Whale Watching by Wild Discovery on MV Loch Seaforth
Wild Discovery tell us about their three-day trip onboard MV Loch Seaforth engaging with passengers on spotting marine wildlife.
Wow! What an incredible three days we have just had aboard the MV Loch Seaforth, Caledonian MacBrayne vessel that operates between Stornoway and Ullapool. Between the 22nd and 24th August we crossed the Minch ten times looking for whales, dolphins and seabirds, and what a success it was.
Dan and Rachael from Wild Discovery were joined by tens of you, all keen on spotting marine wildlife and we weren't disappointed. The sailing across takes just over two and a half hours and connects the northern town of Ullapool on mainland Scotland with the capital of the Outer Hebrides, Stornoway. The ferry passes between the scenic Summer Isles, out across the Minch before coming in along the south side of the Eye Peninsula and into Stornoway. It's a stunning route taking in some of the best coastal scenery in the UK and it's also a haven for marine wildlife. In fact, it offers some of the best whale and dolphin watching in the UK.
From our view point on the upper back decks of the MV Loch Seaforth we all scanned with eager eyes, straining to see the first sign of a whale or dolphin and it didn't take long. We managed to spot whales and dolphins on all ten voyages with a superb diversity of eight species making it one of the richest areas of sea around the British Isles. The sightings included our smallest cetacean, the Harbour Porpoise (also known as the 'Sea Pig'), right through to the second largest animal on the planet, the Fin Whale.
Using the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust Whale Track App we logged 949 whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) from 135 sightings and over 18,000 birds of 25 species using the eBird recording app (all sightings summarised below). Common Dolphins made up the majority of sightings followed by Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale, Fin Whale, Humpback Whale, Northern Bottlenose Whale, Sei Whale and Bottlenose Dolphin. Some of these species such as Harbour Porpoise and Bottlenose Dolphin are predominantly resident in the area whilst others like the big whales move into these rich waters in the summer months as the feeding increases for them.
The biggest surprise was the appearance of two Northern Bottlenose Whales off Priest Island which we later saw again breaching close to Horse Island. These elusive whales normally prefer the deep waters of the North Atlantic though there has been an apparent increase in the number of inshore sightings which raises the question and concerns as to why they are coming closer inshore.
Of the 18,000 thousand birds logged the mix of species was superb with many in the process of epic migrations. Arctic Terns and a Long-tailed Skua headed south past us from their Arctic breeding grounds potentially destined for Antarctica, in the case of the Arctic Tern, and the south Atlantic. Our locally breeding Manx Shearwaters were gathering in good numbers before heading down to the Argentinian coast whilst Sooty Shearwaters from the Falkland Islands and Tierra del Fuego were spending their 'winter' in Hebridean waters. Guillemots and Kittiwakes made up the bulk of the sightings and likely originated from the very impressive seabird colonies locally. We even saw a few waders including Bar-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Turnstone and Ringed Plover all Africa-bound from their Arctic breeding sites.
There is not a lot more we could have asked for and really hope that those of you who joined us enjoyed it as much as we did. If you'd like to join us next year then we are in the process of working out dates so watch this space! And of course you can hop on to this ferry and many others as a foot passenger at any point.
Visit Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust to find out more about whale and dolphin spotting on the west coast and how you can get involved.