As with all three of the Hebrides surveys, this route from Oban to Castlebay looks like it could be an exciting one. The new surveyors met in the ferry terminal and once we were aboard, out of the bay in Oban and crossing the Firth of Lorn, we were welcomed onto the bridge. The extremely friendly and enthusiastic crew informed us that they had seen a few porpoise that day as they left Oban Bay.
Sea state was good, varying between 2-3 throughout the afternoon and visibility was generally at maximum. The Sound of Mull was relatively quiet but calm and we were excited to reach open water and find more seabirds including kittiwakes, Manx shearwaters and guillemots and razorbills. The Cairns of Coll, an area of skerries and reefs to the north of Coll, can be very good for cetaceans according to the crew but we didn't pick anything up as we passed them. Hawes bank was the next area of interest – a bank where large numbers of common dolphins have been recorded in the past but despite good and increased numbers of seabirds highlighting the productivity of the bank, the cetaceans remained elusive. Some large barrel jellyfish were seen though.
Finally between the bank and Castlebay on Barra a single dolphin briefly showed itself as it quietly crossed the bow of the ship. It was probably a bottlenose dolphin but the sighting was a little too brief to identify it with certainty. A bit further on, closer to the island, a single harbour porpoise was picked up.
The team had a very pleasant overnight stay in the cosy Dunards hostel on Barra before an early start back aboard for the second leg. A slightly higher sea state saw it vary between 2-4 throughout the crossing. Unfortunately no more marine mammals were picked up, apart from some seals hauled out on Lady's Rock just off the Isle of Mull, but we were treated to puffins between Barra and Coll plus great views of red throated divers flying down the Sound of Mull, as well as a majestic juvenile white-tailed eagle.
Total Animals Seen:
Unidentified dolphin x1
Harbour porpoise x1
Great black-backed gull
Great northern diver
Red throated diver
White-tailed sea eagle
Common seals hauled out