Isle of Mull - Waterfall Bay- Expedition Beach Clean 2018 - Day 1!
After visiting this bay on the Isle of Mull on one of our tours over Easter we found this stunning coastline covered in plastic. Within 10 days, we crowdfunded, organised a crew of people and clean-up material for an expedition beach clean!
The difficulty is the location which is exposed to the Altantic. This makes it a stunning place to visit but only in the right weather. The location also means that all the plastic is concentrated there.
The bay lies around 90min (50km) from Oban so we needed to use our fast RIBS to take both volunteer cleaners and all the plastic back, having to dodge the swells on our dingy to get people ashore and rubbish off. Once we returned to Oban the debris was sorted and over half of it was recycled rather than put into land fill.
Our only issue was that we could not bring everything back in one go due to the vast quanity which was on the beach. We have since raised some extra cash to fund a second hit which we will be doing once the weather allows. Thanks to everyone who donated and helped on the day to make this amazing clean up happen!
We can now go back to this stunning bay with our international guests without having to explain the big mess in our back yard. However there are plenty more beaches which could do with being cleaned. We are looking at extending our funding to do cleans all over our exposed island beaches.
Although this was a huge effort, it really was a drop in the ocean...we have spotted a number of beaches on our travels that we can organise similar events for. So get in touch if keen to volunteer to be an expedition beach cleaner and if you can help out with a small donation for the cause see here - https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/remotebeachcleanisleofmull
Spring Wildlife & Adventures - Snorkel, Kayak & SUP Tours
The extended cold spell meant it's been a slow start to our tour season with easter being early. The weather on the west coast has actually been relatively mild and with little of the harsh effects seen across the rest of the UK. Unfortunately despite the good conditions locally, it might be a little off-putting to consider donning a wetsuit when it's snowing beside you! However the thing to remember is that our weather is very different to other places. The same rules apply that just because it's sunny or snowing where you are, means nothing compared to our coastline!!
The first of our Seal & Lagoon tours went well with some lovely sunny weather and great visibility. The kelp forest has been regenerating and although a little quiet at the seal colony we still managed some encounters with both common and grey seals via snorkelling and kayak.
We're looking forward to spending more time out there really soon as we get busier through spring. There has been sightings of minke whales already in the area which is really exciting! We had some great kayaking around the isles and our snorkelers in 8mm suits were very surprised that they were toasty warm! It just shows how good modern wetsuit technology is!
Another day and another adventure to the south coast of Mull with a group of keen adventurers! We had some nice seal snorkelling, along with watching white-tailed sea eagles before visiting one of our favourite bays and going ashore to experience this amazing waterfall. A great place for an alfresco shower! With cliffs over 200m high and stunning rock formations this is a spectacular location. We do offer this as day tour or part of a private trip for groups - see here if interested.
However whilst exploring we found the adjacent beach covered in plastic. Through our blog and organisation, less than two weeks later we organised boats, dingys, volunteers and funds to go back and organise an expedition clean up! We don't hang about and are people to get things done! It was such a great effort by everyone involved and brilliant to make such a difference at such a beautiful place! See here for the results.
It's been great to be exploring the coastline on our SUP tours too. We had a great sunset SUP tour for a family group, some based SUP exploring south of Oban and we also made a longer trip for some surfing down the coast to Machrihanish too. These boards are great for coastal exploring and smaller clean waves but the boys also returned on their own with much bigger swells for a surf and surf-ski session. See some of the pictures below! It was great to have some decent swell and really push ourselves again!
Then as our tour and watersports season begins, the end of our scuba diving trips mainly comes to an end. Although we'll squeeze a few dive trips in here and there, it'll generally be Sept/Oct before we're converting the boat back for dive trips. We've been concentrating exploring the falls of lora, the tidal narrows to the east of Oban at Connel. Along with our local wreck of the Breda, other walls, reefs and interesting places. Despite the cooler water temps, we've had fantastic visibility and some very happy divers which has been great. For UK divers interested in our diving trips then please see this link.
Over the last few months we've been running our exciting night diving whilst we still had reasonable darkness. Using the calm weather we attach the boat to a local wreck and hang our surface based floodlights over the wreck like streetlights for the divers to enjoy an atmospheric dive with ethereal light illuminating parts of the wreck. There are a lot of applications for this and we will be trialling things over the summer out in the islands along with more floodlight diving when the nights start getting longer in autumn. You may not know but we get very long summer nights and and for a period there is no night, only twilight!
