Currently holed up at Plockton (mainland Scotland) for the day while some wild and windy weather passes through – the wind is moaning loudly, but the team are quite happy! We are also waiting to collect a new hydrophone as the one on board has stopped working. It’s a morning in the classroom learning seal identification, brushing up on cetacean identification and learning about the wider implications of our work.
We left the wild beauty of Harris yesterday (see photo – our yacht on far right) to head east for shelter from what was forecast, covering 62 miles and some bumpy seas on the way, with Brian and Steve enjoying a go at the helm (Brian in photo).
We had one sighting of a nuclear submarine that surfaced a mile away from us, two seals, four harbour porpoises and possibly a minke whale spotted by Celine – the sea was pretty choppy at that point, so the chance of clear sightings was quite low.
Will be heading to Skye tomorrow with a new hydrophone and a fully rested team.
Almost everyone was on time for assembly and those who weren’t didn’t do press-ups ;( After that disappointment, we made it to our beautiful research liveaboard and almost straight into briefings and Reef Check training as we steamed over to Banyan Tree. Once there, we got wet and settled into our diving at the really nice house reef with a couple of sharks and plenty of fish and coral for company.
No rest for the wicked as the sun set, however. Instead more Reef Check training (see below. I think we’ll all sleep well tonight!
Group 2 arrived safely, were fully briefed and kitted up with new T-shirts and Buffs, and then we set sail around midday on Wednesday towards Rum and Canna where we quickly lost contact with the outside world. We’ve now headed north west to the Outer Hebrides where there is finally a little bit of contact!
The first day went really well, everyone learnt their duties extremely quickly and we spotted five harbour porpoises, three seals and three common dolphins! One dolphin even came to “bow ride” at the front of the boat. It played in our bow wave for a good few minutes swimming from one side to the other and leaping clear of the water giving everyone a really good view – even Brian who had been preoccupied below deck! Smiles all round – see photos.
Weather and sea state have been variable, we lay in our bunks last night at “Wizard’s Pool” in Loch Skipport, South Uist, listening to the moaning of the wind before the crew took the boat on a midnight journey to another part of the loch because the anchor was slipping. We’re now using that wind to sail silently northwards and see what’s lurking in the mist..
And just as I was wrote this, a 7 – 8 metre basking shark rudely interrupted – spotted by Lena at the front of the boat!
My bag: Some of you have said that “men can pack like that, but women can’t”. I’m not sure. Some of you have very rightly pointed out that there is a scale missing on the photo, so you were unable to assess whether my bag was small or humongous. That of course is a very valid point, so a picture of the bag (with my dive watch for scale) is below. I would argue it is small.
And I have an admission to make. I am struggling to fit it all in! The main culprit is Buff (who?). Well, as you may know they help us out on the expeditions and supply us with Buffs (what?). Their latest shipment has arrived this morning and so I have to fit your Buffs in to my bag.
If you are still not sure what this Buff thing is, then have a look below.
I am 45, pushing 46, and I am told – by someone who does – that I will soon need glasses to read small print. Well, some people on the expedition last year were there already and one of them suggested that we should have underwater magnifying glasses to help us old people with data slate filling-in. So, voilà, here they are and in my bag, which I packed today. That bag, incidentally, is the entirety of my luggage. Beat that troopers!
Another beautiful addition is a map of our proposed route with some background info:
Hello everyone and welcome to the Maldives 2013 diary. Here is a welcome message with some news –
I look forward to seeing you in Male’ on Sunday (no change to what it says in the dossier).
We have also put more study materials on www.biosphere-expeditions.org/checklist > tab “Diving expeditions” and I attach our itinerary and the dive sites plan. As you can see, it’s a packed schedule, so please come rested and as swatted up on Reef Check and whale sharks as you can.
My local number should be xxx. Remember that this is for emergencies (such as missing assembly) only and that I will only be in Male’ from Saturday 15.00.
Yesterday we had an excellent grand finale to the expedition when we had a close encounter with two minke whales foraging together north of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula. As you can see in the photo only one at a time would pose for us!
So in just under 500 miles we sighted harbour porpoises and seals (common and grey) every day plus six basking sharks, three minke whales, hundreds of guillemots, cormorants, gulls, kittiwakes, gannets and shearwaters and a handful of puffins. All these sightings were plotted on a map of our route (see below) as we travelled and this will be added to the huge amount of data collected by volunteers every summer, which is analysed and used to help protect these incredible species.
A big thank you to the team – Irina, Marcus, Judy, Emily, Verena and Michael and the crew of Stuart & Tom and scientist Olivia!
The longest day; our last full day of surveying and what an exciting one!
61 miles, 6 basking sharks, 1 minke whale, plus the “usual” harbour porpoises and seals.
As you can see everyone spent time on the deck getting up close and personal with the basking sharks just off Coll and Tiree. Then on our way back towards the mainland we encountered our first whale, a “stinky minke” just off Ardnamurchan. Stinky, because you can smell you are in the presence of the whale. Michael also listened to the clicks of a pod of dolphins when he was using the hydrophone. Although the dolphins must have been quite close unfortunately no one saw them. However, we have another chance tomorrow on our way back to Tobermory, so flippers crossed..
We are now exploring the sea lochs on the west side of Mull (in other words sheltering from bad weather and rough seas) and are back in communication with the outside world! Our route has taken us south as far as Northern Ireland and we spent Sunday night anchored at Rathlin Island, County Antrim before heading north again, stopping off at beautiful Colonsay, and back to Mull.
We have seen lots of harbour porpoises and on Sunday we beat the onboard acoustic detection technology – volunteers 12 : hydrophone 7!
As you can see in the photos everyone has been studying hard to brush up on their sea bird identification skills and the whole team have had a chance to pretend to be a bird by climbing 6 m up the main mast into the crow’s nest.