Survey Summary: HWDT 5

 The team of citizen scientists hard at work spotting wildlife

The team of citizen scientists hard at work spotting wildlife

Another team of volunteer citizen scientists joined us on board Silurian in Kyle of Lochalsh on 17th June. After an amazing meal of puttanesca pasta and some ID training, we woke up the next morning eager to begin surveying. However, the weather did not seem to agree with this plan, with howling winds and heavy rain preventing us from leaving the pontoons. The day was certainly not wasted however as we went exploring, visiting the Gavin Maxwell museum, heading up the Eilean Ban lighthouse and spotting some seals from shore. We even managed an evening trip to the pub!

 Spotting seals from Eilean Ban

Spotting seals from Eilean Ban

With the weather very much improving we left early the next day, with the conditions staying settled for the majority of the trip. This meant that we were able to cover an impressive 406.6 miles, spending just under 54 hours on effort looking for marine megafauna. The settled weather meant that we were once again able to get to the Outer Hebrides, even surveying the waters to the west of the Islands.

 Track lines for HWDT05

Track lines for HWDT05

This also meant that we anchored in some spectacular spots! We celebrated summer solstice at Loch Skipport, with the festivities including bright attire, accompanied by fajitas, sangria and a tai chi session in glorious sunshine!

 Celebrating summer solstice on board Silurian 

Celebrating summer solstice on board Silurian 

Another highlight was our anchorage at Vatersay, with white sands and sunny skies making us all feel like we had been transported to the Caribbean! However, a dip in the Atlantic certainly brought things back to reality, with a lost bet in a previous game of scrabble resulting in the marine biodiversity officer going for a swim (who knew beery was a word!).

 Outer Hebrides or the Caribbean?! Our beautiful anchorage at Vatersay

Outer Hebrides or the Caribbean?! Our beautiful anchorage at Vatersay

We had some incredible sightings during the survey, spotting six species of marine mammals, as well as our first basking shark of the season. The real highlight of the trip however, happened on the morning of the 23rd, or what will now forever be known as killer whale day! After leaving our anchorage at Vatersay we began surveying in relatively choppy seas, unaware what was waiting for us! About an hour into the survey day, a shout of “Sighting!” from one of the returning citizen scientists Rob White, sprung us all into action. He soon described that he had seen three big fins. We all waited with bated breath for three minutes until the unmistakable dorsal fin of a male killer whale emerged about 300 meters away. Eight more joined him and we had the greatest half an hour observing the group, which included two large males and two juveniles. One of the males even swam over to the boat to have a look at us! Now that we are back from the survey we are excited to collaborate with other organisations to work out which community these individuals are from. 

 All nine killer whales surfacing in unison - what a sight!

All nine killer whales surfacing in unison - what a sight!

 The two male killer whales that came over for a closer look

The two male killer whales that came over for a closer look

We also had encounters with common and grey seals, harbour porpoise, minke whales and lots of common dolphins, with some groups coming over to bow ride. What an incredible survey!

 One of the many bow riding common dolphins

One of the many bow riding common dolphins

Massive thanks to the citizen scientist team who joined us on board: Aline, Bill, Chris, Dave, Kate and Rod- we couldn't collect the vital data without you.

Thanks also to Scottish Natural Heritage who help fund the data collection programme aboard Silurian.

Feeling inspired to get involved with our marine conservation efforts? It’s not too late to join us on board this season! We still have a few spaces on trips this season, including those departing from Ullapool, which gives us the opportunity to collect data from the northern reaches of our survey area.