Along with our night diving, there has also been some nice Aurora / northern light shows here in Oban. With our dark skies and areas of little light pollution it makes a great areas for viewing when we a reasonably strong aurora. We can see them dancing in the sky, however it's more common to see the display on the camera. Here's one of Shane's pictures from a few weeks ago.
Expedition Clean Up Mull - Huge Success!
Well only 10 days after we found the mess over Easter (see here for the blog on that), we organised a crowd-fund, volunteers, disposal and the assets to complete this mission! Well done to everyone who helping and donated their time!
We left Oban around 8am, to make the 50km journey along the south coast of Mull to the remote waterfall bay. The wind had picked up to a ittle stronger that was forecast but no probem for the Redbay RIBs. Cearban had been stripped to give the most deck space and Rannoch had left from Oban with our volunteer beach cleaners. Upon arrival our fears about the swell were true but it looked do-able! A few 1m swells nearly caught us out but we safely landed everyone on the rocks as the clambered along to the beach.
The hard work then started as all the plastic was piled up, bagged, cut up, sorted out over the next few hours. Although, with the wind and swell the problem was going to be getting it back to the boat via dingy. We tried dragging them along the rocks and landing there but this took time and too much graft.
Luke then donned his drysuit and he waded out through the waves when we zoomed in between waves which really saved the day with being able to get everything off in a decent time.
We soon filled Cearban and then loaded Rannoch till we got to a point where we could take no more and we had run out of time. Quick look around the waterfall and then back to Oban.
A lovely gent from Argyll & Bute Council turned up and with Janie's Terracycle project and a lot of sorting onshore from our helpers meant that we recycled around 2/3 of it rather than it going to landfill. This was a great result after being able to make such a difference on the actual beach.
However there is still a lot left on the actual beach, what couldn't be taken was bagged up in 1T bags (thanks Jewson's Oban for donating). We were a little short on cash, which we've re-crowdfunded and we're just waiting on another weather window to go back and recover the rest!
Thanks to Cam (Coastal Connection) for allowing Rannoch to used, we of course did the same with Cearban, with Shane & Luke organsing. Argyll & Bute Council for disposing, Janie & Ross for their Terrcycle help along with helping on the day. Then Jos, Kyle, Gary, Catriona, Stuart, Andrew, Maggie & Sarah.
Expedition Clean Up!
Watch the video below that we captured Saturday whilst visiting this amazing location on Mull. The beach is such a complete mess!!!!!! Here's the list of things we need to figure out to make it happen.
What we need!!
1) 16 volunteers to help with the mission - last minute. (W/c9th April). Volunteers need be prepared with warm clothes/waterproofs & strong shoes. We need to land via dingy onto a rocky/pebbly shore so people need to be fit and able to move about on this type of place, along with being able to carry bits and pieces back and forward to the dingys and then back out to the main boats.
2) WEATHER!!! This is an exposed location which is why the junk has been focussed in there. It's 90min from Oban by RIB and can be dangerous landing & anchoring. So we need good weather to get there to start. (TBC - likely w/c 9th April)
3) Transport - The location is remote with no land access. Two fast RIBS for passenger/junk transport to/from Oban. It's 90min by fast boat (20kts) and also exposed so need speed and comfort. (Sorted)
4) Two Dingys for people/junk transport to from shore (Sorted)
5) Oban Vehicles (pick up/vans) - move plastic to dump/recycling (need vehicles organised) UPDATE - Thanks A&B - they will help us with a vehicle to pick up the junk.
6) Confirmation A&B Council happy to accept junk. UPDATE - Sorted thanks A&B!
7) Monies - £740 to cover cost only basis for RIB transport & some cover dingy engine fuel. See here for crowdfund page to donate to the cause.
Amazing Waterfall Swim on Isle of Mull. SHOCKING PLASTIC POLLUTION!
Curling Stones from Ailsa Craig
Team GB are doing well at the Pyongchang Winter Olympics today (good luck team Muirhead!) and we were inspired to write a few things about a few lesser known facts about the curling stones!
