We (WDCS researchers Nicola and Sarah along with our able Canine Research Assistants, Kila and Harvey) have returned to the magical Isle of Lewis in the Western Isles of Scotland for 8 weeks of field work in search of Risso’s dolphins and other marine megafauna – and we have received a warm and watery welcome!
Yesterday was our first land-based survey day and we were treated to two minke whales, a harbour porpoise and a sunfish sighting from our beautiful lighthouse vista at Tiumpan Head on the Eye Peninsula (To be honest, the sunfish looked more like a plastic bag when we first spotted it as it didn’t have the typical ‘sailing’ fin – but after closer inspection, and gauging its speed through the water, we were confident as to what it was!)
Today the forecast led us to believe that it might be good enough weather to venture out in the boat - and the forecast was mostly right, we only got a wee bit soggy! Our porpoise friends lived up to their name in Loch Erisort where they actually came ‘porpoising’ out of nowhere, puffing their way repeatedly past and under the boat.
We left the low and ominous clouds that were hanging over Lewis behind us and headed out into the Minch, and south towards the Shiant Islands. As we ploughed through the turbulent water of the East Shiants Bank, we passed a colourful puffin on the water, a few guillemots, two large rafts of some hundred odd juvenile kittiwakes, many young flying gannets and our old friends the bonxies (skuas) who came alongside to check us out.
The Shiant Islands themselves didn’t disappoint. How could they? It’s been very dry on the Western Isles for several months (of course the rain has started now that we have arrived!) and the grassy slopes above the scree are brown and autumnal. After a brief pause to admire the basking grey seals that were lazily watching us from the water, we decided to try and beat the dark and foreboding black clouds home.
We made good progress as the tide was now with us until Lewis, our skipper (let’s not get confused with the island now!), shouted “dolphins ahead!” We had heard that common dolphins had been spending the last few weeks in this stretch of water and we were delighted that they had found us. Let the Dolphin Olympics commence!
Performing world-class acrobatics, they were with us in no time. Bow-riding and leaping all around us, especially in the wake at the aft of the boat, these dolphins put on a display worthy of a gold medal or three. Speedy though they were, we counted about 25 dolphins including a very young calf and three other small animals. What a great start to our field season!