Updated: Aug 5, 2019
By Jon Biddle.
A keen group of wildlife spotters from several different corners of the world & of various ages came onboard Monadhliath today & we were blessed with some plentiful & excellent sightings on our voyage to the Shiant isles. Despite periods of rain, or 'liquid sunshine' as we like to call it up here, during which only a hardy father and daughter from France and a guide remained on the observation platform scanning for wildlife, the sea state was as flat as a pancake all day long. Such excellent sea conditions allowed us to spot the usually tricky porpoise from kilometres away, and today we counted 93 individual porpoise, a sign of the abundance of wildlife in this special area when the sightability and feeding conditions for such animals coincide.
In fact for most of the day the surface of the sea was covered in a sprinkling of resting seabirds.. a sure sign that the fishing in the area had been good for them today. It was heart warming to see a lot of baby guillemots and razorbills accompanied by their fathers out on the sea, already big enough to leave the breeding colony where there is more danger from predation by skuas and black-backed gulls. A few small pufflings (young puffins) were also seen, although unlike the guillemots and razorbills, they have to learn to fend for themselves on their own, as both adult puffins return to sea when the chick is big enough.
It was the cetaceans however that eventually stole the show today, with an incredible 52 different sightings of one or more animals (our highest daily number yet !!!) As well as porpoise both near and far, we saw several minke whales and had a pod of common dolphins with young bow-riding for several magical minutes. Our guides Sarah and Muriel even getting selfies with the dolphins!
But the highlight of the day must surely be the 3 different pods of Risso's dolphins we encountered today. As well as the usual "gentle" tranquil swimming of these large graceful dolphins, we were also treated to displays of leaping, fluking, lob tailing and spy hopping - a whole array of distinct behaviours. The second pod had at least 25 dolphins in it & it seems that we were privileged once more to encounter at least 1 extremely rare hybrid Risso's/ bottlenose dolphin, although being surrounded by so many Risso's it was hard to concentrate on the odd ones, so we will need to confirm this when we get a chance to study the photos. An amazing encounter. (N.B. The id has now been confirmed by photograph)
There were still plenty of puffins at the Shiants though the numbers of other seabirds on the cliffs had dropped considerably since mid week, a sign of the end of a successful breeding season and a return to the open seas. Kittiwake chicks were also plentiful, great to see after last seasons' poor sucess rates. We got to see the differences between both harbour and grey seals and spotted several types of jellyfish too. And as ever the islands remained as impressive, mysterious and awe inspiring as ever. Such a different world to the one most of us humans live in.
We headed north once more enjoying plenty more surfacing porpoise, another minke, and spectacular views of sea eagles. What a great wildlife day in the Outer Hebrides!
If you are looking for things to do in Stornoway and the Outer Hebrides during your summer holidays, please do book a trip with us via the website - we'd love to see you.