The raw stone comes from an island south of Arran to the west of the Ayrshire coastline in the Clyde called Ailsa Craig. The island is the remains of a volcanic plug from a fiery past of our geological history and has a special type of granite which makes the best properties for the curling stone slipping along the ice. There used to be a full time quarry on the island and of course this wasn’t all for curling stones, but many other applications such as roading or construction. The island is uninhabited now with all remaining working of the stone done on the mainland by Kays Curling. They were founded in 1851 and it’s said they have enough stone to last them till 2020, so maybe they will need to head out again soon! Along with the stone, the island has all sorts of other interesting history such as being involved in the religious reformation, smuggling, along with having two ruined chapels. It’s a stunning place to sail around on the boat with all basalt columns, caves, cliffs and also wildlife!
As much as the geological and human history of the island is interesting, our main reason for visiting is basking sharks of course! We have visited the island during our basking shark surveys over the last few years during Autumn. This is the time of the southerly basking shark migration from Scottish waters and we have a project to study this part of their travels! Although there has been plenty basking shark sightings near Ailsa Craig over the years, we haven’t found any there during our surveys, only further north in the Clyde. We have sighted porpoises, minke whales and numerous seals during our travels, along with the numerous seabirds that live there. In fact Ailsa Craig has a very noteworthy breeding colony of northern gannet. The last survey shows a count of over 33,000 back in 2015 and it is one of the most significant colonies in the world for this species!
Basking Shark Marine Plastic Study
The increase in plastic being introduced into our oceans has increased at an alarming rate. From plastic bottles and containers washing up on beaches to microscopic plastics entering the food chain from broken down plastic pieces or microfibres from laundry waste water.
At Basking Shark Scotland, we spend a lot of time on the water in the North Atlantic and especially around areas of tidal convergence. These areas are where zooplankton is concentrated (aka basking shark food) but this also means we see a lot of the associated plastic flotsam. Through our science programme we have been studying the relationship between basking sharks and zooplankton along with trialling looking at the plastic constituents of these areas of concentrated plankton.
Basking shark feed using their unique anatomy called gill rakers, which are large brush like filters which lie in their mouth near the gill slits. These rakers trap the zooplankton as the water passes through the gills. However our concern is that zooplankton, being microscopic size, can be very similar to micro plastics and that basking sharks could be ingesting these plastics at the same time as the zooplankton.
We have very few stranded/dead basking sharks so we can’t gain any knowledge from the remains of stomach contents. However our worry is that plastics could be accumulating within the stomachs of sharks, blocking the nutrition they gain from eating the plankton or having toxic effects on them. The plastics even could be blocking parts of the gill rakers making them feed less efficiently. It may be that the plastics take many years for any effects to manifest but we there hasn't been any work done on this yet. During the summer months we have a seasonal breeding aggregation of sharks and the numbers show this is the biggest aggregation in the whole world so it's important that we look after the environment that sharks spend their summers in.
We simply don’t know how much plastics are contained within these plankton zones and how much the sharks could be ingesting or if it could be a problem for them. In order to get an initial idea we will be continuing with our trials this coming summer season. Our Autumn research programme has seen us trial a study of basking sharks feeding on zooplankton to gain quantitative estimates of abundance of how much the sharks are eating vs areas where they are not. We can use a similar methodology to sample to area where the sharks are feedings to then measure how much plastics are contained in these samples. We can then use this data to extrapolate out how much the basking sharks could be eating. This could provide a very important baseline to see how much a problem this could be.
See here for a some video taken within a zooplankton (& lion mane jellyfish slick) that contained a lot of debris and broken down plastic to give you an idea.
Our study is lucky that we can capture this data whilst conducting our basking shark tours so essentially a highly expensive part of the study is hosted by ecotourism. However we do have some additional costs with additional sampling and lab equipment, along with the expenses of some volunteers to assist with working up the samples and data. All our staff have marine science qualifications so we produce all the information and associated writes up in-house as part of our committed science programme. The big BUT is that we gain no funding for any of the science work we do. Everything is funded by us running a tourism operation. In some ways this is great as we can spend so long in the field, but it does mean we have to fund everything off our own back, which means a lot of the time we simply can’t afford to do the work despite having all the opportunity to achieve it.
