Puffins, Porpoises and Plastic Pollution!
What a season 2019 turned out to be!
April at the Shiant Islands saw the arrival of thousands of Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills, Fulmars and Kittiwakes and also signified the start of or four hour cruises on Seaquest MRV. With Seabirds numbers in Loch Gairloch on a continuous decline for the last decade, to see so many birds making their home on The Shiants offered a sense of relief knowing that they are still managing to thrive outwith our Loch. April also see a gathering of White-tailed Eagles at the Shiant Islands with as many as 11 different birds both Adult and Juvenile seen on a single cruise!
This season has brought bumper sightings of Cetaceans, numerous cruises encountered 'Cetacean Hat-tricks' with Minke Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises seen and one very special cruise to the Shiant Islands had 14 separate Minke Whales just on the way out with one inquisitive juvenile Whale spending an hour circling round and under the boat, spy-hopping, rolling over and flashing his white belly. Unable to move for fear of causing him a propeller injury, we cut the engines and just waited for him to get bored.... It was a truly magical experience.
In June we had Bottle-nosed Dolphins in Loch Gairloch and later in the season saw huge numbers of Short-beaked Common Dolphins, including one day when there was a super-pod of more than 500 individuals in the Loch and out into The Minch as far as the eye could see! September saw Porpoises, usually solitary animals, coming together into groups of four or five to feed close to the surface on a sudden abundance of bait fish.
In addition to Cetaceans we also had some incredible encounters with rarer ocean wanderers such as the Basking Sharks and Ocean Sunfish and some rare birds too including Arctic and Pomarine Skuas, Roseate Terns, Manx Shearwaters, Storm Petrels and even a White-billed Diver!!!
May brought the first of our many encounters with plastic pollution when we caught the first lot of rope round the propeller which subsequently lead to Seaquest MRV being out of action for a number of weeks, but it wasn't the only encounter... we removed a sleeping bag floating out in The Minch, in June we witnessed the devastating injuries that abandoned and lost rope and net can cause to wildlife when we saw a female Grey Seal with mono-filament mesh cutting deep into her neck, sadly we besides reporting the situation to the Outer Hebrides branch of BDMLR, there was very little we could do for her. We never saw her again and unfortunately the prognosis was not good as she was already clearly underweight. September saw us pick up yet more rope round the propeller of Seaquest MRV, when we put MV Starquest on the beach in November for her usual winter maintenance she too had a large amount of rope on her propeller which has also cause damage and on a trip to Badachro to check Starquest we came across a beautiful Stag with plastic strapping wrapped round his antlers!!
It is heartbreaking to see out wonderful land and marine wildlife afflicted by careless human behaviour..... So we will continue to bring in anything we find floating at sea and next season we will be running our Plastic Challenge again encouraging our customers to take a hessian coffee sack and do mini beach cleans and for every bag of beach plastic they bring back we will make a donation to the Porpoise Conservation Society!
For us, the hard work now starts, cleaning, replacing woodwork, painting and polishing the boats, we re-open on the 28th March for the Easter Holidays and look forward to seeing you all next year!!