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October wildlife sightings from Nick Davies and other news from Hebridean Whale Cruises.

A Sei of a day!

15 October 2008

Not been out much because of the long overdue bad weather but yesterday we managed to venture out, not feeling very confident with all the military activity in the air, on land and at sea. I headed straight for the waters off Melvaig where there have been plenty of Minkes.

We searched for over an hour with lots of basking sharks present, feeding through the visible pink clouds of zooplankton. All the associated birds were present – auks, a Sabine's Gull and lots of diving gannets, so the food was still there.

I thought the naval activity must have scared the whales away, then a huge visible blow right where the sharks were concentrated. I saw it but nobody else did and it was already past the time to go back, so I asked the passengers if they minded staying a bit longer as I had a funny feeling this was not a blow from a Minke.

Half an hour passed with nothing seen, then a black flash just in front of the boat with a swirling footprint and there it was – a huge Sei Whale gliding past the boat on its side, just feet under the crystal clear water. Then its head came out, still with the mouth agape feasting on the plankton soup.

Sei Whale – October 2008

Photograph reproduced courtesy of Elizebeth Ingram – passenger on Orca 1

Here's the camera saga again – I already had the camera switched on and extended after seeing the initial blow. I pressed the button and nothing happened – the battery had gone! Luckily one of our passengers, Elizebeth Ingram, clicked a few off which confirmed this sighting.

It's beginning to look like our area is the Sei Whale capital of the U. K. as these animals are rarely seen, never mind 'photographed'.

Petrels, Minkes and the Navy

6 October 2008

Not many cruises have made it out so far in October, but the ones which have sailed have been pretty good.

The first cruise of the month was good for the birders with a Leach's Petrel flitting around Orca 1 for 10 minutes. They seem more tolerant of vessels than the European Storm Petrels, but the camera saga happened again – totally my own fault as I clicked away probably 40 frames of the Leach's right next to the boat thinking I must have a good shot in that lot; rushed back to the office to find my memory card still in the printer and not in my camera! We also saw European Stormies and some Sabine's Gulls on the cruise.

All cruises yesterday encountered Minke Whales off Melvaig, one of them with a recognisable nick in it's dorsal fin; this whale has been around all season. At this time of year whales are usually found in the shallow waters off Melvaig and it is thought that they may be feeding on Herring which have come in to spawn.

We have been asked by Wester Ross fisheries to try to find out for sure if Herring are spawning in these waters – if so, this would mean that certain areas could be closed down to commercial scallop dredging, which wouldn't be a bad thing.

Today the biggest-ever military exercise starts on the west coast with 29 naval vessels and four submarines and I'm not the only one worried about it.

The Whales and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) have sent two observers to monitor the impact of this exercise in the Gairloch area. They have been positioned at Melvaig overlooking the North Minch. There were at least four Minke Whales feeding off Melvaig yesterday so we'll be monitoring this as well.

The WDCS team are recording their observations in an online blog, so if you want to find out more about this issue and keep up with developments then look here.

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