Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Working for SLS on Eagle Island 2010

Hello everyone I am going to go through a few of my highlights from my time working up in Mull, but to be honest the whole experience was one big highlight but im going to break it down into smaller bite size chunks to make it easier to take in! :-)

Getting the chance to work for Sea Life Surveys was a fantastic opportunity as I have being following there research and sightings on the website the last few years and I was fully aware of their top reputation and experience. On the first week up we had a mixed bag of weather and some good trips to go with it with whales, sharks and eagles showing well. As far as the work was going I was getting into the routines and it was slowly all becoming second nature like tying certain knot types and driving greenie the boat and the RIB (rubber Inflatable Boat).

The second week the number of punters was really picking up and two trips a day was on order which was great to see. Public awareness is vital for wildlife and conservation and it is important to get people on their side because in this day and age the most important thing is their understanding of the importance to help protect and improve the wildlife and their environments.

At the end of the week on the Sunday it was Lifeboat day and it involved raising money for the lifeboats in a number of different ways and SLS provided half hour seal cruises throughout the day. I helped on a couple of the seal cruises early on and in the afternoon I was a high Flier!.....I said to people High..do you want a Flier? So basically I was handing out leaflets in Tobermory with Frazer trying to encourage people to come on the seal trips.

At the end of the day it was a big success and I think we topped the money raised on last year. To celebrate we had a BBQ on the boat with the SLS staff and the Lifeboat staff on a lovely sunny evening and did a spot of fishing and munched on a few burgers which was brilliant!

Andy Tait, Yorkie (sarah), Me and Sam

Week 3 and some more magic trips and sightings but one that stands out more than others was a 7 hour whale watching trip. The RMS Titanic (Sula Beg) set off at the usual time of half 9 for Whale trips and it was stunning blue sky, Sunshine and calm sea like a pond! The only thing we needed now was a bit of wildlife to go with it! Jimbo the skipper and Boss man of SLS decided that we would head towards the Isle of Muck. On our way there it was like an episode of Planet earth with Minke Whale surfacing either side of the boat and 40 plus sharks surrounding us along with porpoise and the classic Gannets diving more impressive than a pro football player! It was some spectical and makes you delighted to be alive! A quick pit stop at the island for a Big Muck burger! and it was time to head back for the second half of play. It was just as good in terms of sightings but an unfortunate incident hampered it as a lady fell over in all the excitement and was in a bad way and had to be rescued by the lifeboat rescue team which was funny timing after raising money for the organisation! it was a shame as it effected everyone else's spirits for the trip back and put a bit of a downer on the day but I suppose you have to take the shit with the sugar and as far as I know she was recovering well last I heard.

Lets play!...Sunday was my day off until I got a phone call asking to play in an annual cricket match for Isle of Coll against a Loch Buhie team on the southern part of Mull. I met the team at the mini bus by the harbour visitor centre and I did not know what to expect at all but when I met my team mates they were all delightful chaps especially team captain Archibold Toffell.

When we arrived at the venue It was like I had turned my clock back 40 years as we were at a huge old fashioned estate house with Heartbeat cars parked out the front.
I got the house tour when I went inside and it was spiffing to see the Billiards table and all the dead animal heads winched up on the wall. Also the stuffed birds of Prey looked as ugly as fook!

We got invited into the dining room for lunch and the Salmon and trimming were a delight! They did not warn me about the dress code though as they were all wearing smart green blazers and shiney clean boots and I was there in my Sports World Umbro Sweat pants and Topman Grey Hoody...I looked very much out of place, like a fish up a tree.

On to the match and we fielded first getting them out for 68 I bowled two overs getting 0-6 bowled ok considering it was my first sport played for 4 months since I did my ankle ligaments in. Onto the batting and I came in at number 5 when we were 25-3 and I hit a quickfire 25 not out having to retire with a 6 that nearly took out Archibolds fancy Landrover.

We won the match and took the trophy back to Coll. It was a great day all round and I met a lot of lovely people.

Found this mag when I went to use the toilet in the house and went for a wonder...

This is the magazine you want to be purchasing next time you call into Tesco......NAT! Forget about National Geographic and FHM! It is a yearly magazine and somehow I dont think they could change it into a weekly or monthly addition.

On the forth week the weather turned a bit wet and miserable but it did not effect the sightings on the boat as we had Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin and on one special trip where it rained for 7 hours solid we got 3 Risso's Dolphin by Kayak point which was the first sighting of the species in a number of years. The guides my self Frazer and Especially Ruth were delighted to bits as she smiled for the remainder of the day and the week probably! It was great to have Andy Currie on board for the week as well who is a friend who works at the uni with me back home.
The week continued with great success as we were getting fantastic punters on board, very enthusiastic and keen to see any forms of wildlife big and small. And the people who weren't so interested and excited it was our challenge and test to turn them around and make them see the fascination in the natural world and the wildlife within it.