This is where the public can help!!! If you have read our blog on advice on how to reduce plastic you would have seen one of the ways to do this is by using a re-usable drinks cup for take aways teas & coffees. We have commissioned our own sustainably made bamboo cups to help us fund raise to conduct our plankton study where all profits from the cup sales will go to fund this project. Hence plankton not plastic!!! By using the cups, you’ll reduce single use plastic and if you find places that do a discount for doing so, then you could be saving money too (we’ve seen between 10p and 50p off the normal cost). See here to buy one of the cups to help the project and reduce your own plastic footprint.
Scottish Budget - More Resources for Basking Shark MPA
There was good news from Holyrood yesterday when the Scottish budget was agreed.
As part of the budget, they have allocated money towards the remaining proposed Marine Protected Areas (MPA's) and accelerating the process. The official statement says that the money will be used to bring forward the public consultation on the MPA's
'to provide additional investment of £200,000 to accelerate the delivery of the four Marine Protected Areas, which will allow the public consultation on the proposals to take place a year earlier than currently planned and subsequently lead to the MPAs to be formally designated a year early.'
The remaining MPA's are all important but the Skye to Mull MPA is of particular interest due to it's focus on basking sharks! The proposed MPA would be a worlds first on for basking sharks and highlight the importance of our waters for them and the fact we have the biggest seasonal aggregation of basking sharks in the world. Through photo ID and satellite tagging the sharks have been shown to have high site fidelity with certain areas meaning that they are semi-resident to the area and keep returning year on year. This all means that a small area (in terms of their North Atlantic range ) is highly important for them as a species.
Basking sharks are already protected by many laws such as being listed on schedule 5 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 and the Nature Conservation (Scotland) Act 2004. However the MPA would strengthen their status in this specific area. This could be in management measures around the coast or further protection against industrialisation or intensification. They are listed on the IUCN Red List as ‘Vulnerable’ and also as ‘Endangered’ in the north-east Atlantic
The full statement from there Scottish government can be found here. More information on basking sharks can be found on our page here. Find out more about our science programme to study the sharks here or how you can take part in a tour to see them.
10 Practical Every Day Ideas to Reduce Plastic
- Reusable water bottles
- Reusable Coffee cups
- Re-fillable Cleaning Products
- Clean Your Coastline
- Sustainable Straws
- Sustainable Food Wraps
- Re-usable Shopping Bags
- Supermarket packaging
- Bamboo toothbrush
- Plastic packaging Straps - Dispose of them Properly - save Basking Sharks!!
- Oh and an additional bonus one!
Following on from the BluePlanet 2 series, there has been a good buzz around people trying to do their best to reduce their impact on our oceans. Especially with reducing the amount of single use plastics that are thrown away and that can end up in the marine environment.
At Basking Shark Scotland, as marine biologists and divers who spend a lot of time on the water, this has been on our agenda for a long time. However we realise not everyone thinks along the same lines as us and perhaps we can offer some help! We hear often that people empathise with the situation but struggle to find ways that they can make a difference on a daily basis. We’ve come up with a blog on some of the ideas we have about reducing our own impact in the hope that it can help you too.
1.Reusable Water Bottles
Seriously, does anyone drink bottled water these days? Really!? We understand there are some places that tap water is not safe to drink. However in the UK there is no excuse for buying bottled water on a routine basis. Re-usable water bottles can be washed and taken everywhere. Don’t be afraid to ask bars or cafes to fill up your water (it’s free). Always remember to fill it up before you head off so you are prepared and not caught short so you have to buy bottled water.
2. Reusable Coffee Cup
Every year it’s reported that over 100 billion single-use coffee cups are thrown away. The way to stop this is to use a re-usable coffee cup!
Many coffee houses are now offering discounts for using a re-usable cup so it’s also saving you money! For example Costa in Oban offer 25p off for using a re-usable cup. We've also heard that manufacturers are looking at reducing the plastic contained within teabags too. Check out this report here.
We’ve started our own campaign to highlight marine plastics and the effect they could be having on the basking sharks. Basking sharks are filter feeders and feed on microscopic zooplankton, the tidal fronts where they feed do have a lot of plastic flotsam, see here for an example. During sampling we have found a number of plastic particles so it's very likely that basking sharks are ingesting micro plastics.
