Silurian volunteers have an unforgettable morning surrounded by basking sharks
The first Ullapool survey of the 2019 season commenced on the 13th June with six new volunteers joining us on board. Research expeditions departing from Ullapool allow us to survey the wild and remote northern reaches of our survey area, and we did just that on this trip, surveying all the way up to Cape Wrath, the most north-westerly point of the UK mainland.
The volunteers spent their first morning on board developing their cetacean identification and spotting skills and learning how our data is collected. Then we set sail around Rubha Coigeach anchoring in Loch Bad nam Ban that evening, where we were treated to a spectacular sunset. The next day we took advantage of the settled conditions and had a wonderful sail north to Cape Wrath.
From there, we sailed west to the Outer Hebrides, passing Tiumpan head, before stronger winds required us to turn back south. We covered an impressive 301.3 nautical miles during the survey, which ran from the 13th to the 21st June, and our volunteers turned citizen scientists spent over 47 hours on effort, collecting visual and acoustic data.
Surveying the northern parts of our survey area also gave us the opportunity to anchor in some wild and remote places in the Hebrides. Our evenings were spent exploring uninhabited islands, enjoying spectacular sunsets, and playing a variety of games.
During the survey, we recorded six species of marine megafauna: basking sharks, common dolphins, minke whales, harbour porpoise, grey and common seals. One particularly memorable morning was spent surrounded by basking sharks! As we sailed out of Loch Grimshader, on the Isle of Lewis, on the fourth day of the survey we were still getting ready for the day ahead when one of the citizen scientists noticed a fin emerge from the water and shouted ‘Sighting, basking shark!’ much to our delight! We all gathered on the deck and cut the engine and as the basking slowly drifted towards us, the whole animal became visible through the calm water! Before long another shark was spotted, and within half an hour our count had reached 24. Many more sharks could have been present that morning, hidden in depths as they fed. It was an incredible moment on board!
Our luck continued later that day with another memorable encounter. As we were sailing across the Minch, a minke whale surfaced just behind the vessel as if it was following us. We slowed the boat and grabbed the photo-identification camera, ready to take a photo of the dorsal fin when it resurfaced. The minke kept us guessing for a couple of minutes before someone shouted ‘minke mittens!’, referring to the white patches on the whales pectoral fins, which were visible right next to the boat. The minke surfaced continually around Silurian for 20 minutes, rolling onto its back several times, showing all of us on board its bright white underside.
Massive thanks to the citizen scientist team who joined us on board: Anne, Alison, Cassie, Jackie, Linda and Zoe. It was such a pleasure to sail with you all. The trip was filled with laughter and unforgettable memories!
We couldn't collect the vital data without the citizen scientists that helps us 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!