Ullapool-Stornoway

2019-09-30 - Ullapool-Stornoway

Survey details

Survey route: Ullapool-Stornoway

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-09-30

Number of nights: Day sailing

The outward journey on the bridge of the MV Loch Seaforth promised some good sightings with reasonably bright weather and a flat Loch Broom. However, there was nothing to be seen in Outer Loch Broom or around the Summer Isles. Once we were past the latter and out into the Minch, the sea state increased to 4 and the swell built from light to moderate which meant that we had numerous whitecaps and reduced sightability to deal with. Unfortunately, the swell increased. Throughout the day, we had several squally rain showers to deal with which stopped as soon as they had started. However, there is always an upside, and with the rain came rainbows, gracing the stunning Hebridean landscape.


One noticeable feature of the trip was the presence of gannets, of all ages, along the route. In several areas their diving was quite dramatic. The crew informed us that there has been a large number of dolphins when they made the crossing earlier so we remained hopeful that some may still be in the area. Although we studied the areas of gannet activity our attempts to see any fins were fruitless.


Two sightings were made, however. an animal was seen beneath the bow. The barest glimpse of something dark before it disappeared. A small swirl on the surface was all we had to go on. A small cetacean was a possibility.


A little further on an animal breached to starboard showing a white underside and leaving a medium-sized splash. A few smaller splashes followed but no definite ID other than a larger type of dolphin, possibly white-beaked.


On the return trip from Stornoway our team was back to full strength and we remained positive as we left the harbour. However, the swell soon rose again and, although the wind seemed to have changed direction, it was still quite challenging from the sightability perspective. Not daunted, one team member reported a large splash but, unfortunately, we didn’t see the animal.


Later on, however, we had several sightings of small groups of common dolphins and one larger group. They were very active and energetic as they approached the vessel and it was exciting to see adults, both above and below water, a calf amongst them. With the mainland in our sights, we noticed, to port and ahead, another large area where gannets were feeding but no cetaceans were seen. From then on, we had a quiet and uneventful journey down Loch Broom to Ullapool as the sun began to dip in the sky.


Thanks to CalMac for their continuing support and also the crew of the Loch Seaforth for their warm welcome, help and kindness. Thanks also to the survey team for a great survey in somewhat difficult sighting conditions.


Cetaceans Seen;


50 Common Dolphin


1 White beaked Dolphin


1 small unidentified Cetacean


Birds seen;


Pink footed geese, gannet, guillemot, great skua, Arctic skua, large gull (juveniles), kittiwake, eider duck, sabine’s gull, fulmar, puffin, cormorant, shag

Survey team members

Jan Storie, Janet Marshall, Sarah Harvey

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2019-09-16 - Ullapool-Stornoway

Survey details

Survey route: Ullapool-Stornoway

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-09-16

Number of nights: Day sailing

It was pretty windy even in Loch Broome today when we started surveying on the bridge of MV Loch Seaforth. For both legs of the survey we experienced a sea state of 4-5 creating a lot of white water and difficult conditions to spot marine mammals in. Our first sighting of the day was recorded by first time surveyor Rachel, who spotted 3 common dolphins right infront of the bow. That was the only sighting of the crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway.


The return crossing was more productive. Soon after we left Stornoway 4 large dolphins were spotted very briefly ahead of the ship porpoising out of the waves in a chorus line formation before disappearing into the choppy seas. These were larger than common dolphins but were seen so briefly that they had to go down as unidentified.


A while later a group of 4 harbour porpoise scrambled to move out of the way of the ferry and surveyors looking down from above had fantastic views of them swimming below the water away from the ship.  


Half way across the Minch another group of 7 common dolphins raced to the ship and some time after 4 more appeared.


We also had some great bird sightings with migrating whooper swans, storm petrels and a number of pale phase Arctic Skuas.


As always the crew of Loch Seaforth made us very welcome and we would like to thank them and CalMac for supporting our conservation work.


Marine Mammals Seen:


Harbour porpoise 4


Common dolphin 14


Unidentified dolphin 4


Birds Seen:


Gannet, great Skua, great Northern diver, fulmar, guillemot, Arctic tern, Arctic skua, storm petrel, razorbill, whooper swan, kittiwake and great black backed gull.

Survey team members

Andy Gilbert, Rachel Buckley, Janine Yarwood

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2019-08-12 - Ullapool-Stornoway

Survey details

Survey route: Ullapool-Stornoway

Company: Caledonian MacBrayne

Sea region: Minches & Western Scotland

Survey start date: 2019-08-12

Number of nights: Day sailing

We were greeted by the crew at the gangway with tales of dolphins at Rue Point so the team was excited to get started. When we arrived on the bridge the wind was higher than we anticipated and we had a pretty quiet crossing in a sea state 4. There were quite a lot of seabirds around but we didn’t pick up any cetaceans until close to Stornoway Harbour where a probable small Minke whale showed in the very same area where another Minke had been recorded by the Wildlife Officer the day before.


The return leg remained choppy. Just off Lewis we counted 4 pale Arctic skuas and watched a tussle between one of them and a kittiwake. Soon after a group of 8 common dolphins (including a couple of calves) raced in to the ship giving us views in amongst the waves.This was to be our only dolphins of the crossing. Despite the sea state reducing on the eastern side of the Minch we didn’t pick up anything else apart from one grey seal and 2 boats of rowers undertaking the mammoth crossing of the Minch from Stornoway to Ullapool in aid of MS. 


Despite the lack of cetaceans we had a great survey and would like to thank the captain and crew of MV Loch Seaforth for their continuing support and facilitation of our bio-diversity monitoring.


Marine Mammals Seen:


Common dolphins 8


Minke whale 1


Grey seal 1


Birds Seen:


Kittiwake, shag, guillemot, razorbill, puffin, fulmar, gannet, Arctic skua, Arctic tern, great skua and great black-backed gull

Survey team members

Andy Gilbert, Jan Storie, Eleanor Butler

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