Expedition Survey ends on a bottlenose dolphin high!

Scottish bottlenose dolphins are the largest in the world!

Scottish bottlenose dolphins are the largest in the world!

OUR EXPEDITION SURVEYS COLLECT DATA ON WHALES, DOLPHINS, PORPOISES AND BASKING SHARKS IN HEBRIDEAN SEAS. OUR BIODIVERSITY OFFICER, BECKY, SHARES THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LATEST SURVEY ON BOARD SILURIAN

We were back in Tobermory for the most recent standard survey on board our research vessel, Silurian. Six new citizen scientists joined us on board (including three returning participants) and we spent the first evening familiarising ourselves with the vessel, settling into our respective cabins and learning all about the cetaceans that we might encounter.

Our team of citizen scientists and Biodiversity Officer, Becky (bottom centre)

Our team of citizen scientists and Biodiversity Officer, Becky (bottom centre)

The next day we set sail towards the Isle of Canna . It was the perfect first day on board, with calm seas and clear skies bringing perfect spotting conditions. Several porpoises were recorded along the way, but the real excitement happened as Canna came into view. Firstly, a pod of common dolphins swam quickly past the vessel, leaping out of the water as they made their way south. Then a shout of ‘minke!’ could be heard from one of the team on watch. Two minke whales surfaced on the port side of the vessel with one of the whales coming over for a closer look, surfacing just 10 metres from the boat!

Over the next week the Scottish weather really kept us on our toes, with each day of the survey bringing new and varied weather conditions! We left Canna in warm winds and sunshine, before grabbing safety goggles to protect us from hail stones as we sailed into Loch Dunvegan! It was truly four seasons in a day! The weather continued to be changeable as we sailed around the Isle of Skye, before we turned back south, where we were treated to glassy seas and the return of sunshine as we made our way down to Islay over the next few days. However, once again the weather turned, bringing strong southerly winds and forcing us the shelter down the Sound of Jura.

In total we covered an impressive 425.9 nautical miles during the survey, which ran from the 14th to the 25th July, and our treasured citizen scientists spent over 60 hours on effort, collecting visual and acoustic data.

Tracklines showing where Silurian travelled on HWDT07

Tracklines showing where Silurian travelled on HWDT07

During the survey, six species of marine mammal were recorded: common dolphin, minke whale, harbour porpoise, grey and common seal and, on our last day of surveying, a pod bottlenose dolphin!

After spending the last few days of the survey sheltering from the wind we decided to take advantage of the settled weather on our last morning and survey the waters out to Coll - which can be very productive at this time of year. However, with the exception of a few porpoise sightings little marine life was encountered; even the bird life seemed to have disappeared. As we sailed back to Tobermory, reminiscing about what a fantastic trip it had been, a shout of ‘sighting!’ cut the conversation short. A small group of bottlenose dolphins had been spotted bow riding at another sailing vessel on our port side. As we slowed down another small group was seen on our starboard side before both pods joined together and began to make their way towards us! In total, 15 dolphins were recorded and we had an incredible view as they surfaced right next the the vessel, whilst other members of the pod began to bow ride. Two mother and calf pairs were also seen a little further away. The dolphins stayed around the vessel for half an hour before we began to sail back into Tobermory. It just goes to show…the survey is never over until Silurian is back on the pontoon! Photo-idenitification analysis will now be undertaken on the individuals spotted during the encounter, hopefully we can match the animals!

Massive thanks to the citizen scientist team who joined us on board: John, Kathy, Liese, Liz, Rob and Toby! It was a pleasure to sail with you all. We couldn't collect the vital data without the citizen scientists that survey our waters! You also all made the survey so much fun with amazing games, fantastic conservation and an abundance of laughs!

Feeling inspired to get involved with our marine conservation efforts? We still have spaces on our 2019 surveys, with some fantastic discounts for forthcoming surveys too! 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!