Minkes in the Mist

Sightings Archive

Emma and I were a little surprised when we popped up to the Bridge early this morning to find that we were actually heading in a southerly direction! Apparently we'd arrived a little early into Shetland waters and were gently cruising down the rocky east coast. After several more 180 degree turns we finally headed into Lerwick and arrived on the berth at 0730.

Several seals of both species bemusedly watched as the passengers were disembarked from the Minerva onto various coaches for a variety of excursions. With the usual efficiency and delightful ease that we've come to expect from Swan Hellenic, we were soon whisked away on our coach tour towards the small Shetland isle of Mousa with Derek, the very knowledgeable local guide. Emma and I escorted the 'Swans' as the Minerva passengers are affectionately known, so that we could point out the diverse wildlife and answer any questions on the marine mammals and birds to be found around the islands. And they weren't to be disappointed…

On approach to Mousa

Our coach took us to a tiny harbour where we boarded a small boat which carried us across to Mousa on a 20minute journey, surrounded by spectacular rocky islets and bays. The wet weather did nothing to dampen our spirits, especially as we managed to spot several Harbour Porpoise and were able to show all of our 'Swans' these fabulous cetaceans. Shags and Black Guillemots flapped away in front of our boat giving stunning views, and a handful of Fulmars were spotted nesting on the cliffs.

Shags on rocks
Fulmar and chick

Mousa itself was a fascinating island where Emma and I were able to help everyone to identify a variety of different birds. We found migratory Wheatears hopping around the stone walls, Rock Pipits on the shoreline, Snipe 'drumming' overhead in display flight, a flock of the endangered Twite (a small finch with a pink rump), and an incredibly persistent Arctic Skua which proceeded to dive-bomb us as we walked along the path past its recently fledged chick. Arriving at the world's tallest 'broch' (a 2000yr old iron-age drystone round tower) we talked about how the European Storm Petrels use it as an important breeding site where they fly in at night to avoid predators, having spent all day far out at sea. And we had breathtaking views of the beautiful Black Guillemot (known as the Tystie in these parts due to the Norse name for their whistled call) as they competed for space on the narrow rock ledges.

Adult Arctic Skua

Arctic Skua fledgling

Black Guillemot

Unfortunately we learned from the RSPB wardens on the island that the seabirds have suffered a catastrophic breeding season this year, especially the Arctic Terns, which appear to have raised no chicks at all due to a huge shortage of sandeels and some heavy storms earlier in the season. This information really brought home to the passengers how fragile the marine environment is, how many challenges face our native wildlife, and how the research being gathered by organisations like Marinelife is so fundamentally important.

Having watched a confiding Common Seal playing in a cove below us we headed back to the coach and had a whistle-stop tour of Shetland, adding Whimbrel, Raven, Lapwing, Whooper Swan, Oystercatcher and several other birds to our growing list, but it was the diminutive Shetland Ponies which appealed most to Emma and many of the passengers!

Common Seal

The journey out of Shetland was equally exciting as we had heard reports of cetacean sightings during the previous seven days in Yell Sound, so the ever-supportive Captain Biasutti made arrangements to alter our planned course to steer the Minerva expertly through this evocative and spectacular coastline. Things were looking good as we managed to spot two different Minke Whales, giving most passengers excellent views during our allocated deck-watch and hopes were high as we entered Yell Sound. Unfortunately the weather closed in, preventing us from making any further sightings of marine mammals, but the atmosphere it created in the Sound was hauntingly evocative and all of the passengers on deck enjoyed the eerie experience of sailing so quietly through these beautiful waters, whilst ghostly headlands emerged out of the mist before disappearing again almost as quickly.

Minke Whale

Puffins and Arctic Terns continued to entertain us as we left the Shetlands behind and an exhausted first summer Kittiwake landed on the foc'sle, desperate to take a rest from the elements, teasing the Captain by doing its business on his clean ship!

Kittiwake on the foc'sle

And so, as darkness wrapped itself around us, we began our journey towards the Faeroes, and ultimately Iceland, where the land of Ice and Fire awaits…

Best regards, Mikey

Minerva will be returning to Iceland and visiting St Kilda on MIN110721 (21 July - 05 August 2011).