Surveying along the West Coast- part III

And here’s the Silurian trip account from Group 3 (Doris, Filippo, Ilias, Monica)

Day 1

Our journey to the Isle of Mull included two ferry crossings and a lengthy, but scenic, road trip through the Highlands. We were able to stop briefly in Glencoe to take pictures of a waterfall, then quickly continued our journey to Tobermory where we would board the Silurian. Upon arrival to Tobermory, we encountered the previous group and they graciously told us of their sightings and adventures. We could see from the excitement on their faces that we were going to be in for a great trip. Skipper Paul chaperoned us to the Silurian on a Zodiac where we were able to board our home for the next few days. That evening we became acquainted with the crew, including Simon and Frazer as we were served a lovely dinner cooked by them.

Group 3 selfie (photo: Monica Arancibia)

Day 2

We slept very well that evening and awoke to enjoy a lovely breakfast and set sail along the coast of Mull. The weather, sadly, had turned overcast but we were still able spot a few harbour porpoises, thanks to the calm sea. The shy individuals did not come very close to the sailboat, yet swam parallel to us, so we could see their small triangular dorsal fin popping out from water. It was the first time seeing this small, adorable species for all the students on board so we were elated…HOORAY!! More rainy weather came immediately after a few grey and harbour seal sightings, but we were able to observe them bottling as well as actively swimming.

Thanks to Simon’s preparation of hot tea and second breakfast, we were able to survive and work normally under chilly weather conditions. As our journey continued we identified various species of bird and the incredible diving gannets. As we approached our first evening’s anchorage out of port, an otter was spotted leaving the water and crawling onto a rock. However, the person spotting it was so excited that she yelled “SIGHTING” and by the time we all took a look at the rock the otter was gone….probably scared by the sudden, loud noise. Once at anchorage two pair of greylag geese, each with one gosling trailing them, passed by us. We also saw several moon jellies next to the boat with their distinct clover shaped pattern swimming gracefully beneath the surface. That evening we were treated to a delicious Italian meal of pasta with a red sauce with tuna followed by learning several new games we played with the HWDT crew. The forecast for the following day indicated more overcast skies and potential for rough weather.

Observers on Lookout (photo: Doris Woo)

Day 3

As we set sail the rain began and the sea state increased steadily with intermittent bouts of clearing. The sightings decreased with the rough weather, but we still were able to spot a few seals and several birds. By the time we arrived at anchorage the weather had let up a bit, enough for an excursion onto land before dinner. The breath taking scenery around us included several large hills, so we decided to try to reach the top. Half of us made it all the way, while the other half stopped on the way to take in the new view and snap a few pictures. We encountered a common frog on the way up and spotted scat of an unidentified animal. While the view from that height was amazing and the hike provided some much needed leg work, we were getting hungry and needed to make our way back down to the boat. That evening we had a delicious meal of Chinese noodles and stir fry and a cucumber yoghurt salad. Again, we ended the evening with a fun game of cards before snuggling into our bags for the last night aboard the Silurian.

Day 4

Our last day aboard we were graced not only with sunshine and blue skies, but we had minke whale sightings! Our first one was about 1.5 km away and was only seen briefly by two of us.  We had several harbour porpoise and seal sightings after the minke whale tease. We then sailed to a minke whale hotspot to search for the amazing creatures. In our second and third sightings the two different minke whales were very inquisitive, so much so that one of them even swam perpendicular underneath the bow of the sailboat! We were all very excited to see the whales showing their beautiful backs and encountering them so close. The combination of sunshine and blue water even allowed us to see the bits of white on the minke whale flippers. The small whales moved quite fast so it took a lot of effort to photograph them, we had to stop for quite a while to wait for their resurfacings.

Minke whale (photo: HWDT)

Then on the way back into port we encountered a whale again in the area near the lighthouse by Tobermory where we had seen the first one that morning. This time the whale was much closer, but was being actively pursued by some smaller tourist vessels. We were able to see the importance of education and regulations regarding marine mammal protection. We were happy to have field experience hearing snapping shrimp on PAM, working first-hand with the software Logger and adding several new species to our checklists of those observed in the wild. Despite our lack of dolphin sightings we disembarked with new energy and excitement for finishing our projects.