We’ve commissioned our own sustainable bamboo coffee cup with the basking shark on it. They are sustainably made and recyclable, along with reducing your plastic use and saving you money!
#planktonnotplastic is going to be the tag line for our campaign and what’s more, all profits from the cup will be used to fund part of our basking shark research. See more about our research programme here. You can find out about our specific basking shark research you can be involved with here. Then to be part of the campaign you can buy your cup here!
3. Re-fillable Cleaning Products
Splosh is a great range of products we have found that you re-use the plastic bottles by buying refills. Hand soaps, washing up liquids, toilet cleaners, surface cleaners. The hardcore people might say these items are luxury items but many people in modern society use these type of hygiene products. This is a great way for the masses to reduce the continuous disposal of plastic bottles but switching to a refill regime! Check out their website here.
4. Clean Your Coastline
You don’t have to be part of a full on beach clean to do your part. Plastics breaking down in the marine environment are causing everything from fouling our marine life (see no10 below), to entering the food chain by breaking down into tiny parts. Check out the work by Winnie Courtene-Jones at our local marine institute (SAMS), she has been studying the presence of plastic in marine life & sediments. Anytime you’re at the coast you can do your part by picking up plastic litter while you’re enjoying a walk. Just remember to recycle or dispose of the material properly. Don’t forget a pair of gloves to keep the paws safe and a bag to carry things back and forward. If you’re not sure where to start there are lots of events organised too, check the local press or national campaigns such as #2minbeachclean, or initiatives from the Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean or Beachwatch projects. The great thing about these national campaigns is that individual items can be logged and then fed back to government to force change. e.g plastic cotton buds.
5. Sustainable Straws
There has been some really great work by the likes of Ullapool primary school and large chains now banning plastic straws. Once you were given plastic straws without any choice. Now there are straws which are compostable, and even re-usable metal ones!
6. Sustainable Food Wraps
Many people use cling film, foil and such like to wrap up their lunch which gets thrown away every day. Here's a great idea to avoid it! A number of companies are making beeswax based wraps which can used in a variety of ways. Wrap up your sandwich, leftover food, cheese, fruit, whatever. Ok you'll have to wash it, but this is all about putting in a effort and not just chucking stuff away! See some retailers here and here. Another idea is just to use a basic container to carry your lunch back and forward (like a packed lunch box!).
7. Re-usable Shopping Bags
In Scotland the 5p charge for plastic bag use resulted in a 80% reduction in them being handed out at supermarkets (this equates to around 650 million bags per year). England & Wales followed suit a little later but do have an expmption for business with less than 250 employees, and many other countries have banned them e.g Kenya - awesome!. Just remember to re-use your previous bags, or get yourself sustainable tote bag. You can even get a really cool basking shark one like us!
8. Supermarket Packaging
This is going to be the next big national campaign we think! Every supermarket has too much packaging on their products and as consumers we have the chance to force them to change. Choose fruit and veg which doesn’t have excessive packaging, and don’t use the pointless plastic bags for individual items - they just go straight in the bin. Some people are advocating of removing the packaging and leaving it in the supermarket, forcing them to deal with their own pointless packaging. There is a lot of momentum with this, so lets hope the big supermarket brands make a difference. If you're lucky enough to have a local greengrocer, try to shop local and support these small businesses as they will have much less packaging!
9. Alternative Toothbrush
Dental hygiene is very important, toothbrushes do last a long time (you're meant to change them every 3 months), but are made of plastic and just go to land fill. A scary statistic is that over 1 billion go landfill in the US every year -eek! There are a number of companies now making sustainable toothbrushes including a bamboo version. Of course check with your dentist about your own health requirements first! However with the amount of these products being used around the world, there is a huge scope to make a big difference.
10. Plastic packaging Straps - Dispose of them Properly!
We have a terrible but powerful example of this, going back to when we found a basking shark that had been fouled by a packaging strap. It was cutting into its nose, near the eye which looked really bad. We named the shark sore nose, but the following year he returned with a healed nose. This gave us useful information of the sharks use of our coastline as he was sighted within 10 days and 5 miles of the last sighting. However the take home message is to get a pair of scissors and cut these up before they go in the bin. Make sure they can never enter the marine environment as they can harm even the biggest of our gentle giants.
