Familiar faces join Silurian as she surveys the Outer Isles

Sailing past Barra Head

Sailing past Barra Head

Silurian welcomed some familiar faces on board during the second Expedition Survey of 2019; Robin and Karrie joined us on board for a second time and Jan was returning for a monumental tenth time! Read on for the trip highlights…

Brilliant sunshine greeted the start of the second monitoring expedition of the season, with light winds and calms seas allowing us to survey the Outer Hebrides for the first time this field season. We spent three nights off the southern islands, anchoring at some spectacular spots.

One particularly memorable day began off the Isle of Eriskay, we sailed through the Sound of Barra, before heading south and sailing around Barra Head - the southern tip of the Outer Hebrides. As we sailed past Barra Head, we were surrounded by clouds of seabirds that nest on the cliffs. Thousands of Razorbills, Guillemots, Puffins and Kittiwakes we recorded, whilst golden and white-tailed sea eagles circled overhead - a birders paradise!!

Just when we thought that it couldn’t get any better one of the team shouted “sighting!”, as two basking shark fins emerged 800m away. We had a great view of one the sharks as it swam past the vessel feeding on zooplankton, which can be highly concentrated in areas of ocean mixing in the Hebrides. Basking sharks are usually seen between May and October, this encounter was the first reported sighting of the year from on board Silurian.

One of the basking sharks that swam past  Silurian

One of the basking sharks that swam past Silurian

During the survey, which ran from the 6th-14th May, we covered 265.1 nautical miles collecting visual and acoustic data. We surveyed the sea of the Hebrides and the southern islands of the Outer Hebrides, before returning east and sailing past Coll, Tiree and the Treshnish Isles. The citizen scientists on board spent 36:31 hours on effort looking for marine megafuana and we recorded 34:30 hours of acoustic recordings.

Track lines for HWDT03

Track lines for HWDT03

Basking sharks weren’t the only marine mega-fauna recorded during the survey, 10 minke whales, hundreds of common dolphins, 16 harbour porpoise were also spotted, as well as common and grey seals. On one particularly busy afternoon we counted 73 grey seals in one hour!

Not only did we have amazing bird sightings at Barra head, we also had the opportunity to visit the Isle of Lunga on our last evening. This incredible place is home to thousands of puffins, as well as a variety of other seabirds. Spending time ashore on Lunga is always special, watching puffins as they fly in and out of their burrows and waddling through the bluebells that blanket the hills. Whilst on survey, 5,666 birds in total were recorded, with Jan, counting 2,197 Razorbills in just half an hour!!!

One of the many puffins seen on Lunga

One of the many puffins seen on Lunga

Massive thanks to all of you who joined us on board: Aravel, Karrie, Robin, Teerth and Jan. Thank you, Jan, for all of your support over the years. It was a pleasure to sail with you again. We couldn't collect the vital data without all of the citizen scientists that help to survey our waters!

Thanks also to Scottish Natural Heritage who help fund the data collection programme aboard Silurian.

Feeling inspired to get involved with our marine conservation efforts? We still have spaces on our 2019 summer surveys. Come and join us on board for your chance to contribute to our research and encounter some of the amazing wildlife we have in our waters!