Ardnamurchan Whale Tales: part III

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse Volunteer Craig Mackie writes about his third week in post

My week started with great excitement as I brought some of my whale photos to the HWDT office in Tobermory on Monday morning. Looking up the minke whale catalogue we soon discovered that the whale I had spotted feeding close to shore last week was in fact Kasey, one of the 3 whales available to sponsor on the HWDT website. Kasey was last seen in August last year, and has been documented every year before dating back to the year 2000. This, unsurprisingly, was a big moment for me; making me feel an even greater connection with the animal I had watched in the bay a few evenings before. 

 Common dolphins from the Calmac ferry between Tobermory and Kilchoan. Can you spot the youngster in the pod?

Common dolphins from the Calmac ferry between Tobermory and Kilchoan. Can you spot the youngster in the pod?

The ferry back to Ardnamurchan was also exciting, with a pod of between 40 and 60 common dolphin spotted hunting along the shore just past Tobermory lighthouse. The ferry crew were nice enough to slow down and give us all an amazing view as the dolphins leapt from the water. Looking at the photographs later I noticed a good number of juveniles amongst the pod, which is always a good thing to see. The Monday afternoon watch a bit quieter but we did manage to spot one minke whale, and several visitors said they had spotted two more before I had arrived. 

Tuesday was eventful from the get-go. My dad was visiting and early in the morning he ran into the house shouting "Otter!". I rushed out with my camera, and after watching it for a while I managed to perch myself in the perfect vantage point to get some snaps of it emerging from a successful hunt, boasting a large edible crab in its jaws. It sat, happily munching away, for five to ten minutes before quietly slinking back into the sea. During the afternoon watch we spotted a pod of around 12 common dolphins which was a good haul, given the rough conditions. 

The rough weather continued into Wednesday where there were no cetacean sightings at all. Days like these do provide excellent opportunities to chat in depth with some of the visitors to the lighthouse. Something I'd noticed was how many visitors were returning to the area after coming here on holidays as children. This is a story I heard several times during my time here, with people of all ages reminiscing about past Ardnamurchan adventures, and just goes to show what a special and memorable place this is. 

 Stunning views from the watch site

Stunning views from the watch site

Several of my fellow students from the Marine Science BSc at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban joined me on Thursday with high hopes of spotting some cetaceans. Some of these students had never seen whales before, and only one had seen any in Scotland. With the wind dying right down and the sun coming out it was a great chance for them to spot some of our local species for the first time. Although I never like to promise people they will see whales and dolphins I was fairly confident that we would spot something that day, and thankfully it wasn't long until the whales cooperated. We had minke whales surfacing just 5 minutes into the watch, and a new one would pop up at least every 20 minutes for the next two and a half hours until, as suddenly as they appeared, they all vanished. In the post-minke lull common dolphins made an appearance, with around 50 spotted over the course of the day in pods of differing sizes. A successful day of spotting made for some very happy students as we reluctantly tore ourselves away from the viewing platform for the evening.

 Common dolphins

Common dolphins

The next two days saw no sightings recorded, with rough seas on Friday making poor spotting conditions. Saturday, however, was fairly calm, and swell had calmed right down. However, despite these favourable conditions there was very little activity at all seen over the sea. 

This brought us into Sunday, and the last of my organised community watches.  In true west-coast contrariness the previous two Sunday watches had miserable weather, while the days either side were great days of spotting. This Sunday was no different. Wild, windy conditions made for tricky spotting, and within an hour the rain came in, limiting visablity to around 500 metres. With great reluctance we abandon all watch for the day, and retreated inside for tea and biscuits. This was obviously unfortunate, although, as it was a planned event on the west coast of Scotland, it did have a degree of inevitability to it.  Here's hoping for good weather during my final week of Ardnamurchan watches!

Craig will be looking out from the foghorn at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse until the 7th September.

 The sun sets on Craig's penultimate week whale watching at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse

The sun sets on Craig's penultimate week whale watching at Ardnamurchan Lighthouse