Ardnamurchan Whale Tales: part II

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse volunteer Craig Mackie recounts his second week in post

 Craig on Sunday's whale watch...unfortunately no fins that day but plenty of dedicated watchers!

Craig on Sunday's whale watch...unfortunately no fins that day but plenty of dedicated watchers!

I started my second week at the lighthouse with high expectations, and was not disappointed. After our fantastic community watch last Sunday, when I logged my first whale sightings from the lighthouse and had a good turnout from both locals and tourists alike, I was full of enthusiaim for the week ahead.

I awoke on Monday to flat calm seas and sunny skies, giving me the first chance to don my HWDT t-shirt. I usually start my daily watch at 12 midday, however whilst I was setting up to begin, 2 minkes had already appeared, spreading excitement around the groups of people gathering on the platform. I was joined for the whole day by a very enthusiastic couple who spent my entire 4-hour watch with me as we logged 13 minkes in total as well as a few bottlenose dolphins, making for one of the best days whale watching I'd ever had up to that point. 

 Beautiful views of Ardnamurchan

Beautiful views of Ardnamurchan

Sadly, the great weather did not last through the week and, although one minke was spotted late on Tuesday, the strong winds and high seas did not make for great viewing. With the weather not cooperating I decided that Thursday would be my first full day off and I headed inland to see what else Ardnamurchan had to offer. This led me to climbing the ridge of the Ardnamurchan super volcano, a monumental crater formed around 60 million years ago creating a stunning ring of mountains and making for some fantastic scenery. I then headed down past Ardnamurchan campsite, where a local had tipped me off about some fossils that could be found on the rocky shore. Fantastically preserved, there are several fossils there to view including ammonites and Nautilus, as well as some fascinating geology for those interested in such things. 

 Amazing ammonites and Nautilis fossils on Ardnamurchan

Amazing ammonites and Nautilis fossils on Ardnamurchan

The weather cleared up for Saturday's watch and if I'd thought Monday was good then Saturday was incredible; after a slow first hour and with doubt creeping in, the seas erupted with life. Groups of minke and bottlenose dolphin were seen feeding towards Coll and other groups were observed simply travelling through. Recording each individual whale was made extremely difficult by the sheer abundance of sightings available at any given time. By the time my watch had ended I had logged 15 minkes and 6 bottlenose, and I finished for the day with the excited grin of a child at Christmas.

 Recognise this fin? Kasey drops by to say hello!

Recognise this fin? Kasey drops by to say hello!

The day was not over yet though as I went out for an unofficial evening watch, (similar to a day watch but with less paperwork and more beer) and whales were out in force again. There were 4 or 5 individuals circulating the area very close to shore. I was busy watching one when I heard a large spout close to my right hand side and spun around to see a whale rising only 20 metres from the shore. I swung my camera round and finally managed to get the clear pictures of a whale I'd been hoping to get since arriving. The minke disappeared under the surface and a few seconds later the water erupted as shoals of fish leapt from the surface, presumably trying to escape the whale's huge mouth.  

This minke whale has since been identified as Kasey, one of our best loved individuals. Kasey has been frequently spotted in the Hebrides over the past 18 years, since first identified in 2000. If you would like to support minke whale conservation please sponsor Kasey.

 A huge shoal of fish scared to the surface by a hungry minke whale

A huge shoal of fish scared to the surface by a hungry minke whale

The previous day had left me with incredible enthusiasm for Sunday's community watch. However, typical of the west coast of Scotland the weather changed yet again and the sea was once again choppy with high swells and high winds making for difficult viewing. However, although no whales were spotted, there was a good turnout from some very determined viewers, again both locals and tourists were out in force and it was great to hear a few stories from people about their own personal experiences with whales, sharks and dolphins from both the immediate area to further adrift.

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Join Craig at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse foghorn for daily whale watches or come along on Sunday for our big community watch. Craig is in post until the 7th September.