2019-09-30 - Ullapool-Stornoway
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.
50 Common Dolphin
1 White beaked Dolphin
1 small unidentified Cetacean
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