Posted on behalf of Sarah Dolman
A storm is on its way across the Atlantic towards us. The wind is increasing and the sky is patchy and mostly grey again. But we’ve been out on the boat all the same - keen to make the most of our last opportunities, as we anticipate the bad weather ahead – this is our last week on Lewis for this year after all… !
Yesterday we encountered a pod of about 8 Risso’s dolphins shortly after leaving the harbour. We are coming to expect them as soon as we get out in the boat, which is never a good thing! First up, it was a mixed group of all ages, from youngsters to adults, that came our way. They were spread out and hugging the coastline, almost touching it in places, maybe following some tasty local octopus. We easily recognised a (presumed) female with a very scarred front edge to her dorsal fin.
We wiped our soggy hands and tried to capture dorsal fins without getting the photo-id camera wet – which is not easy at the best of times, but least of all when the view finder fogs up! But we did what we could.
After a short while, a new group we nicknamed the “4 amigo’s” appeared through the choppy grey waves. They were a tight group, surfacing and disappearing together. They came close to the boat, never mixing with the other group but we had all of them in our sights for a while.
After we had captured as many fin shots as we could, we were sodden, so turned around and headed for home. Cold and soggy yet thoroughly happy!
Today we were less lucky with Risso’s. Always the trouble when you come to expect something! We travelled through white caps and spray for about 3.5 hours before we were almost home and then encountered our first sightings in quick succession, of harbour porpoises! First a pair were porpoising clear out of the sea, and then a further individual was doing the same, despite it being a state 5!! Then, before we had time to blink, there was another fin on the horizon - oh no, two! Not a Risso’s but just as exciting – it was a basking shark..! We thought we had seen the last of them as our last shark sighting was more than two weeks ago, so this was a nice surprise. He was busy feeding in close to the rocky coastline, and came right underneath the boat, giving us a birds eye view of his big open plankton feeding mouth.
We turned the last rocky outcrop before our harbour came into view. We unloaded the kit from ‘RV Puffin’ and went for a wander along the beach to investigate a possible dead stranded animal that had been reported to Tim that morning. We came across a small (1.3m) unidentified odontocete. It was in such a state of decomposition that it was not possible for us to tell what species it was straight away. After some detective work, we determined that dorsal fin appeared to be too large for a porpoise and so the animal was presumably a very small dolphin – we summised that it was most likely to be either a Risso’s or common dolphin. We have gathered all the information that we could to forward on to the Scottish Agricultural College.
We may have one more weather window tomorrow (fingers crossed!), but we are already planning our return trip next year… watch this space!
P.S. We have learned that our stranded Risso’s had a ‘squat lobster’ in its stomach, rather than a langoustine, as we had assumed – we must have been thinking about our dinner!