This blog is reporting from the Isle of Lewis! In our efforts to find out where these pesky UK Risso’s dolphins are hanging out, we are currently running projects (and so blogging) simultaneously on Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland and Bardsey Island in North Wales...
It’s been a stormy field season with few opportunities to get out on the water. But when we have made it out in the boat, we have always been pleased with the variety of species that we’ve encountered in the Minch. And today was no exception!
The conditions were promising for a full day out and we were anxious to make the most of what currently seems like a rare opportunity! We’d seen Risso’s and common dolphins during our land-based surveys yesterday and the day before, and so we were doubly hopeful! Once out of the harbour, our survey began with the increasingly familiar groups of surface active porpoises racing and foraging in the mouth of Loch Erisort. Porpoises rock!
We ventured out into the north Minch, and into the long and lolloping swell - a remnant of the storms we’ve just experienced. It wasn’t long before we were joined by a pod of common dolphins. They always seem keen for a ride on the bow and in the wake, and this small family of six animals, including a mother and her calf, didn’t disappoint! Our only problem was photographing them as they were rushing through the waves so quickly!
They followed alongside us for quite a while, jumping and peering up at us (what are they thinking when they do that..?), before getting back to their usual business. We moved on and a basking grey seal looked up at us from his watery home (disapprovingly, I might add).
And as we travelled on, it wasn’t too much longer before we came across two more common dolphins – big animals this time (or at least big for common dolphins!). They checked us out briefly before disappearing into the deep swell.
Suddenly there was a lot of disturbance and young and older gannet activity as we passed Tiumpan Head. So we turned in to more coastal waters and into the entrance of Broad Bay, where the swell was much gentler. Before long we were part of a mammoth feeding frenzy – with puffing harbour porpoises all around, a small (3 metre) basking shark heading our way and diving gannets all feasting on a shimmering shoal of herring sprats! The herring were like raindrops on the surface of the water, all around us.
It was great to be a part of a feast that we have now seen several times in this part of Broad Bay whilst watching from our land-based observation site at Tiumpan Head! What a sight – which you can enjoy in the video – again, the wonky camera footage is due to the swell. I promise!
After collecting all the data we needed, we turned around. On our way home we collected one of our six acoustic devices (called a C-POD) - after a bit of a search! We can’t wait to download the data (ok, I’m a bit nervous…) to see whether we have lots of porpoise and dolphin recordings! No Risso’s but a great day out on the water..
We grabbed some mackerel (although it took a few dips of the fishing rod it has to be said!) and shared them with the last of the ‘bonxies’ or great skuas (it’s amazing to see them eat a fish of such a size!) - before they headed to Africa and we headed for home!!