MARINElife Wildlife Officer Report 'MV Balmoral' Oban to Iona 12th July 2017

Rachel Meacock; MARINElife Wildlife Officer
Weather Conditions - Sunny with light wind and excellent visibility

Marine Mammals:
Harbour Porpoise 6
Bottlenose Dolphin 3

Herring Gull
Black-backed Gull
Manx Shearwater

Arriving at the pier at 10.30am, I quickly made my way on board and set myself up for the day with my camera and binoculars. It was a very warm and sunny day, and we set off from Oban North Pier at 11.00am. There were plenty of Herring Gull flying around the harbour, along with Guillemot, and lots of Moon Jellyfish in the water.

Harbour Porpoise Graham Ekins 01

Harbour Porpoise (Graham Ekins)

As we began the cruise through the Sound of Kerrera we sighted lots of Gannet and plenty more gulls, both Herring and Black-backed. Due to the low winds and warm temperatures, the water was very still and perfect for sighting marine mammals, as became clear when I sighted a Harbour Porpoise breeching continuously in front of the boat.

As we continued, Cormorant were sighted sitting on the water and large groups of Kittiwake were also seen flying around and sitting on the water. Between the Isle of Seil and the Isle of Mull, 2 more Harbour Porpoise were spotted. There were also large groups of Manx Shearwater and Guillemot sitting on the water along the Mull coast, with several of the Guillemot accompanied by chicks.

Guillemots 01_Rachel Meacock

Guillemots (Rachel Meacock)

These large groups of auk species continued to be sighted as we cruised past the Slate Isles, as did Harbour Porpoise as we had another 2 sightings. There was also a sighting beneath the water of a large Barrel Jellyfish.

Barrel jellyfish

Barrel Jellyfish (Rob Petley-Jones)

As we passed the Isles of Scarba and Colonsay, and the Isle of Jura became visible on the horizon, porpoise number 6 was spotted along with a group of Black-backed Gull.

As we rounded the southern tip of Mull and began to cruise towards Iona, there were several sightings of Shag, along with a single Gannet dramatically dive bombing into the water. As the MV Balmoral began to prepare to allow passengers to disembark for the Isle of Iona, passengers were treated to a traditional anchor drop using bells. After this, we were picked up by another boat and brought to the Isle, as is tradition.

Gannet 01_Rachel Meacock

Gannet (Rachel Meacock)

On the Isle of Iona, I enjoyed a leisurely walk through the ruined nunnery and past the abbey, upon which, I excitedly found a highland cow, before making my way back to the café by the harbour for lunch. Keeping an eye on the sea, I was able to sight several Herring Gull, along with many House Sparrow and Crow.

Once back on board the MV Balmoral, the cruise away from Iona gave me lots of Shag sightings, as a popular nesting spot for these birds is on the cliffs of Iona. There were also lots of Gannet, Black-backed Gull, Kittiwake, Guillemot with chicks, Manx Shearwater, Razorbill, and Cormorant to keep us busy with sightings.

As we came back into the Sound of Kerrera, I had two passengers approach me with a marine mammal sighting. Some quick discussion as to the breeching behaviour allowed us to decipher that three Bottlenose Dolphin had also been sighted.

BND Adrian Shephard 04

Bottlenose Dolphins (Adrian Shephard)

The MV Balmoral docked back at Oban North Pier at 8.00pm, and I thanked the crew, disembarked and headed for home.