West Coast adventures: Silurian Group 2

After a short adventure through the breath-taking landscape of Skye, we arrived at Kyle of Lochalsh and received a warm welcome from the crew of the Silurian. We ate dinner and learned the safety procedures we would need for the next few days as we sailed to Raasay. After a quick few games of Bananagrams we were off to bed, excited for the 7:30 morning wake-up music that would signal the start of our first day.

 

Exploring the beauties of Skye (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Our day began with cereal, toast, and a scientific briefing on the positions we would occupy throughout the survey day. With the sun shining brightly we began our first day of surveying optimistically; however as we headed into more open waters, the sea became rough and some among us were lost to seasickness. Fortunately, others managed to battle on and were able to spot several harbour porpoises.

Sighting! Harbour porpoise (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

That night we lowered anchor at the beautiful Shiant Islands. We discussed the Selkie legends that are recounted in Scottish folklore as we ate our dinner on deck surrounded by grey seals. We then made an excursion to land and climbed to the summit, hoping to do a bit of minke whale spotting.

A curious grey seal (aka selkie). (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Alas we were in for a different surprise: upon reaching the summit we saw hundreds of puffins flying around the cliffs preparing to roost for the evening; some even landed not too far away from us!

A pretty puffin circus. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

As night fell, we reluctantly climbed down the cliff and headed back to the ship to watch a beautiful sunset to finish out the evening.


Sunset at the Shiant islands. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Our second day started similar to the first, though the scientific briefing focused on the birds and boats we would need to identify, in addition to marine mammals. The Shiant Islands are home to many birds, so we held a live bird-identification lesson on deck as we were navigated out to sea.

Counting birds. (photo Annabel Westell)

The sea was like a mirror all day, and under these favourable conditions we were able to spot three foraging juvenile minke whales, three pods of common dolphins – which included a feeding aggregation with diving gannets –  and many seals and harbour porpoises.

Common dolphin in a glassy sea. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Our day ended at the shores of Eilean Fladdy, where some of us went for a swim (and others watched apprehensively). Then it was dinner, some Bananagrams, and bed (we were all so tired it was impossible to function past 23:00).

Mini mike whale. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

The mirror like sea-state conditions persisted through our final day, resulting in additional sightings of harbour porpoises and seals.

Resting harbour seals. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Too soon, the bridge to Skye appeared on the horizon and we knew the trip would come to an end. After performing the Silurian deep clean, with heavy hearts and unforgettable memories we disembarked from the Silurian. But our journey was not yet finished, as we travelled to Inverness we discussed our admiration for the crew’s stamina and we are grateful for their hospitality.

Nesting fulmars at the Shiant’s. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

The final day of our adventure found us at Chanonry Point. We stayed true to our marine mammal roots and carefully planned our day around spotting bottlenose dolphins. Our breakfast of scones had just concluded when the first sighting occurred. Breakfast remnants forgotten, we rushed to get a closer look (and about 500 pictures!). Three hours later, we had observed some spectacular leaps, lateral swims, and foraging behaviours. As the dolphins began to disperse so did we because it was finally time to say goodbye and head back to St Andrews…

A bottlenose dolphin giving us a little show. (photo Mikhail Barabanov)

Annabel, Hannah, Mikhail, Nathalie and Sam.