A weird but in the end wonderful day out on Monadhliath Thursday evening. Just like wildlife sightings, the Scottish weather can be a wee bit unpredictable, and a deluge of heavy rain throughout the morning continued into the afternoon. Hardly ideal conditions so our skipper wisely put the planned 2pm departure on standby until 6pm as you could hardly see the other side of the harbour for all the cats and dogs! By 4 pm things had improved to light rain only, and a little later the decision was made to try our luck out at sea.
I must admit, as we first set off in the drizzle, despite a reasonable sea state, I had my doubts as visibility was down to only a mile or so. As we slipped past the lighthouse at Arnish both red-throated and black-throated divers were seen as well as flurries of black guillemots and a few terns. Then, further into the bay, visibility started slowly getting better and better and the drizzle ceased. Of note were a good number of puffins in the bay, visiting from the distant Shiant Isles, foraging for their now hatched chicks / pufflings. A bonxie spectacularly harrased a bigger greater black-backed gull (which is also a fierce bird itself), but the slight chop made seeing the expected porpoise difficult, even though we had already seen bottling seals.
Then a way past chicken rock, our guide spotted a distant blow out in the Minch and broke into a nervous frenzy of adrenaline. Our skipper steered in the direction of said blow and once every few minutes other blows were seen in the direction we were heading, slowly getting closer and very impressive with their powerful, tall explosions of spray! This was something big and out of the usual for these waters. We counted not 1 but 2, then later 3 blows simultaneously! Excitement levels were high and soon we were treated to some truly fantastic views of the world's second largest whale - in fact 3 fin whales.
We saw not just the blows but their impressive long backs and distinctive swept back fin appearing some way back on the animals a few seconds after the mighty blows as they arched forwards. The whales would dive for a few minutes, but were easy to find again upon resurfacing because of the blows (I wish minke whales were so easy!) A minke even popped up close to the boat while all this was going on and we could hear its invisible blow, but we could see it was small in comparison to the fin whales, despite being an adult itself. However, most attention remained on the mighty fin whales, sorry minke!
We enjoyed some incredible views of the fin whales, and even got some observations of their raised splash-guards in front of their blowholes, and their distinctive back arches before making their deep dives. It was a very memorable encounter and despite personally having seen these majestic animals in other parts of the world, it was a real privilege to see them in Scotland, going to prove just how spectacular our marine wildlife can be.
We deliberately left the animals behind after a while and continued on our search for other marine wildlife. Not long after, another minke surfaced quite close to us. Then we turned south and enjoyed the stunning coastal cliff scenery of the eye peninsula. Dolphins suddenly appeared but only surfaced briefly and not showing much of themselves apart from large dorsal fins as they went about their business - most probably white beaked dolphins. It was quite late in this midsummer evening that we finally tied up in port, but the delayed start and patience for persevering with conditions had certainly payed off. What an amazing encounter and a true 'Hebridean Adventure' for crew and guests alike!
We have other trips lined up on Saturday and through next week if you'd like to get out on board with us. You can book via the website at https://hebrideanadventures.co.uk or if you are Stornoway, stop by the booking office at 22 North Beach above the harbour to see if any of the crew are around. We have notices up there and the Tourist Office listing the upcoming trip dates and times for you.