Silurian surveys Stanton Banks on our Teen Team Expedition Survey

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Each year, HWDT runs three specialist Teen Team Expedition Surveys on board Silurian, with 16 and 17 year old’s collecting data, contributing to the study of whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks across the west coast of Scotland.

These trips attract adventurous young people, with an interest in sailing and a strong desire to get involved and take part in marine research and conservation. Read on below for our Education Manager, Pippa’s overview of the first trip, and the young people’s holiday of a lifetime:

Our first Teen Expedition of 2019, was totally unexpected, completely extraordinary and a huge amount of fun! Thanks to our six young, enthusiastic citizen scientists and some very settled weather, we sailed an impressive 232 nautical miles over five days, recording a whopping 123 sightings of 455 marine animals.

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With calm, settled weather and not a white cap in sight, we had the perfect conditions to explore out west, journeying from Tobermory to the Isle of Coll, across the Sea of the Hebrides to the southernmost island of the Outer Hebrides, Berneray. Here we had magnificent views of the Barra Head lighthouse shrouded in fog and sailed around the impressive cliffs home to hundreds of nesting sea birds.

After a good night’s sleep, anchored off what felt like the edge of the world, we had an early start, surveying south into deeper offshore waters, far away from any islands. Our destination…Stanton Banks, a series of underwater rocky granite outcrops, rising up out of the seabed from 190m to 60m below the surface. These rocky reefs are home to a diverse range of marine life and are protected as a result. The stark changes in depth also offer an interesting landscape for whales and dolphins, as nutrient rich water is forced up to the surface, attracting fish to feed on the planktonic buffet and resulting in a welcome ‘service station’ if you like, for peckish whales and dolphins.

Surveying these open waters is extremely weather dependent, and the whole team felt extremely privileged to make the journey, especially as it’s only achieved once a year, if we are lucky. After surveying Stanton Banks, we set course for the Isle of Tiree, with Skerryvore Lighthouse to guide us as we approached. Our final days were spent, surveying the waters west of Coll, up and around the Isle of Eigg, before heading back in to port.

Not only were the locations we visited unexpected – no under 18’s have ever been to Stanton Bank on a HWDT survey – that I am aware of. The sightings were truly extraordinary! Each day was a flurry of ‘SIGHTING’s as multiple species were spotted by the teens from the mast.

In total we had 14 sightings of majestic minke whales, from across the area, many of which were quite shy, evading our cameras. The stars of the show, were the 15 encounters with common dolphins, totalling over 271 animals, energetically sprinting in all directions whether to catch a meal, show off their young or swim along with us at our bow.

A personal highlight, was my first ever encounter with white beaked dolphins on our way out to Stanton Banks, seeing their jet black fins slowly and calmly emerge from the water as they travelled on their path, and the oh so obvious size difference between them and the common’s whizzing around them.

In addition to all of this, we were treated to multiple sightings of amazing Risso’s dolphins, with their pronounced dorsal fins, rounded heads and beautiful and unique colourings ranging from silver to grey, these groups were out in the deeper waters and we recorded them foraging behind the trawlers.

Finally, not a cetacean at all, but a fish – 10 basking sharks were spotted, swimming with their mouths wide open, taking in gill-fuls of plankton from the tide lines, surrounding the Isle of Tiree. Not only did we see these huge creatures feeding, but we also recorded courtship behaviour where the sharks follow one another in a line, a very important part of these mega mouths lifecycles and an important behaviour to record.

Massive thanks to the enthusiastic young people who joined us on board! It was a pleasure to sail with you all. We couldn't collect this vital data without the citizen scientists that survey our waters!

If you are interested in joining a Teen Team Expedition Survey we have one berth available on our October 2019 survey. Alternatively our 2020 dates have now been announced, so book now to avoid disappointment.