Tales from the Trail: Gairloch
JOIN US FOR OUR WEEKLY BLOG AS WE SHARE EXPERIENCES FROM SITES ALONG THE HEBRIDEAN WHALE TRAIL - THIS WEEK JENNY SHARES SOME OF HER RECENT ACTIVITIES AROUND GAIRLOCH
I work as the Wester Ross Ranger for High Life Highland. My job involves connecting all ages to their environment and what better way to do that than to encourage people to look for, and protect, the wildlife along the incredible coastline - much of which follows the North West Highland section of the Hebridean Whale Trail.
On Wednesday the 14th of August I had an evening walk around the coastline at Red Point, south of Gairloch with my main aim being to see marine mammals from the land. Gairloch is one of the Whale Trail sites and I knew by the time I was near Gairloch (my base is in Ullapool and I was driving south), that the sea state conditions were going to be ideal for sea watching. It was flat calm and if something was there, we would see it.
At Red Point I met with participants for the walk who were a mixture of visitors and local people. It was already raining and, with midges out in force, off we went around the coast. Red-throated divers, shags, gannets and gulls were the first marine wildlife encountered and soon after some seals feeding. On a bit further, I stopped at a vantage point where we would be able to see a lot of water and sure enough, a large minke whale broke the surface not 200 metres from us. This was some of my participants’ first ever sighting of a whale and what a pleasure to be able to take people to this beautiful point to see it! It was travelling fast, surfacing a few times before it must have taken a deeper, longer dive. Wow! My participants were midge eaten and very wet but seemingly very happy to be out, with no one else around, watching the sea and seeing a minke whale.
I’ve been very interested in whales and dolphins since I was a child and never tire of seeing them but what made this viewing for me particularly special, was the location. Partly because the last minke whale I saw at Red Point was dead (I was collecting samples from a carcass for the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme) and partly because for the last three years, we have organised a beach clean here, working with volunteers, Scottish Wildlife Trust, Hostelling Scotland and the local farmer to get rid of some of the marine litter there. There has been a lot removed and it is a pleasure to see such diversity of marine life knowing it was slightly safer for them. I say ‘slightly’ because I know there is a lot more out there and the risk for marine wildlife is high. When you watch wildlife, the connection between a piece of litter and an animal becomes very real.
Two weeks previous to the walk at Red Point, the local fisheries trust biologist Peter Cunningham and I ran a seashore day at Gairloch to teach about all the wee things in the water and when you bring it all together; the marine giants such as minke, the tiny things and the litter, making that connection with the food chain, it reminds us we need to look after the whole marine environment for the sake of all that lives in it.
And the moral of the walk? Get out there but bring your midge net and a good waterproof jacket! We logged our sighting with HWDT’s Whale Track App. I find that this time of year in late summer and in the early morning and evenings can be better times to see mammals in the water, in this case ringing true. I have another sea watch walk in September, this time at Mellon Udrigle north of Gairloch in the early morning.
For more information on my walks and events in Wester Ross visit our Facebook page Ross-shire Countryside Rangers and for events all over the Highlands visit the High Life Highland Countryside Rangers website.