When Risso's become old friends.
Our overnight cruise of 31st July - 1st August began fairly overcast, but at least it was dry and relatively flat out on the water. Dazzling sunny days are great for working on our sun tans, but aren't always ideal for scanning for cetaceans, as the glare on the water can limit our ability to see the creatures we are searching for. The grey days can be that bit better and increase our chances of seeing marine wildlife - so no complaints aboard MV Monadhliath as we left the harbour. Around an hour south of our home port of Stornoway, we were delighted to spot a large group of fins in the distance. Changing course to investigate, our suspicions were confirmed as we identified them as a pod of Risso's dolphins; we counted between 10 and 15 individuals in the group, information we have logged in both the WhaleTrack app, and for National Whale & Dolphin Watch Week, run by Sea Watch. We lingered for a short while to observe and enjoy the animals, before resuming our course south to our destination, the Shiant Islands.
As we approached the Shiants, we were delighted to see both young guillemots and young puffins out on the surface of the water. The little archipelago is still busy with puffins, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags hurrying to and fro, but we are noticing now that the cliff faces and grassy slopes are not as crowded as they were in July. The breeding season on the Enchanted Isles is coming to its inevitable end, and the sea birds are heading back to the open ocean for the winter. We paused in the bay between Eilean Tighe and Eilean Garbh to observe the rocky scree that is the summer home to so many sea birds, before circumnavigating the islands to approach from the south side in the hopes of landing. Our guests were delighted to head ashore and explore Eilean Tighe, taking in the bothy and hiking the slopes to the viewpoint high above the bay. On their return, we made for Loch Sealg to anchor for the evening. En route we were delighted to observe a large group of porpoise engaged in hunting activities, porpoising energetically at the mouth of the sea loch. Generally a shy creature, these individuals gave us quite a performance to finish off the first day of our cruise.
As we left Loch Sealg the following morning, we observed grey seals in a posture known as 'bottling' - fast asleep at the surface of the water with their snouts high in the air. The kids aboard were delighted to be able to hear the snuffling snores!
Making for home, we were delighted to encounter our Risso's dolphins once more; recognising several individuals in the pod, we realised they were the animals we had seen the day before. Risso's dolphins have curious markings on their skin, and each dolphin's markings are unique, allowing us to make the identification. Risso's dolphins begin life with very dark skin that is rather sensitive; over time, they acquire white scar markings from various tussles with their prey and even each other. The older individuals can appear to be nearly pure white with the accumulation of their scarring. Pausing to observe the pod once more, our guide Muriel was able to take some great photographs of the animals - pictures of Risso's dolphins are particularly sought after by the WDC, with whom we are always delighted to share images and data.
A pleasant sail on flat calm water brought us home - another adventure complete!