With the recent sunny weather warming the waters and tales of minke’s spotted by one of the survey team on a ferry from Oban the previous day, the ORCA team boarded the Isle of Lewis full of anticipation.
We accessed the bridge as we were entering the Sound of Mull and were made welcome by the extremely friendly crew. The Sound is invariably the most sheltered part of the crossing and throughout the survey, to and from Barra, the sea state ranged from 1-2 in the sound to 4-5 in open water, along with varying banks of fog and mist.
Despite the poor sea states and varying visibility our first sighting was of a minke whale just past the Cairns of Coll that rolled ahead of the ship in the fog. Further on, Hawes bank was relatively quiet with no dolphins spotted despite plenty of foraging manx shearwaters and auks. Another sighting of a minke whale which appeared and rolled meters away from the bow was had on the Bank and the rest of the sailing was quiet apart from a brief harbour porpoise, again crossing close to the front of the bow, not far off Barra.
We had an overnight in the hostel which comprised of a cuddle with the resident cat and chats with other hostel users doing exciting activities like sea kayaking or cycling up the Outer Hebrides. This was followed by a brief pint in the local bar before we all hit our bunks, tired, after a slightly intense low visibility survey. We heard lots of cuckoos and even a corncrake in the morning before setting off to the ferry at 7am.
More fog and a slightly higher sea state greeted us for the return sailing but we did pick up another minke whale and a handful of common dolphins before entering the Sound of Mull again where we picked up a couple of seals.
This was a great survey with an enthusiastic team and good numbers of minke whales despite the foggy conditions. Thanks, as always to the crew and CalMac for supporting us and enabling our data gathering.
Minke whale x3
Common dolphin x8
Harbour porpoise x1
Grey and unidentified seal x3
Herring gull, Common gull, Arctic tern, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Grey heron, Manx shearwater, Shag, Cormorant, Black guillemot, Northern gannet, Atlantic puffin, Great skua, Northern fulmar, Canada geese
Andy Gilbert, Hugh Tooby, Siofra Quigley, Clara Douglas