11. Synthetic Fibres - Clothes!
This is one which is not well understood by the public but could be a huge problem under our noses. The vast majority of clothes have some kind of synthetic material. Many are made with a mix of cotton and polyester with the latter being made of plastic. When you wash your clothes small fragments and fibres make their way out of the drain from your washing machine and eventually into the sea. During waste water treatment there will be some removal but note the following stats. One study at a waste water treatment works in Glasgow found that 98% were removed (ok great so far), but the remaining 2% meant that an estimated 65million pieces of micro plastic were released each day. SCARY! Two things have been suggested to us. One a bag that you put you washing in which catches the fibres, and two a ball type product that also catches the fibres. Think about all the clothes being washed and how much is released into the ocean. Every little counts here as solving the plastic is clothing is not a quick or easy fix.
Free Diving Scotland
Over the last few years our tours have been increasingly popular with free-divers, who are people with advanced snorkelling and breath-hold skills. Traditionally this discipline has been associated with competition and depth targets. It conjures up images of tropical water, corals reefs and the Instagram generation! However we run tours around locations in the Scottish Hebrides which have amazing unpolluted water, iconic wildlife and a broken coastline from volcanic activity and the power of the Atlantic. This makes for one cool playground!
We wanted to tun a trip that could be accessed by people with these free-dive skills for extended bottom time, for example to interact with wildlife, or explore deeper coastal areas. These folk also have increased fitness/watermanship skills too which means we can spend more time in the water and explore more challenging locations. At the end of last season we ran a specific free dive tour to cater for people with these skills.
We tried to encompass the best of the spots we have found over the last few years such as interesting underwater topography, swim through caves and interesting reefs. We had a specific day to explore around Fingals cave and some unexplored caves areas. It was also at a crossover time that we could include some interactions with basking sharks & seals too. To finish of the tour we had a training & yoga session day. We also have a manta board that we tow behind the boat which gives people and idea of flying underwater - it’s super fun! We had an international group from England, France, Germany, Holland so it was great to have such a mixed bunch.
It worked out to a be a really great trip! With the only location we didn’t get to was the remote bubble cave which lies in a very exposed position. Something for next time! See below for an impression of the tour! We’ll be hopefully repeating this again in the future, so keep in touch. Of course we can also run it for specific free diving groups so get in touch if you want to put together a trip!
Epic Whale Safari, Orca, Humpbacks & Fin Whales
We're now into winter, the water is cooling down and the basking sharks have long left our shores here in Scotland. Over winter we are still very busy organising the following season, working on all the scientific data on the sharks, gear & boat maintenance and all the not so fun jobs! However there are also amazing wildlife events happening over this period, in particular we have been running whale safari tours to Norway for the last few years. The winter season of 2013 was our first and we've returned every year since!
With a huge biomass of herring over-wintering in the coastal fjords, this in turn attracts probably the largest gathering of orca (killer whales) in the world to feast on this fishy bonanza. It's not only the orca, but also many humpbacks which have travelled from the Caribbean along with the gigantic Fin whales, the second largest mammal on the planet!
During this spectacle we are treated to watching some amazing surface action of the whales. Howverer in reasonable conditions and within a code of practice, we also swim with them! Normally this would be with orca and humpbacks but we have been lucky enough to also witness the fin whales too!
Our tours are usually in January in line with the migration path of herring, however we travelled in November this year to check out the early migration and boy did we hit it at the right time. We had wonderful Aurora/northern lights shows on the first and last nights (too cloudy the other nights) and the water temperature was very reasonable despite our location being in the Arctic Circle! Check out some of Shane's pictures below (full set on facebook with link below) along with a short video from the first couple of days. We have some spaces left for January 2018 and are now planning November 2018 so find a link to the tour page here.
Another Hebrides Basking Shark season Done!
