2019-08-05 - Oban–Castlebay

Survey details

Survey route: Oban–Castlebay

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-08-05

Number of nights: 1

We were greeted by the crew of the Isle of Lewis and welcomed onto the bridge between Oban and Lismore. The sea state was reasonable but we didn’t pick up any cetaceans until we reached the end of the Sound of Mull. However, an adult white tailed sea eagle flew down the Sound close to the ship giving those on the starboard side great views of it.

When we reached the edge of Loch Sunart we spotted a single Minke whale feeding in the entrance to the loch. As we passed the Isle of Coll we observed a group of 16 common dolphins in the distance racing towards a fishing vessel and associating with the boat. porpoise, 1 with a calf, were then seen as we sailed towards Hawes Bank. The bank itself was pretty quiet but we did have a spectacular sighting of a large basking shark breaching 5 times out of the water making a huge splash. I smaller basking shark was spotted a short while after and another porpoise was seen before the sea state rose to 4 as we cruised towards Castlebay.

We had a comfortable night in the hostel at Catslebay. We were back on ship at 07:15 the next morning and just as we had arrived on the bridge and the ship was exiting the harbour 4 bottlenose dolphins raced to the starboard side and gave us great views. Half an hour later we were recording another small group of common dolphins and very soon after that a group of Risso’s dolphins swam along the port side of the ship. We had clear views of these animals and there were two calves in tow.

The rest of the crossing of the Sea of Hebrides was quiet with the exception of a few harbour porpoise. As we entered the Sound of Mull a group of 4 porpoise were clearly seen crossing the bow. Again, as we crossed the edge of Loch Sunart, a Minke whale showed itself, already being enjoyed by a small boat load of whale watchers. On exit of the sound we recorded another 3 harbour porpoise around Lismore light.

This was an excellent survey where some members of the team were lucky enough to record new species for themselves and everyone enjoyed the basking sharks!  As always, it was made all the better by the warm welcome that we were given by the officers and crew of the Isle of Lewis.    

Marine Mammals Seen:

Harbour porpoise 10

Common dolphin 21

Bottlenose dolphin 4

Risso’s dolphin  7

Minke whale  2

Harbour seal  2

Grey seal  1


Basking shark 2 (1 breaching)

Birds Seen:

Kittiwake, gannet, white-tailed eagle, Arctic tern, great black-backed gull, herring gull, common gull, cormorant, shag, guillemot, curlew, manx shearwater, fulmar, European storm petrel, puffin, great skua, black guillemot.

Survey team members

Andy Gilbert, Pete Short, William Anderson, Pat Hatch

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2019-07-08 - Oban–Castlebay

Survey details

Survey route: Oban–Castlebay

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-07-08

Number of nights: 1

We had a very warm welcome from Captain Mark Scott who met us at the gangway and took us straight up to the bridge, telling us about all the sightings that MV Isle of Lewis had had recently.

Our first sightings was 1 harbour porpoise close to Lismore Light and a couple of common seals in the mouth of the Sound of Mull.

We picked up a Minke whale between the Cairns of Coll and Hawes Bank, and the distant fin of a basking shark. The bank itself was pretty quiet with just 1 porpoise making an appearance. But the sea state was relatively good and we were ever hopeful.

A short while after that a couple of dolphin fins were spotted ahead of port and then the bulk of a group of 12 Risso’s dolphins appeared heading for the ship. These were spread out in a fabulous chorus line and had at least 1 very young calf with them.  As soon as they realized the ship was ahead they broke formation and dispersed around the ship.

Still elated after the fantastic Risso’s sighting we then found a group of 8 common dolphins racing past us not at all interested in the ferry.  As we approached Barra we started to see a large breach in the distance close to land and off our starboard side. It turned out to be an amazing sighting of 2 Minke whales, both breaching, occasionally simultaneously. They each performed a number of times. As if that wasn’t enough, just as we prepared to enter Castle Bay a pair of sub-adult white tailed eagles flew right over the bridge.

The next day we were excited to start but conditions had deteriorated, the wind had risen and there was some fog.  However, not long out of Castlebay another minke whale showed itself close to the vessel and soon after a small basking shark was spotted at the bow of the ship. Unfortunately, that was the last of the sightings apart from 3 common seals close to Lismore on the approach to Oban.

Despite this we had had a fantastic survey and had been made extremely welcome by the crew of the Isle of Lewis.

Marine Mammals seen:

Harbour seal  x5

Grey seal  x1

Harbour porpoise  x4

Common dolphin  x8

Risso’s dolphin  x10

Minke whale x3


Basking shark x2

Birds seen:

Gannet, guillemot, black guillemot, common tern, Arctic tern, kittiwake, common gull, red throated diver, manx shearwater, puffin, Arctic skua, storm petrel, fulmer, great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull and white tailed sea eagle.

Survey team members

Andy Gilbert, Rachel Ball, Stephen Hedley, Hope Maynard

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2019-06-10 - Oban–Castlebay

Survey details

Survey route: Oban–Castlebay

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-06-10

Number of nights: 1

^ Kisimul Castle, Castlebay

We boarded the MV Isle of Lewis in the sunshine on Mon 10th June ready for our survey to Barra. Conditions were breezy but not too choppy so we were hoping for lots of sightings. It was calm and quiet through the Sound of Mull and we were treated to a close up view of a golden eagle as it flew over the ferry and stunning views of the small Isles as we cruised past Ardnamurchan Point. Shortly after we left the Sound of Mull I spotted a harbour porpoise close to the ship raising our expectations that we would be kept busy for the remainder of the trip. However as we left the shelter of Mull more white caps appeared making spotting more difficult. Choppy conditions remained all the way across the Minch and we had no further sightings.

We crossed our fingers and hoped for a busier return journey.

We boarded the ferry again bright and early on Tuesday 11th, the day was slightly cooler and more cloudy but shortly after leaving Castlebay Jan spotted a basking shark off the starboard side of the ship. The Minch was even choppier than the first day making crossing the bridge a little tricky but a while later Jan spotted 2 groups of common dolphins coming towards the ferry and as we approached the Hawe’s Bank Alistair spotted a Minke whale. We were treated to beautiful views of the Coll and Tiree as we entered calmer water closer to Mull and conditions were perfectly calm in the Sound of Mull but we had no more sightings on our way back to Oban.

Thanks to the team for their hard work and to the Captain and crew of the Isle of Lewis for their hospitality.

Cetacean Sightings

1x harbour porpoise

1x Minke whale

2 groups common dolphins 

Bird list

 Oyster catcher, Black guillemot, Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet, Great Skua, Fulmar, Common tern, Arctic tern, Manx shearwater, Kittiwake, Puffin, Golden eagle, Shag, Great black backed gull, Eider duck.

^ The survey team ready for action bright and early on day 2

Survey team members

Jane Dodd, Alastair MacGugan, Andrew Ferguson, Jan Storie

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