The extreme gale force winds that we have been experiencing in the last week seem to have finally dissipated. We’ve been thinking about our colleagues who are also working in the field in Bardsey Island in North Wales and wondering if they have been as blown around as we were up here in northwest corner of mainland Scotland.
We’ve had plenty to keep us occupied even though we haven’t been able to conduct watches! Once we had a sighting of our first warship in the northern part of our survey area they multipled in number on a daily basis, up to six at one point. From massive aircraft carriers to frigates and fighter jets, we had them all, and we had a wind-inducing close encounter with a Royal Navy helicopter, which flew right in front of us in our field study site - they filled up our ‘big eye’ binoculars!
We also observed two intense, short and distant flashes in the night sky north of Skye. Mysterious. They were over too quickly to be flares. And ‘Big ears’, our underwater acoustic listening system, also recorded three different types of active sonar filling the Minch! No wonder no animals were heard. Maybe all the marine wildlife has travelled south to avoid the noise – maybe even as far south as Bardsey…??
Sightings of the wildlife sort have been more avian than cetacean, mainly due to the extreme gale force winds, although Nicola observed a pair of porpoises on one of the short watches when the Minch calmed down enough for us to don our thermals and go on effort for the first time on Saturday. Large flocks of noisy geese have been flying in ‘V-formation’ over head all week, in groups of 30-50. We had more than 60 eider ducks rafting on the water in front of our field site and a white-tailed sea eagle (minus the white-tail!) majestically circling in a thermal current over head for several minutes.
With high pressure expected over the UK for the rest of this week, we are optimistic to be watching every day. The warships have moved away now, perhaps they have gone further north. Without sonar filling the Minch we hope to have some cetacean encounters – it was this time last year that we observed ‘John Coe’ the infamous killer whale cruise through our field site! Fingers crossed…