Time and tide wait for no one... Silurian surveys the Corryvreckan

Scottish bottlenose dolphins are the largest in the world!

The highlights from our latest twelve-day research Expedition Survey that departed from our base in tobermory are bought to you by Lauren, our Science and Conservation Manager…

On the 13th August, five volunteers joined us on Silurian and after introducing ourselves by sharing a very eclectic collection of desert island disc’s, we had our first chart chat and talked through all the species we might be lucky enough to see and how to spot them.

Our plan was to try and head over to the Outer Hebrides and get some coverage in the Little Minch, the area between the north of Skye and Harris/Lewis, but unfortunately, by the time we had made it up to Raasay the forecast had taken a turn for the worst, and plans were duly revised.

Quentin, our skipper, was well prepared though, and donned his yellow sailing googles, expertly dodging the worst of the weather. We took shelter in the superbly named Loch na Beiste, where we battened down the hatches, ate chocolate and played games as the wind and rain howled outside.

The weather might have scuppered our plans, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. We soaked up some iconic Scottish scenery as we wound our way through spectacular sea lochs in between the cloud-capped mountains, well known castles and were treated to some wonderful porpoise sightings and frolicking common dolphins along the way.

We could see a gap in the weather, and we knew we had to make the most of it. Quentin reminded us that “Plans are a course for change”, so he went back to the chart table (again!) to look at our options. We decided to head south for Eigg, and the next day through the rolling swell we hopped across to Canna and spent the afternoon exploring ashore. Some of the team were even brave enough to take a dip, and we ended with a haggis super, expertly addressed by Quentin, to celebrate Rachael and Mono’s 25th wedding anniversary. The forecast still looked good for the next day so we got an early night ready for an early wakeup call!

We silently sailed out of Canna harbour just after 6am into the sunrise and glassy seas. The conditions were perfect so we headed out towards Hawes fishing bank, then turned south to Gunna Sound, and headed east past Mull and Iona to the golden beaches of Colonsay. We counted so many shags and kittiwakes on the way, some porpoises, a flying dolphin and fleeting minke whale, it was a wonderful day out at sea.

The weather was due to turn again the next day, and we were headed for the great tidal races of the Gulf of Corryvreckan, the third largest whirlpool in the world. Time and tide wait for no one, so we had another early start to weigh anchor before 5am! That was the first time I’d sailed in the dark, and it was really exciting having a cup of tea on the deck, in the dark under the moon and stars. One of my all-time Silurian highlights!

Early morning sailing beneath the stars and the moon

Early morning sailing beneath the stars and the moon

As we passed through the Corryvreckan, we had several porpoise sightings in the fast moving waters. One paper describes porpoises as “living life in the fast lane”, because they mature early, reproduce frequently, and have a short life span. Porpoises are also voracious predators hunting day and night with over 90% accuracy just to survive, and can often be seen in areas where there is fast flowing water, like the Corryvreckan.

From there we started to make our way back towards Tobermory anchoring off Duart Castle and in Loch Sunart. As the winds picked up again, we got in some good stretches of sailing near Ardnamurchan and topped off the trip some amazing white tailed eagle sightings.

HWDT.ORG 2019 (184).JPG

Despite the weather, we covered 365 nautical miles spending more than 63 hours looking for and/or listening for marine life. We recorded 96 sightings of 140 animals from five species and also counted an impressive 4,328 birds, 1,286 of which were kittiwakes!

Survey route and sightings during HWDT08 - 13.08.2019-24.08.2019

Survey route and sightings during HWDT08 - 13.08.2019-24.08.2019

Huge thanks to the two Claire’s, Ken, Mono and Rachael who joined us on board. We couldn’t do what we do without people like you and it was an absolute delight sailing with you all, thanks for all the laughter!

Interested to find out more? Read all the fantastic stories written about life on board by our wonderful volunteers on the Silurian blog.