MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban, Tobermory and the Sound of Sleat 11th July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer (WLO)
Weather conditions - Sunny with high winds and occasional rain.

Marine Mammals:
Common Seal 10
Harbour Porpoise 2
Bottlenose Dolphin 2
Minke Whale 1

Seabirds
Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Kittiwake
Gannet
Manx Shearwater
Guillemot
Common Tern
Cormorant
Skua

Terrestrial Birds
Sea Eagle

I arrived at the pier and boarded the MV Balmoral at around 9.30am. Once on board I set up my camera and binoculars and put on my high-vis vest. We left the Oban North Pier at 10am and began the journey into the Sound of Mull. The sea state was calm to begin with, and just out of the pier we were treated to views of four Common Seal fishing, along with plenty of Herring Gull, Guillemot, Gannet, Kittiwake and Black-backed Gull.

Common Seal Adrian Shephard 05

Common Seals (Adrian Shephard)

As we entered the Sound of Mull and passed under Duart Castle, nearby Lady Rock was occupied by a large group of Kittiwake, and another Common Seal was calmly circling it.

A single Bottlenose Dolphin was sighted jumping near the rocks, and as we cruised around the Isle of Mull, there were large groups of Common Tern and Manx Shearwater putting on impressive displays alongside the boat. As we came into Tobermory I was informed by a passenger that he had spotted a dolphin jumping, however, I was unable to find out what species they had seen. As we left Tobermory harbour, there were several Cormorant flying around, which were very impressive to see.

As we made our way past Ardnamurchan point, the sea state became slightly rougher as the winds picked up. There were plenty of seabirds to be seen, including terns, Guillemot, Manx Shearwater and Razorbill, and one passenger claimed to have seen a Minke Whale whilst looking out towards the Isle of Coll.

Minke Peter Howlett 03

Minke Whale (Peter Howlett)

As we reached Eig and the Small Isles there were large congregations of Manx Shearwater, most likely the nesting population from the Isle of Rum, unable to return to their nests due to the bright sunlight that day. Several passengers were also excited by a large brown bird very close to the deck; a lone Skua!

As we entered the harbour at Mallaig, there were plenty of Herring Gull around, and I was particularly interested by a nest on the rocks containing three chicks. There was also a Common Seal in the harbour which caught the attention of most of the passengers. Also, plenty of Gannet flying around and one Cormorant washing itself quite happily in the water.

As we cruised the Sound of Sleat, there were plenty of birds to keep us entertained, including more congregations of Manx Shearwater, and lots of Common Tern, Kittiwake and Gannet.

As we returned the way we came, bird sightings remained the same as the way out with plenty of terns, Manx Shearwater, Gannet, Herring Gull, Guillemot, Black-backed Gull, Razorbill and Cormorant on the water.

Manx Shearwater Peter Howlett 04

Manx Shearwater (Peter Howlett)

As we cruised back through the Sound of Mull, a passenger tapped me on the shoulder and pointed upwards, giving me a fantastic view of a sea eagle flying across to the mainland, where it began hovering and circling, looking for food. As we passed Lady Rock again, the Kittiwake had been joined by around 6 Common Seal, hauled out basking in the sun. Another passenger also informed me that they had seen 2 Harbour Porpoise on the cruise back through.

We returned to the harbour slightly later than scheduled, around 9.45pm. After thanking the crew for accommodating me, I disembarked and made my way to my overnight accommodation to rest up for the next day's trip!