Survey Reports

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

Survey sightings

Cetacean sightings: N/A

Bird sightings: N/A

Other animals: N/A

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