Oban–Castlebay

2019-09-09 - Oban–Castlebay

Survey details

Survey route: Oban–Castlebay

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-09-09

Number of nights: 1

As always we were warmly welcomed onto the bridge of the Isle of Lewis and soon settled into surveying. The first couple of hours was quiet and once we entered the Sea of Hebrides we found a sea state of 4-5 with a big swell.


Around the Cairns of Coll, just as the Captain was telling us about the dolphins that he had seen in recent days, a single common dolphin appeared right below the bridge on the starboard side leaping out of the air before it went under the ship. A short while after 2 more common dolphins approached the ship from the port side.


It was interesting to still see a good number of manx shearwaters out in the Minch and the birders amongst us were pleased to pick up a sooty shearwater heading south. 


As we crossed Hawes Bank another 6 common dolphins raced towards the ship.


We had a comfortable overnight in the hostel in Castlebay before we had to turn in as the morning sailing had been brought forward to 05:30 to run ahead of oncoming bad weather.


By 06:15 it was light enough to survey and we found the swell and sea state had dropped to a sea state 2. Our first sighting was fantastic, if a little brief. Fins were spotted from the port side some distance off but they were only showing occasionally and only with fin tips. They seemed to be milling or circling and we were struggling to identify them without a full fin or body. When we had passed them and they were behind the ship a couple of them surfaced with large fins and one showed the unmistakable white eye patch of an orca!  Sadly, that was about all that we saw of them but it was wonderful to know that they were there. There were 3 animals, all of them females or juveniles looking at the fin sizes. Interestingly, a couple of days previous, the Skye to Harris ferry a few miles north, had recorded a pod of 7-8 orcas, including at least one male. At the moment that group has been unidentified from fin recognition. 


As we approached the bank again we started picking up common dolphins in small groups. We recorded 23 in total with 1 calf. 3 harbour porpoise in the entrance to the Sound of Mull and another 4 on the other side near Lismore Light rounded off the survey nicely.


Marine MammalsSeen:


Harbour porpoise 7


Common dolphins 32


Orca 3


Birds Seen:


Gannet, kittiwake, brent geese, guillemot, shag, manx shearwater, great skua, Arctic skua, fulmar, great black backed gull, sooty shearwater, European storm petrel and cormorant.

Survey team members

Andy Gilbert, Beth Harvey, Linda Fahy, David Schofield

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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


Other:


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


Other:


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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