“Sighting!” Primary Pupils become Marine Scientists Aboard HWDT’s Floating Classroom


On Sunday 28th April, HWDT sailed to Dunstaffnage Marina for the first education week of the year. Below is Rian, our Voluntary Education Assistant’s account of the week.

Having never sailed before in my life I was excited for my first trip on Silurian, HWDT’s research vessel, and to be living on a boat for a week! The calm weather for the trip down the Sound of Mull, gave us the chance to spot seals and kittiwakes, and even gave me my very first glimpse of a porpoise. The fast tidal waters around Lismore Lighthouse are an ideal habitat for harbour porpoises and it was great to finally see a couple (despite my best attempts to consistently look the wrong way).

Throughout the week we welcomed 119 pupils from 5 local primary schools on board for our Floating Classroom sessions, in which children from P1 to P7 became volunteers and were trained up as Silurian scientists.

An excellent trip, we learned lots and it was pitched perfectly for the group. Thank you
— Mrs Bissett, Head Teacher, Park Primary School

Pupils learned what life is like living on Silurian for up to 12 days at a time, as well as how to survey for whales, dolphins and porpoises using sight and sound.

After thoroughly exploring below deck and being taught by skipper Emma how we sail, pupils looked at the hydrophone we tow behind the boat to record sounds, listened to underwater recordings of different species, and tested out the binoculars on deck – although no whales wandered into the marina, we had some good sightings of ducks and gulls to practice with! Everyone excelled at loudly shouting “sighting!”, and with some very keen students and a great range of knowledge I think we definitely have some future marine scientists.

I enjoyed looking through the binoculars and loved shouting ‘Sighting’.
— P4 Pupil, Taynuilt Primary
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My favourite part was everything because it is so hard to choose, I love marine biology
— P6 Pupil, Dunbeg Primary

On Thursday we held an Open Boat event and invited members of the public to come on board Silurian and learn more about the work of the Trust. This was a fantastic opportunity to talk to people from the local community about the importance of citizen science (such as through the public’s contribution to sightings via the Whale Track app) – over 60 people attended, including some enthusiastic floating classroom students who returned to give their families a tour! We were fortunate to have good weather through the week, and some stunning sunsets and views of the nearby hills each evening made the experience even more enjoyable.

Super instructors and overall a fantastic experience. Very memorable and engaging for all. Thank you!
— Miss MacMillan, Dunbeg Primary School Teacher

For me, teaching aboard HWDT’s floating classroom alongside Education Manager Pippa and experienced Education Volunteer Andy was an amazing chance to share my own passion for marine mammals and conservation and learn new skills. It was incredible to see how much pupils understood about major issues like climate change and pollution and their keenness to solve them. My personal highlight of the week was becoming one with Paddy, the life-size inflatable porpoise, “swimming” him along the pontoon for our new volunteers to spot through their binoculars. Overall, it was such a valuable experience and I’m really looking forward to my next chance to teach, working with pupils in school this time, in the Oban area next week.


This education trip was possible due to the generous donations of our supporters during the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2018.