2019-09-09 - Oban–Castlebay
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.
Harbour porpoise 7
Common dolphins 32
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