Ardnamurchan Whale Tales: part I

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse volunteer Craig Mackie reflects on his first week in post

 A classic west coast sunet.

A classic west coast sunet.

I arrived at Ardamurchan lighthouse on Monday the 13th and was almost immediately greeted by two bottlenose dolphins feeding just off shore from our viewing platform. Having already seen harbour porpoise from the ferry to Kilchoan this filled me with confidence that the month I was to spend here surveying would be both eventful and successful. This confidence was, however, slightly stifled over the next five days where wind and rain made viewing difficult, if not impossible and no sightings were recorded between Tuesday and Saturday.

I had organised for a community wildlife watch to take place on the Sunday and was hoping that having more eyes on the water would help in the spotting. However, after a poor week of spotting I was starting to worry that we might not get anything at all. Luckily on Saturday night the weather changed, with the wind dropping and the sky clearing creating a classic west coast sunset and hopefully showing signs of better watching weather.

 Some of the volunteers on the look out at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.

Some of the volunteers on the look out at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse.

Waking up on the Sunday I was hopeful, the wind had died right down along with the swell and chop that had hidden the cetaceans in previous days. The watch started at 12pm and we had to wait a whole minute before sighting our first bottlenose at 12:01 out towards the isle of Coll and it was only another 20 minutes before a second was also spotted. It wasn't long before some crowds, involving both tourists, locals and other volunteers from Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, gathered.

However, after a fast start it was another hour before the next sighting. Noticing one of the volunteers getting cold I offered to make a round of teas and coffees and naturally, that was when the next sighting occurred. A pod of 10+ common dolphins to the south feeding, I arrived just in time to catch them and no sooner had I managed to focus on the group than a minke whale burst through the water in the middle of the group. We had been here for less than two hours and had seen more already than I had in the entire week. Another 20 minutes passed when we started to notice some seabird activity to the west. A large group of gannets diving about 2.5KM from shore and after viewing that for about 3 minutes a minke whale finally surfaced. The whale surfaced two more times before disappearing just as fast as it had arrived. It was around this point that the wind started to pick up again making sightings more difficult and sadly that was the final recording of the day.

 Some more dedicated watchers

Some more dedicated watchers

The Community day had drawn almost 100 visitors over the course of the 4 hours watch and all seemed both enthusiastic and surprised by the fantastic opportunity to see cetaceans from Ardnamurchan. I look forward to next week’s community watch and the sightings will bring me a new spirit for the week of watching ahead.