Saturday, August 9. 2008
INTO THE OUTER FIRTH.....
Well it was an unusual and rather poignant start to our summer survey in the Outer Moray Firth; as the team was assembling, a sperm whale very unexpectedly entered the Firth and moved slowly towards Inverness. WDCS staff spotted the animal in the shallow waters off Channory Point (much better known as an excellent spot to watch the local bottlenose dolphin population) and then working closely with local officials, BDMLR and others mounted a watch over the animal.
We knew from the outset that a sperm whale this far from its more normal home, in the deep seas to the west and north of Scotland, was likely to be in poor shape and that there was little that could be done for it if this was the case. However, we helped to keep boats away which might have stressed it or even caused it to strand, and consulted widely with experts. Meanwhile the whaleâ€™s swimming was weak and eventually it started to swim on its side.
The same day that this expedition began, the whale stranded and died on a stony shore within a few miles of Inverness. Film crews and sightseers flocked to the shore. The police and coastguards rapidly established a cordon around the animal. Cars could get no closer than a mile. (This was a response to concerns about human health and also concerns about souvenir hunters vandalizing the body or worst)
A few of us set off early morning to pay our respects to this lost giant of the deep and then rapidly boomeranged back to our temporary caravan base to pick up equipment and other colleagues. From here we raced down to Buckie Harbour, a big canister of soup in the back of one car to provide sustenance for the day on the boat.
We assembled on the Gemini Endeavour. This is an ex-life boat. It has an excellent flat platform on top which is our primary observation platform. On this (in fact the second survey day) the sky was rather sullen and the sea turned out to be a little more bumpy that we would have liked. One of us at least turned an interesting yellow hue.
The previous day, porpoises and minke whales were sighted with ease. But this day, Wednesday, only the most eagle-eye observer could spot a porpoise against a sea flecked with waves and million of dorsal fin-shaped wavelets.
And the most eagled eyed observer did this! She spotted just the two of them (two more than anyone else). But we were forced to conclude that the condition were marginal for our purposes (and our porpoises) and headed back to port a little earlier than planned. However, all was not lost and the journalists that we had on board this bumpy day produced a nice article about our work in the Aberdeen Press and Journal. In fact the whole page was about whales â€“ part about our survey and part about the sad death of the sperm whale.
The bad weather has prevailed for the last few days. It wiped out Thursday, Friday and Saturday. There was much peering out of the caravan windows sadly at the pummeling wind and rainâ€¦ but by the end of Friday the sun was peeking out again. The sea was calming and maybe, just maybe we can get out to sea again.
So whilst we wait and see (and strategically move ourselves in the evening over to the boat to sleep, thus allowing a very early â€“ 4am I am told â€“ start), here are a few notes about what we are up to:
This is the third of four surveys in the Outer Moray firth that we have planned this year and we are looking at the deep waters here that are virtually unsurveyed here to find out what cetaceans live here, where and what they are doing. We know that the waters of the Inner Firth are important for the local bottlenose dolphin population. We know that population extends along at least the southern side of the Firth and beyond to the south. We know thanks to the research of others that others cetaceans are also common on that south sideâ€¦ but we donâ€™t know about the outer waters. But we do need the waters to be reasonably calm and that is why you would have found us over the last few days peering out of the rain streaked windows of this wind-rocked plastic box.
Please ignore the bit below that says this is from WDCS at the IWC - it isn't, it's from WDCS in the Moray Firth!