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Met Office survey - 22 August 60° 29’N 004° 10’W deploying K7

The conditions were right, with a sea state 2 and decent light, after a colourful sunrise (photo 1) but the wildlife had other ideas. Birds were generally few, the exception being the ever present Fulmar (photo 2). There were a few flocks of terns passing through, seemingly on their way south, a few I could identify as Arctic but most went down as ‘Commic’ Tern i.e. Common or Arctic. Puffin was also added to the survey list with eight logged in the two and half hour leg from dawn to reaching the K7 position.

The cetaceans weren’t playing ball either as they proved to be few and far between too. A school of about 15 Common Dolphins, including at least 6 juveniles/calves was the only dolphin sighting. The sighting of a whale blow is always exciting (photo 3) and one picked up about 1200m ahead could be identified as a Fin Whale when it surfaced closer (although right in the glare of the sun!). Two other animals weren’t quite so obliging and remained only as probable Fin Whale.

Photo 3: a frustratingly distant whale, probably a Fin

Deploying K7

The deployment of the K7 and the replacement of the sensor head on K5 for the Met Office are the whole point of this voyage. So the Pharos was held in position while the last of the preparatory work was carried out on the buoy by the Met Office staff on board (photo 4) – basically switching the systems on as most of the preparatory work had been done earlier.

The first operation is to lift the five-tonne buoy from the deck into the sea (photo 5), you need the sea to be pretty calm before you can lift it – fortunately, conditions were very good today. K7 sits in about 650m of water so to keep it in position you need a lot of mooring line and an anchor. First up there is 50m of chain below the buoy followed by 350m of heavy mooring rope, this is payed out and the mid-water buoyancy added. Once that’s in the water a further 350m of mooring rope is payed out up to a smaller lower buoyancy float, which, along with a short section of rope, a further 50m of chain and the five-tonne sinker are kept on board (photo 6). The sinker is then lowered into the water (photo 7) but held to the ship with a strop, finally the lower float goes in (photo 8). The Pharos then manoeuvres into the final position (photo 9), the sinker is cut free and the buoy is in position (photo 10).

I had hoped that while we were stationary there might be some birds or cetaceans passing by but as it turned out there was relatively little. The ubiquitous Fulmar was there plus the odd Kittiwake and a few distant ‘Commic’ Terns. Of note amongst the Fulmar was one with darker plumage, what’s called a ‘blue’ Fulmar (photos 11 and 12). It’s a plumage variation like the light and dark Arctic Skuas and tends to increase in frequency in more northern populations. I’ve seen a few over the years but this was the first I’ve photographed.

It’s always amazing to see small passerines a long way out at sea, you know that these small birds cross oceans but it’s another thing to see them in the process, as I did when a Northern Wheatear circled the Pharos before carrying on its way south. They breed in Iceland and Greenland so it’s quite likely that this bird was passing through from further north rather than from Shetland.

K7-Colla Firth

The forecast was too poor to risk going out to K5 so we were now off to Shetland to carry out some NLB work for a couple of days and Colla Firth, on the east side of Mainland in Yell Sound, has been chosen as the anchorage. The buoy had taken much of the day to deploy and we left position at 18:00 leaving about two and half hours of light to survey in on the way east.

Unfortunately, things were much the same as this morning in that there were few birds and this time no cetaceans at all. The best birds were eight Storm Petrels and a couple of Sooty Shearwaters. Needless to say there was a supporting cast of Fulmar and Kittiwake (photo 13)

Photo 12: adult Kittiwake

I’ll have two or three hours of surveying tomorrow morning before we reach Colla Firth, so I’m hoping for better things then.

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