Ever wondered what life on board a HWDT research survey is like?

 Rod White, one of our dedicated volunteers, monitoring birds on board Silurian.

Rod White, one of our dedicated volunteers, monitoring birds on board Silurian.

Hundreds of dedicated volunteers have joined HWDT over the last 15 years to diligently survey the waters of western Scotland, contributing to the identification and designation of marine protected areas in the region. Together we’ve sailed over 100,000km, collected 6,000 hours of underwater sound recordings, and over 30,000 animal records – it’s a staggeringly impressive public effort!

You can volunteer to join us on-board Silurian and support marine conservation; all you need is a desire to learn, to be a strong team player, and to be available for the dates of one of our surveys.

Not sure what to expect? HWDT Volunteer Rod White shares his experiences of life on board our research vessel, Silurian…

What inspired you to join Silurian?

"I first heard about the work of the trust on BBC radio Scotland. It appealed to me because I care about the environment, love the West Coast of Scotland, enjoy adventures, sailing, bird watching and wildlife. A voyage on Silurian satisfies all these parameters. To sail in the wonderful scenery off the Scottish coast is a privilege. Lots of people come by car or ferry to explore this area but seeing it from the vantage point of a yacht is special. Anchoring in wild places accessible to only a few makes this experience unforgettable."

 A remote, but peaceful, anchorage for the night!

A remote, but peaceful, anchorage for the night!

What was your most memorable moment?

"It has to be the sighting of a pod of nine orca in June of this year. We stayed with this group for half an hour watching them in their passage south in the Sea of Hebrides. The excitement on board was electric. This is often top of the wish list of those coming on board, however, while there are always plenty of sightings on every trip, orca are one of our rarer spotted species here on the West Coast. Having said this, I have never returned home disappointed. There is always some enchanting experience which touches your heart and makes you feel very privileged to have been there."

 A pod of killer whales spotted on HWDT survey 5 this June, first spotted by Rod himself!

A pod of killer whales spotted on HWDT survey 5 this June, first spotted by Rod himself!

What’s the biggest challenge of the survey?

"This varies from person to person. For some it will be their first time aboard a small yacht, where living quarters are shared and cosy. For others it will be the limited showers! Others will be well out of their comfort zone. Very quickly the supportive camaraderie aboard allays any misgivings, with help always at hand. Crew and volunteers soon develop into a solid team with a shared goal. The education aboard is excellent and soon brings novices up to speed where everyone feels their contribution is appreciated. Shared duties such as cooking and cleaning help solidify the sense of teamwork on board."

 Volunteers and crew enjoying a meal together after a hard days work

Volunteers and crew enjoying a meal together after a hard days work

What’s the most valuable thing you have learnt?

"Since 2015 I have been on seven trips aboard Silurian and I have met a varied bunch of people of different ages and backgrounds. It is lovely to see folk from abroad, some of whom have travelled thousands of miles to join the team. I have learnt how many wonderful people there are in the world. Mobile coverage is poor in some remote areas and being free from constant communication is a great antidote to modern life.

One of the wonderful things about the Silurian is the mixture of age groups. I am an older volunteer and it is rejuvenating to mix with the younger folk. Likewise I think they realise that the wrinklies can still be fun to have around. I am filled with admiration for the drive and ambition of many of the volunteers and crew, who make the challenges of long working days and changeable Scottish weather on-board a breeze. "

 From marine conservation students to experienced wildlife enthusiasits, to keen sailors and just the plain curious, we have a real mixed bag of backgrounds and interests on board.

From marine conservation students to experienced wildlife enthusiasits, to keen sailors and just the plain curious, we have a real mixed bag of backgrounds and interests on board.

Best advice for aspiring volunteers?

"Don’t hold back. You will have a wonderful adventure and meet a group of like-minded people, some of whom will be friends long after the voyage is over. In addition it is great to be part of a team undertaking solid scientific work which is helping to safeguard our precious environment. You will learn a lot, not only about cetaceans and visual and acoustic monitoring techniques, but you will also become proficient in identifying sea birds and other wildlife."

 Volunteers and crew on the look out for marine wildlife as part of the scientific research.

Volunteers and crew on the look out for marine wildlife as part of the scientific research.

We'd like to thank Rod and all of our past volunteers - without you all we really couldn't undertake the research work we do ultimately helping develop better conservation strategies for Hebridean cetaceans.

If you have been inspired by Rod to join us on one of our research surveys monitoring whales, dolphins and porpoises in the Hebrides, we still have spaces available this year. Adventure awaits...