The more trips we did and the more we got talking to all the different punters it was funny how many people know John Milo! I felt like the son of a celebrity! I was getting plenty of stick from the guides about it with quotes like "Oh my God John Milo is your dad!!" Ive told everyone that he will be up next season to make a special celebrity guest appearance on the boat and do a signing of his new book.

Me on Cairns of Coll

The superb trips and sightings continued and one trip on week 5 it was time to unleash team Yorkie for a 7 hour whale watch and as we were both fairly new this was our time to shine! One concern was that if we did an island landing on Coll then we would need to drive and control the RIB that neither us had done before so that would be interesting with 20 plus passengers on board. Pops would decide when we got out to the more open ocean so he always does to asses the conditions and weather possibilities.
The decision was made and Coll it was and when we arrived in the area I threw down the anchor and was still worrying about looking like a complete anchor when driving the RIB for the first time! Me and Yorkie did our prayers then we got ready to set sail on our maiden voyage with me driving and Yorkie controlling the engine. The whole thing was actually an overall success apart from us getting the RIB stuck on the beach with all the passengers on board twice! and also loosing Sula the dog on the island for a good 20 minutes but pops called me into the captains lounge afterwards to say what a good job we both did so happy happy happy!

Another highlight on the 5th week was getting to drive Sula beag for a spell while Pops had a break and again it was a completly new experience to me although it wasn't exactly difficult in all I had to go was steer her in a straight line and aim for the lighthouse in the distance without crashing into any other boats.
For most of the trips on the 5th week I was in charge of doing the photo ID shots for all the wildlife using a Cannon DSLR and a 400mm lens and as I was a keen photographer this was a great experience and very rewarding.

The last two trips were really special as on the Thursday we had a 4 hour trip to start with where we got Rissos again spotted by Sam the Mackam who had eagle eyes just like Andy Tait (burger Barry), it must be something about people from the north east having sharp eye sight. Then on the 2 hour eco trip on a beautiful sunny evening with only 5 passengers on board we got WT Eagle, Porpoise, Basking Shark and a Young Minke whale off Ardmore point for about half an hour! We also got bait balls, large schools of fish being pushed to the surface by predators below.
The next day another 4 hour Wildlife explorer and my final trip we got Assossiating Minke circling the boat at Kayak Point! Now this is special to see...really special...An animal in the wild of 8-10 meters in size actually relating to humans and greeting us in a form of communication. what a final day of the season for me, and to top it off we got WT eagle on the way back to see me out :-).

Here is some links to superb Video footage by Andy Tait on some of our Sea Life Survey trips......

My on my last trip of 2010

Wildlife seen during my time on and around Mull 2010: -
  • Minke Whales
  • Risso's Dolphin
  • Common Dolphin
  • Bottlenose Dolphon
  • Basking Shark
  • Oceanic Sunfish
  • WT Eagles
  • Golden Eagles
  • Hen Harrier
  • Peregrine Falcon
  • Great Shearwater!
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Corncrake
  • Ospreys
  • Great Northern Diver
  • Great Skua
  • Arctic Skua
  • Storm Petrol
My top 5 personal Highlights: -

5. My first whale experience on my first trip back in June, a minke whale surfacing close to the boat, I will never forget it
4. great Shearwater, as a birding enthusiast this was a special moment for me to see a fabulous bird like this and also a good rarity and record for the area.
3. Risso's Dolphin in the seven hour shower, They are a joy to watch and very sociable putting on a great show.
2. Working with and meeting such fantastic like minded people during my time on Mull.
1. Seeing such beautiful wildlife in their natural environment is the most rewarding thing for me knowing that they are safe to live, breed and rule in their habitats and I cant wait to go back :-)


  1. Ewan, what a fantastic experiance, some of the things you have seen and done are just amazing. I am thinking of taking my wife to Mull next May and do some birding. By the way when you mention Uni is it Newton Rigg?. I live in Penrith, may bump into you sometime. All the best Gordon.

  2. I haven't caught up with everything as yet Ewen, but that which I have read has been excellent reading and very well written. Cheers Brian.

  3. Hi Gordon Yes I would recommend Mull what a special place for wildlife it is. The Uni I was at was the one based in Carlisle at Fusehill street I finished in May. Thanks for looking! all the best
    Hi Brian also thanks for Looking hope everything is good over in the north east!