Day 1 (May 27)
Spirits were high as our team, the first of three groups to go out with the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust aboard their research vessel, Silurian, prepared to travel from St Andrews on the East coast to the much-anticipated West coast of Scotland. However, a substantial delay due to a traffic accident on the road we were meant to take to Kyle of Lochalsh meant that for four of our six-person group, our first day on the Silurian didn’t technically begin until the early hours of May 28th. While we were stuck on the winding roads making our way to the boat, our other two group members had boarded, claimed their bunks, and spent the evening chatting with the crew and exploring ashore in Kyle of Lochalsh. When the remaining four students finally arrived, our skipper, Emma, kindly woke up to escort us to our bunks, and then it was lights out in preparation for our first day on the water.
Day 2 (May 28)
Our crew briefed us on safety and our rotating roles aboard the Silurian over our first cups of morning tea and coffee. We then set off towards the eastern coast of the Isle of Skye. The weather conditions were just about perfect; blazing sunshine followed us all day and the water was smooth as glass, which made spotting marine mammals much easier. We saw several species including harbour porpoise, common and grey seals, common dolphins, and minke whales.
We also saw hundreds of seabirds including puffins, razorbills, and guillemots. That evening we anchored in a bay on the north of the Isle of Skye with a view of the Duntulm Castle ruins and watched a vibrant sunset from the deck.
Day 3 (May 29)
On our second full day on the water we passed the Shiant Isles and recorded over 2,000 puffin sightings in just 20 minutes! We also encountered a pod of bow-riding common dolphins and several minke whales that passed close to our vessel.
That evening when we anchored in Red Point bay and took the zodiac to shore, we discovered a less fortunate minke whale on the beach that was fairly decomposed. The term “stinky minke” was very accurate at the time, but it did not deter any of our burgeoning scientist group from inspecting the carcass (at a safe distance, of course).
Day 4 (May 30)
When we woke for our final day aboard the Silurian, it was clear that no one was ready to leave the ship or the crew and return to life on land. We had beautiful sunny weather and calm seas for the duration of our trip, and everyone had settled into their roles onboard quite nicely. Passing under the bridge to the Isle of Skye and into the Kyle of Lochalsh harbour was certainly a bittersweet moment. Once docked, we did a thorough clean of the vessel in preparation for the next group of students, and then received a quick recap from the science officer. In our time aboard the Silurian, we had seen 6 minke whales, 73 harbor porpoise, 3 pods of common dolphins, hundreds of seals, and over a thousand marine birds…not too shabby for our first voyage!