Posted on behalf of WDCS Canine Research Assistant, Kila
Hallelujah ... they have trees on this island!! Admittedly the sticks are not quite as free-ranging or of such a variety as they are back on the mainland but a stick is a stick ... is a stick is a stick no matter its size or creed (as any of you who have been to the pub with me will know!) and if there was one in the general vicinity, I'd find it - much like my humans and their 'creatures with fins'. I must say however that i feel i have been rather resourceful in the absence of 'wood' and have taken to seaweed and bits of old rope like the proverbial duck to water ... although saying that, i've seen more ducks on the road here than i have in the water; possibly the island equivalent of a speed camera? Certainly slows you down!
One thing there is a lot of around these parts are beaches .... not so many sheep i have to say, and those that are resident here are mostly behind those fence things (being an old-hand i've worked out that wire = no access to sheep, Harvey, being a 'newbie' has not quite grasped this concept yet and is still under the impression that he can get at them, he'll learn, i did) but there are a lot of rabbits ... and they're on the beach! But why wouldn't they be? Best place to be I say! Our humans however may tend to disagree as we've certainly spent countless more hours on the cliff behind the lighthouse than we have any any of the beaches
(I have been advised that i perhaps shouldn't call the lighthouse a dog 'jail', rather a dog 'hotel' where my fellow canines go for a holiday. I was only speaking my personal opinion as the one and only time i went to a 'hotel' i was miserable and got bullied by some of the other guests, and Harvey went once and ended up staying 2 whole years, so neither of us have much desire to go back. But if we did want to go to a 'hotel' then this one would be quite the spot, what a great view on your morning walks!)
But there's never a dull moment up there, for the humans at least, and the cries of 'harbour porpoise', ' minke whale', 'dolphins' (this one in particular seems to get them rather excited and engenders a lot of activity) are relatively frequent. Personally i think they're obsessed (I after all should know as i have been diagnosed with OSD, otherwise known as Obsessive Stick Disorder) as even a trip to the beach involves a 'oh look, there's a harbour porpoise or two' ... i mean really ... they're meant to be looking for sticks!
One beach walk in particular is worth a mention. The human 'newbie' (human Sarah had to go away for a week and we welcomed the arrival of an old friend; they're as obsessed with small bits of wood as i am only they claim it's all in the name of "chess", whatever that is ... but i think i'll find out cos if it involves sticks, hmmm, .... I'll get back to you on this chess thing, leave it with me!) took us for a bit of a wander on one of the most northern of Lewis beaches where we came across a very odd creature indeed, and not one that you would expect to find on land. It was none other than a basking shark, the 2nd largest fish in the world after the whale shark. Once hunted here is Scotland for its meat and oil they are now protected and this year has apparently been a bumper year with record numbers of sightings. This beach-cast chap however wasn't going anywhere anytime soon. It wasn't immediately obvious what had caused the death of this individual although interestingly i couldn't find its tail, it may have been buried deep in the sand but it was conspicuous by its absence. Watching these animals from land one doesn't really appreciate the sheer size of them, they are massive, and i for one felt pretty small. I have to say as well that one of my fears has been lifted ... I thought "shark" meant big scary teeth but these guys feed on plankton, not dogs, phew!!
This has been my 3rd stranding as I've previously found a common dolphin on a beach in Cornwall and a northern bottlenose whale in a Loch near Fort William - it's all in the nose - and i'm considering floating the idea of a new TV show - "CSI Canine" - (Cetacean Strandings Investigation, with the odd shark thrown in for good measure) - i think it would be a hit, don't you?! The examination of stranded animals is very important indeed and scientists can learn a lot about these creatures from studying a dead animal. Did you know that there are a few species of cetacean (some of the beaked whales) that we only know about because of a few skeletal remains?
Putting my responsible hat on for just one moment i do want to note that if you do come across a dead marine animal then you should be very careful indeed as they can carry all sorts of diseases and the best thing to do is not to touch it and to inform the authorities or appropriate people - if you do touch it make sure you wash your hands (or paws) thoroughly. Here in Scotland you should call the strandings hotline on 01463243030 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or of course you could let me, CSI Special Agent Kila, know! Before you call it would be very useful to take some photos if you can and also note down the following information; 1) What do you think it is? - can you tell if it's a whale or a dolphin? can you tell the species?; 2) Where is it? - how accessible is it by road? is it at risk of being washed back out to sea with the next tide? (if so you could attempt to secure it above high-tide line, depending on the size of course); 3) What size is it? - wee or huge?; and 4) How fresh is it? - you can usually tell this by the smell!!
But finally, on a more positive note (for all the other basking sharks that is), not only are the seas around here proving to be full of food but it is thought that they are also ideal breeding grounds as displays of 'courtship behaviour' (like breaching; when the animal jumps clear out of the water) have been documented ... even by us, several times! My humans were actually quick enough to catch one such display on camera (albeit from a wee bit far away) as the animal in particular breached 3 times in a row, making quite a splash, and quite a noise when it landed back in the water! With so much activity out there hopefully there will be even more basking sharks here next year!
More from me soon ... until then, i'm off to the butchers as we've run out of bones!