Last weekend's overnight trip aboard the MV Monadhliath had a very exciting start - before we were even level with Arnish lighthouse on our way out of Stornoway Harbour, a pod of bottlenose dolphins approached our vessel at speed and engaged in some very energetic and quick bow riding. After a few leaps and twists, the pod peeled off toward the coast and we slowed down in hopes of seeing them again. They resurfaced just off the cliff below the lighthouse, and we were able to observe them taking part in what looked like hunting and feeding activities. The pod then seemed to head back out to sea, and we continued on our course south towards our anchorage for the evening.
There was a swell on the water as we cruised the Isle of Lewis coastline, and as the rain was coming and going, guests and guides alike took some shelter in the protected area at the stern of Monadhliath. Waterproof outer layers and hot teas and coffees go a long way in keeping everyone comfortable on days like this at sea! The swell made spotting our cetaceans very difficult, with every wavelet starting to look uncannily like a dorsal fin, but we were able to spot a large group of porpoise surfacing several times not far from the boat.
Once within the shelter of Loch Sealg (Loch Shell), the sea calmed down and the rain held off enough for our group to head aloft and take in the spectacular scenery. The waterfalls and rivers that run down the hillsides were in full spate, evidence of the rain the island had had during the week before, and the autumn colours on the hills are fiery and dramatic. As we dropped anchor, keen eyes aloft spotted our first white tailed sea eagle of the voyage - and then our second - and then our third - and within minutes, we had seven white tailed sea eagles circling high above our vessel. The individuals were a mixture of adult and juvenile birds, and our clients were able to see the snowy white tails of the mature animals vs. the darker plumage of the youngsters.
The following morning, steaming towards the Shiants, we encountered a pod of short-beaked common dolphins who quickly came alongside for some bow riding. The pod stayed with us for some thirty minutes, displaying fantastic leaps clear of the water, and acrobatic twists and turns under the surface. This energetic group stayed with us as we approached the Shiant Isles, leaving us just as we approached the west side of Eilean Garbh. Continuing our circumnavigation of the islands, we were delighted to spot more fins as we turned the eastern corner of Eilean Tighe - tall, curiously marked fins that immediately identified their owners as Risso's dolphins. We estimate there were between ten and fifteen individuals in this group, who swam alongside our vessel for the length of Eilean Tighe.
Turning for home, we cruised north towards Stornoway, and around an hour from home, a second pod of short-beaked common dolphins decided to use Monadhliath for some fun, and began riding at the bow. We noted several juvenile animals within this pod, which we duly recorded along with all our other cetacean sightings, in the HWDT's Whale Tracking app.
We continued our way home with delighted clients and guides alike. After our hat-trick of dolphin species and seven eagles in the skies above us, who wouldn't be delighted!?