The sun was up, the clouds sparse and the wind minimal so it was off out to sea for us! Trusty Tim had the boat ready and we set sail from Stornoway, heading south towards the Shiants, the small group of islands off the east coast of Harris. Despite the beautiful conditions the water appeared to be void of flippered critters although the presence of the one remaining scallop dredger may have kept them from the area - the noise that dredgers make as they scour the sea-floor must be pretty off-putting for those with sensitive hearing. A few miles from the Shiants we decided to turn the boat around and head north (away from the dredger)!
Very soon we came across a few porpoising harbour porpoises, (which is slightly unusual in itself as porpoises don't often porpoise) and a little flurry of puffins hanging out on the surface but diving when we got close. We headed north past the lighthouse - our land-based survey site - with still no additional animals. The swell was increasing and the sea-state was picking up to provide us with more and more white-caps, making the job of cetacean spotting all the more difficult. After some time, we were beginning to think that perhaps we should call it a day (when the land started disappearing behind the swell) when all of a sudden .... a huge splash in the distance, followed by another about 300 metres to the left of it, told us that we had dolphins!! And Risso's dolphins at that!
And these guys were absolutely flying ... spread out over about 2km, 8 animals were surfing over, under and through the swell and travelling at a rate of knots - an estimated guess is about 15 knots as we were going at about 7 knots and they were leaving us for dust! One of the best ways to see where they were was to look for the white foam that accompanied their every move - these guys really were like little rockets through the water, leaving foam trails in their wake. As before however, even at the speed they were going, some of them made time (and the effort) to come over and check us out - these guys really are rather inquisitive! Photographs were almost impossible although it has to be said we got a lot of brilliant splash shots, wave action and bits of fins as they flew by. As soon as they'd appeared ... they disappeared ... we followed them back to the lighthouse and then ... they were gone, leaving us on an adrenaline high!
The next morning we were anticipating a quieter, more sedate day as we were headed for the lighthouse for some good old land-based watching. We'd been there for less than an hour when I spied a few large fins to the south of our survey area and declared that we had Risso's in the room!! Three individuals were quite widely dispersed and not really doing very much so we carried on with our normal watching, keeping an eye on them just in case! About half an hour later, all of a sudden there was what can only be described as "absolute bedlam" taking place right in front of us! Out of nowhere another 12 dolphins joined the 3 we had spotted earlier on and everyone seemed rather happy to see each other. They were swimming in tight, compact groups, porpoising, breaching, tail-slapping, leaping out the water in unision and then diving head-first (again in unision) back into the water and generally just causing a commotion. The spectacle went on for about an hour and then the waters were dolphin-less and we were left on yet another adrenaline high!
The long-held belief that you need to be out on a boat to see whales and dolphins can now, with this sighting, be well and truly put to bed. Watching animals from land can in fact be extremely rewarding ... just have a look at the images below and make your own mind up!! (And yes ... all images were shot in colour, we're in Scotland remember!!)