The first leg of this survey was pretty unproductive, by Hebridean standards, with a relatively high sea state and little to report until we passed out of the Sound of Mull, apart from a solitary white tailed eagle sitting on the nest.
As we moved across the wider Sea of Hebrides the sea state dropped marginally and we found huge rafts of manx sheawaters sitting on the water in their thousands but still no marine mammals apart from a solitary porpoise. A very brief sighting of a probable Minke whale infront of the ship wetted the taste buds but didn’t produce much more for a few hours. Half an hour out of Castlebay we noticed splashes behind a trawling fishing boat and were surprised to come across a group of 9 or 10 Risso’s dolphins. They were breaching and tail slapping, a little too close to the fishing boat for comfort, but they provided a beautiful sighting none the less, rounded the day off nicely.
The next morning we boarded to find a mirror calm sea with sporadic bouts of fog. But the morning was exceptional. We picked up small groups of porpoise all the way to Oban and another 4 of the Risso’s showed themselves. The sighting of the day came as we approached the Cairns of Coll, we picked up a very small juvenile Minke whale off our starboard side. A very short while later a huge splash appeared ahead off port as a large Minke started to breach. 8 breaches later and the team were ecstatic and we had taken some great photos of what might well have been mother-calf communications.
This was a phenomenal survey and as always the crew of the MV Isle of Lewis made us extremely welcome and participated in our research. Thank you to Captain Scott and his crew and to CalMac ferries for continuing to facilitate our surveys.
Minke whale 3
Risso’s dolphins 13
Harbour Porpoise 20+
Grey and common seals 15+
Great black backed gull
Lesser black backed gull
Andy Gilbert, Hazel Smith, Carol Morris, Alistair MacGugan