that everything on Silurian
is in tip-top shape she will be setting sail for her home harbour of beautiful Tobermory at the beginning of April to begin another busy season on the West Coast of Scotland monitoring the waters for whales, dolphins and porpoises and raising awareness of the importance of conserving the marine environment.
6-15 August – Monitoring trip
Here I was dreaming of long sunny baking days on the deck of the Silurian, watching sharks and whales drift by the boat while I tanned nicely, like last August’s monitoring trip… but it turned out very differently…
Day 1 dawned drizzly and windy (good start), and we headed off to Coll to drop off the education crowd for a festival while the rest of us braved the big waves, drizzle and wind to try to find some life on the seas… the only reason we saw the 3 basking sharks north of Coll is because they happened to be right in front of the boat, minding their own business… mouths wide open filtering out the plankton from the seawater. Unfortunately the joy of seeing the sharks was slightly marred by the feeling of intense seasickness felt by some of the new volunteers.
Fortunately for those prone to seasickness, day 2 took us down the more sheltered waters of the Sound of Mull, to calm seas and perfect porpoise-spotting conditions… and cute white little common seal pups on the rocks off Seil. We moored in Ardfern, but struggled to get off the pontoon the following morning (day 3) with gale force winds blowing hard. However, we did have a fantastic windy and sunny sail down the Sound of Jura that day, and heard lots of porpoises clicking away even if we couldn’t see them in the rough waters. Towards the end of the day as we turned into the Sound of Islay, a blanket of rain and even stronger winds hit us, and we struggled madly to take down the sails and navigate nearly blindly down the Sound as the rain fell in sheets drenching us in seconds… but we eventually found our way through the Sound and nestled away in the stunningly remote and rugged Loch Tarbert on Jura.
On day 4 we woke up to heavy rain, thunder and lightening… dramatic!!! What happened to August sunshine?!!! Despite the continuing rain we did manage to see a very small basking shark with its mother… smallest I’ve ever seen! And saw our one and only Risso’s dolphin of the trip, the prominent dorsal fin clearly visible out of the rain and mist. Although we woke up to beautiful glassy seas, and the mountains reflected in the sea on the morning of day 5, it wasn’t long before the rain started again and the mist closed in. The most we saw all day as we progressed up the Firth of Lorne was the mountains shrouded in mist, and the drips of rain falling off our noses. But we had a giggle anyway singing in the rain and trying a bit of a wet tap dance on deck.
Unusually… day 6 dawned… wet and misty… again… all our waterproofs and clothes were still damp from the previous few days, but the seas were mirror calm, and as the mist lifted slightly we were greeted by the sight of rafts of birds, and lots of feeding activity… always promising for spotting minke whales. We kept our eyes peeled… and before long we had 4 feeding minke whales around us, looming out of the mist. One minke whale came up mouth first out of the water, fish spilling out of its mouth, with the huge white belly of its chin bulging. Another juvenile minke took an interest in us, and came right up to the boat, swimming around us and under us, pointing its beady eye towards us before diving under the boat and coming around again. I’ve never seen a minke so close – it was absolutely amazing. Soon after this encounter we heard that a humpback had been sighted off Skye, so we changed direction to go and investigate, passing close to the columnar rock formations of Staffa and anchoring off Ulva.
We woke up to NO RAIN and sunshine on day 7… yeah!!!! So we set off towards Skye all bedecked with our damp clothes and waterproofs flapping in the wind. A few porpoises were spotted as we made our way up to Mallaig, but it wasn’t long before we spotted the distinctive blow of the humpback. The humpback was pretty easy to find – huge flocks of birds followed its path as it herded fish to the surface to eat, the birds picking off fishes as they came to the surface. We turned off the engine and idled on the surface, and before long the humpback was beside the boat, it’s huge mouth wide open and fish spilling out of the sides as it came to the surface – I got some amazing photographs… and we were all stunned into amazement… WOW! It truly is an amazing sight. It was only a juvenile, so not that big – but still beautiful. We had the hydrophone out (underwater microphone), because humpbacks are the whales that do tend to ‘sing’ a lot (‘whalespeak’ like Dory spoke in ‘Finding Nemo’), but our humpback (‘Carlos’) was too intent on eating to make any sounds. We even went out later that night to listen, but although the sea was teeming with the sounds of porpoises and dolphins clicking as they passed the boat, no humpback song was heard.
The remainder of our trip was spent around Skye, Rum, and Muck, in beautiful sunshine… and greeted by lots of feeding minke whales, lunge feeding and leaping sideways out of the water, their white flippers gleaming in the sunshine. A few huge basking sharks were also seen south of Rum, slowly moving through the sea with their mouths wide open… watched by us as we enjoyed the warmth of the sun on our legs as proper sunny August weather greeted us. What a change to the beginning of the trip! We even managed a few swims in the icy cold water. It was a lovely way to end the trip… and we were all sad to leave at the end.
Clare Embling, researcher at the Sea Mammal Research Unit.