Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Life's a Breach

Sea Life Surveys captain log, also published here -

The weather throughout May was mainly mild and settled and it is reported to be the third warmest spring in the UK in a hundred years on record. This will of course have an impact and dictate all wildlife at this key time of the year for many species. A big difference to last years spring which had lower than average temperatures, creating delayed seasonal patterns. 

We have welcomed two new crew members to Sea Life Surveys as Johanna has came all the way from Canada to work with us this season and also Rona arrives from Ayrshire to join the team for 2014. 

On our Whalewatch Explorer cruises we have had some great encounters with common dolphins and on May 8th we had around 200 animals interacting around us and James the skipper deployed the hydrophone and the animals clicks and whistles were played through the on-board loudspeakers. It was a magical moment as experiencing the sounds of nature are just as impressive as viewing the spectacles. 

On the 22nd of May we headed out on a Whalewatch Explorer with a moderate easterly wind so the skipper (James) decided to cover the mainlands coastlines for more sheltered waters on the cruise. As we made our way round the 'wild west' of Ardnamurchan and there seemed to be sea birds feeding and foraging everywhere we looked which was very promising signs. After persevering for a while I suddenly noticed a mass of white water in a north east direction so I made sure everyone was focusing in that direction and then suddenly a minke whale breached clean out of the water!! An amazing moment in nature as the whale breached nine times consecutively and moments after a second whale did a solitary breach only a few hundred yards from the boat! A minke whale breaching is seldom seen and in over thirty years of researching these waters, James and Richard (Sea Life Surveys director and founder) have never observed two separate whales breach in close proximity. Also around 95% of records of minke whales breaching during that time observed by Sea Life Surveys has been in a choppier sea state which contemplates the theory that minke whales prefer to breach in those conditions. 

Another great record in recent weeks was the return of Knobble the minke whale, as we had our first sighting this season of the individual on the 26th May. We had just encountered a hurry consisting of shearwater, kittiwakes and auks which were joined by two minke whales feeding with them. We cut the engines, observed the spectacle and suddenly a third whale surfaced metres from us...Knobble! was shouted almost in sync by myself and Andy Tait!
Knobble has been the most regular whale recorded on Sea Life Surveys cruises in recent years and was first sighted back in 2002!

Along with getting some fantastic views of minke whales in the early season we have also managed to capture some ID frames of the animals managing a detailed image of both sides of their back and dorsal fin. As encounters increase throughout the season a personal relationship can build up with individual whales and I think it is a great added experience for guests on board when we can show a direct example of research and also the lovely story of been on first name terms with a wild whale.