Posted on behalf of Kila, WDCS Canine Research Assistant
"Joint Warrior" - those 2 words meant only one thing, we were heading to our research station on the remote north-west coast of Scotland to keep eyes and ears (and noses!) on the going's on in the Minch. Twice a year, NATO allies get together off the coast of north-west Scotland for training purposes, or war games as they are more aptly known, and the humans at WDCS have been concerned over the cumulative impacts that these "games" are having on the whales, dolphins and porpoises that also use these waters. "Cumulative" because they've been playing these games for over 50 years now, with technology progressing at an alarming rate! To the uninformed, the oceans most likely look like peaceful, calm and tranquil places (except in cases of storms which i'll get to in a minute!!), people go to the beach, or out on the water to escape the hubbub of city life, to escape the unrelenting noise that is a constant part of most of our daily lives … although it has to be said, we dogs are masters at ignoring said noise and just sleeping our way through it … when in reality the oceans are some of the noisiest places on the planet! Sound travels further, there are few laws pertaining to how "loud" you can be underwater and when it comes to the effects that these "noises" are having … well that's a conundrum that we're only just beginning to understand.
And so back to those storms i mentioned earlier …!! We knew ahead of time that we were in for some pretty dicey weather (it is Scotland in April after all!) and the forecast wasn't looking good but we opted for wishful thinking and decided to sit it out all the same. It was raining when we arrived at our lodgings … 5 days later it was still raining, the only difference being that the wind had continued to get stronger and stronger by the day and we were in the midst of what could only be described as "a bit of a gale"! This of course had implications for both the humans ability to spot any of those flittered critters, and our ability to track down the white woolly creatures otherwise known as sheep … you know they're there, you just can't quite work out where!!
After what seemed like an indeterminable amount of time with just horizontal rain and grey skies for company, the clouds dispersed and the sun came out to play. We even had the pleasure of the "usual vista" from the house, instead of just being 100m of sea and then a wall of mist we were joined by Skye, the Shiants, Harris and Lewis on the horizon for the first time since we'd arrived! - glorious! And the wildlife was obviously basking in the glory too as not only were the usual suspects out and about (gannets, shags, a variety of ducks and divers) but we also had a lone female deer in the garden at dawn, one of the local resident white-tailed sea-eagles flying overhead after breakfast, a seal before lunch and then a smattering of porpoises throughout the afternoon … quite spectacular!
The military activity in the area has seemed to be less than in previous years however none the less "interesting" … ! There has been the odd warship either passing through the area or patrolling the boundaries and for the first time we've borne witness to sonarbuoys being dropped into the water right in front of us. Apparently these "buoys" either listen for or emit pulses of sound, the "sound" that is appearing to be so detrimental to the well-being of marine animals including apparently even cephalopods (octopus and squid etc.) … according to an article in New Scientist this week.
Before we could get too excited about the change in the weather it changed back again … and it was if we'd dreamt it all! It started with the sea mist rolling in, the out-lying islands disappeared one by one and the wall of grey came ever closer … again! And so it continued …. and so it continues to continue as a low weather system is approaching and the outlook is not favourable …
And so i've been given the pleasure of giving you all a quick update as to what we've been up to (lots of storm -watching) and to bid you a fond farewell until the next time … sorry there haven't been the usual flurry of blog activity as there normally is when we're in the field but … there's been little to report on except the absolute plethora of shades of grey that exist - i wonder if Dulux know?! Anyway … we must be off, see you in May when we're to be the Isle of Lewis bound, back to the stickless isles to look for those pesky Risso's dolphins!