As we headed out to sea this morning we were accompanied by a very sobering thought. Yesterday, SNH (Scottish Natural Heritage) issued a new report detailing the fact that Scotland’s seabird numbers have plunged by 19% between 2000 and 2008. The main reason for this appears to be a shortage of food, such as sandeels whose numbers are affected by a rise in sea temperatures. SNH explain that lower fish numbers led to lower numbers of adult birds surviving from one year to the next, and not enough chicks being produced and surviving to replace them. Some worrying statistics included the fact that there are 71% fewer Arctic skuas breeding in Scotland than in the mid 1980s – making our sighting yesterday of 2 individuals all the more pertinent! (We may be here to find out more about the whales and dolphins in the Moray Firth but in addition to recording cetacean encounters we log all seabird sightings too).
Despite this slightly depressing start to the day we were in for an absolute gem of an adventure! The clouds soon parted, the sun beat down from high in the sky (oops….global warming? This is Scotland after all – and suntan lotion was the order of the day) and the water was positively mill-pond-esque, even with a gentle swell.
During the early hours of the morning you could have been forgiven for thinking that we were adrift in a great blue desert (or black desert depending on your line of sight). Quiet seas is an understatement, no cetaceans, no birds and certainly no other vessels – except for the fisheries protection vessel (could it be the same one that we'd been seeing over on the West coast?) that appeared to be patrolling the outer limits of the Moray Firth (more on fishing in the Moray Firth in a later blog!).
However by the time the sun hit its zenith things took a turn for the better and we started logging sighting after sighting. The day brought us 2 minke whales (1 sighting was to bring much joy and huge smiles to several members of the team as it was a very close encounter – no binoculars required – and verification of why they were here!), 4 harbour porpoises, 5 bottlenose dolphins and a couple of grey seals. Even the seabirds weren’t to disappoint and very soon we were clocking up the sightings including several young gannets, a great skua and 2 puffins!
The hydrophone came into its own and we recorded what can only be described as an absolute hive of porpoise activity – again, it just goes to show you what’s out there that you can’t always see with the naked (or “binoculared”) eye!
Before we knew it our survey hours were over and we were steaming back into Buckie harbour, all with red faces (from the sun – as all breaks were taken lying prostrate on the upper deck!), a belly full of ginger-nut biscuits (always a good addition to a day at sea) and excited about what tomorrow was to bring. Weather is looking good so come back this time tomorrow for another update!!