The 2019 Silurian Blogs – Group 1

Our journey aboard the Silurian [the research vessel of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust] began at 6pm on Monday 27th May. We were introduced to the crew on the boat over a cup of tea and biscuits. The crew briefed us on what we could expect on the trip and what the schedule would be like. That evening we had a lovely vegetarian bolognese for dinner made by first mate Charlie, and then Lauren gave us a presentation on the marine mammal surveys, which species we would expect to see on the trip and the scientific protocol. The first night sleeping on the boat was an interesting experience but we all slept very well dreaming of the marine mammal sightings to come.

(Photo credits: Erin Vince)

The next morning began at 7:30 am with bowls of delicious porridge made by Rod and Isha’s topping of chilli salt and black pepper caused much debate as to the best porridge topping. Still anchored in Tobermory harbour, Quentin gave us a safety demonstration and we then began the survey.
The anchor was dropped in the harbour of the Isle of Rum that evening without any marine mammals sightings. However, we saw many seabirds such as gannets, guillemots and razorbills which made up for the disappointment. After a short excursion on the Isle of Rum we returned to the boat and Hannah and Maeva cooked a Thai curry. Lauren then gave us a presentation on seabirds and how they can act as indicators of the presence of marine mammals in an area. It was an enjoyable day settling in to life on board the Silurian.

Kinloch Castle at the Isle of Rum (Photo credit: Isha)

After a calm night’s sleep anchored at the Isle of Rum, we all woke at 7:30 am for another lovely breakfast made by Lauren and further debate about porridge toppings. Quentin and Rod even tried Isha’s controversial salt and pepper choice. They loved it!

Following the briefing about our survey route for the day, we set off around 9 am to begin the day’s work and we were all spoilt with marine mammal sightings. With the best weather conditions of the trip, we saw many grey seals, harbour porpoises, common dolphins and five minke whales!

Minke Whale (Photo credits: Erin Vince)

A highlight of this day had to be the second minke whale sighting.The individual swam around and underneath the boat for around 10 minutes; showing off its white “minke mittens”. Only 30 minutes after this encounter, approximately 20 common dolphins joined our survey and began to bow ride. It was an incredible experience and a brilliant second survey day.

Common Dolphins (Photo Credits: Isha)

The survey ended around 4:30 pm and we anchored at the Isle of Muck for our last evening on the Silurian. After a visit to the Isle of Muck – all of us starting to feel our sea legs on land! – we returned to the Silurian to enjoy dinner cooked by Isha and Erin. To finish our day, everyone gathered around to enjoy one of Rod’s legendary bedtime stories (about the history of Muck) before heading to bed for our last sleep on the Silurian.

Day 3 aboard the Silurian started off with a beautiful morning and a lovely, albeit slightly sentimental breakfast as goodbyes and choppy waves awaited us. We began surveying making full use of our sea legs and clinging to support as the Silurian made way under sail. A few more wonderful sightings consisted of a Minke whale, Harbor porpoises, more Grey seals. Of particular excitement were Puffins found swimming in the water. We then made our way back to Tobermory where Charlie’s delicious risotto and land awaited us.

Tobermory Harbour (Photo credits: Isha)

One woman whale show!

(Blog written by Jenny Hampson)

To mark the end of orientation week on the Marine Mammal Science MSc, students met with the inspirational and charismatic cetacean scientist, Dr Asha de Vos. As a St Andrew’s alumni herself, Asha proved to the excited and awe-stricken students that the sky is no longer the limit!

She spoke animatedly to a captive audience about the struggles that she overcame in reaching her goal of becoming a marine biologist. Namely, staying in a tent for 6 months to work on a conservation project in New Zealand, working in potato fields to save money to fund her volunteering, and cleaning toilets on a research vessel to get a foot in the door!  Her passion and drive to let nothing stop her in her mission to contribute to the protection and conservation of Sri Lanka’s marine mammals was clear, and a perfect tone with which we could start the course.

Asha founded and directs the NGO Oceanswell which aims to educate the next generation of students from under-represented nations in marine conservation research. Her discussion of this project and its ability to have long term impacts was particularly inspiring. It encouraged us to think about the long-term implications of research, and about the areas of research we want to contribute to. Her focus on the quality of the science using cheaper and more basic techniques (for example, using a tea strainer to collect samples of blue whale poo) really underpinned her desire to shake up the diversity and opportunities in marine mammal science. She emphasised that the quality of the science doesn’t come from the big grant. This was particularly encouraging to hear as we begin our careers as researchers.

Finally, after answering questions from around the table, she encouraged us to help make a change in the way conservation is undertaken globally, less centred on industrialised countries and the most high-tech methods. There needs to be more diversity in the scientific community and a wider spread of research areas that implement conservation and communicate its importance to more widespread communities on a local scale.  After all, Asha herself said “You want to be respected in your home. Why can we not respect animals in theirs?”.

Wide-eyed and invigorated, we left discussing how we could attempt to achieve some of these successes and which paths we may follow upon completing the Marine Mammal Science MSc.

“It was so refreshing to hear from a fellow female scientist who is confident in her abilities. Listening to Asha talk about overcoming her own trials and tribulations was definitely motivating; I only wish I could have recorded our session for motivation later in the semester!” – Lauren S

 “Listening to Asha speak about her work and her experiences was such an inspirational moment. She is not afraid to challenge conventions and represents such a unique voice in the field of conservation.” – Isha

Asha showed us all how important it is to be persistent and never give up on reaching our goals. Meeting such an inspiring scientist as we started our Masters programme was the perfect beginning to a great year!”  – Maeva


Master’s students at the School of Biology kick-started Orientation week with a visit to the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Following a short bus ride past the beautiful Scottish landscape, we were ushered in for a small introductory talk by one of the staff members of the Museum. We were given a brief overview of the exhibits and the various themes that were integrated

Trying our hand at net-making!

throughout the galleries – beginning from prehistoric fishing equipment to the gradual changes in the fishing industry of Scotland while exploring the effects of economic, political and social factors on the development of the Industry.

We were then left to explore the (deceptively large) Museum. The next hour was spent looking over amazing models and reconstructions of boats, sails, navigation equipment and poring over beautiful photographs and paintings depicting the lives of the fisherfolk. A highlight of the galleries were the numerous interactive exhibits encouraging us to weave nets, tie knots and stand aboard an original wheelhouse – complete with the thrumming of engines!

‘Harvest’ – ceramic sculptures highlighting pollution

The Museum also had on display, Mella Shaw’s sculptures titled ‘Harvest’ that were thought-provoking ceramic pieces depicting the urgent issue of marine plastic pollution.

Towards the end of the visit were the reconstructed deck and cabin of the Research LK62 and various models explaining her history and significance and the much anticipated whaling exhibit with various models depicting the changes in the whaling industry over time. The trip ended on a sweet note with some delicious tea and cakes in the lovely café of the museum.

The exhibits beautifully encapsulated the history of Scottish fishing over time and conveyed the story of how boats, fish and folk were all interweaved together.

Isha Shyam

It really is bigger than you think!