Basking Shark Season Reflections
We’re now into September and have returned back to Oban from the islands. Time flies and our Hebrides season is over for another year, it’s been such a blur! Reflecting on the season, we had a very challenging peak summer for weather with the jet stream out of position and acting a low pressure conveyor. Situated in the edge of the Atlantic means we’re first in the firing line for strong winds! After such a promising spring and fantastic May weather (& sharks) we were hoping for a nice summer. We can't control the weather and our hard working crew made the best of the weather windows for our clients! Shark numbers were good this year, some of best days were over 30 sharks. Sightings stats for our longer tours were still 100% success rate, but our shorter trips did suffer a little with our day trips at around 75% trip success. This is still amazing for an elusive underwater giant of the north Atlantic and our best advice is to come on the longer tours which give some flexibility with the weather and sightings. This season our total numbers are around the 250 mark, however we still have our autumn research programme & other public sightings, which will probably end up around 300 ish for the year.
Basking Shark Science
Our scientific programme continued to monitor the population of sharks and we collected a lot of data. Spending so much time in the water with the sharks allows us to gather lots of information that could never be captured from a boat. Examples could be male/female assemblages, lamprey presence and location, along with numerous other parameters. Some of the data is used to test site fidelity of the sharks and one example from this year was a distinctive shark we called ‘floppy fin’. This shark had collapsed dorsal fin (unusual but not unheard of) which we re-sighted over the period of a week in a distinct area. This adds to the information about how long individual sharks are resident for.
Injured Bottlenose Dolphin Re-Sighting
Over the season we also had many other wildlife re-sightings such as the injured bottlenose dolphin we first saw in the spring. This dolphin had a very distinctive looking healed injury near its tail fluke so it was very easy to identify. We re-sighted this individual numerous times over the summer and it seemed healthy on all occasions surrounded by other members of its pod. You can read a previous blog here on a small sightings survey we took earlier in the year to track this individual around the area. It will be great to add to these records so a life history can be kept on the individual. Perhaps one day adding to the understanding of the healing powers of dolphins after injuries.
Distinct Minke Whale
Minke whales are abundant around the Inner Hebrides and the smallest of the baleen whales. With deep water (over 200m) close to our base we have had numerous encounters with them over the season. On some occasions they were observed lunge feeding, surfing waves and we also spotted this individual with a very distinct dorsal fin. We're hoping that this individual can be identified using the same photo ID techniques that we use with the sharks. There are a variety of organisations that are dedicated to cetaceans and we'll follow up with them to see of there are any matches
Sea Eagle Fledglings
One of the islands we pass a lot in the boats is Mull and it’s home to a large population of white tailed sea eagles. There are rumoured to be around 20 breeding pairs. We see numerous adults over the course of the summer, and we had the pleasure to observe at least two chicks eventually fledge and spread their wings. Hopefully these eagles will find their own territories around the islands and expand the flourishing population. It's great to see these predators back in the landscape after going extinct through persecution in the early 1900's. They are an emotive topic and we enjoy having dicussions with our guests about the pros and cons of re-wilding. This image was from just a few days ago when we spotted this years fledgling in the the distant trees, they are much darker (brown) with no white tail. This one was also getting harrassed by a Raven - although we think once the eagle grows up a bit, maybe the Raven won't be so bold!
New Underwater Reef Found
Onto our underwater exploring, we did find a new soft coral reef this year after promising topography was spotted on the boats echo sounder. A kelp wall to around 15m leading to a large soft coral plateau in 25m of water and an intriguing wall dropping off to the depths well beyond 40m. We’re looking forward to exploring here in the future - see below for a short video to give you an idea of the beautiful scenery.
Free Diving Tour
2017 was the first year we ran a free-diving specific tour after seeing an increase in the number of free divers (long fins) appearing on our other tours. All our guides use free-dive techniques and over the years we've found numerous 'cool' spots. We noted that people with skills in breath-hold would really enjoy them so we set-up a specifc trip to visit these spots. Our guests came from England, France, Germany & Netherlands and we had a great trip with them. We'll write up a specific blog on this soon! In the meantime see an image from some of our sea-cave exploring on the tour. There are some amazing archways with clear water and rich marine life. It's always rewarding to hear people blown away by the north Atlantic marine life when they have been used warmer waters!
Basking Shark Research
We operate a number of science projects on basking sharks. During the peak season in the Hebrides our programme operates around our tours where we have a collaboration with scientists and have interns on our boat. However in the autumn we have initiated a programme to monitor the southerly migration of basking sharks in the clyde. We obtained some impressive results in our first year in 2016 and we are very excited to extend this programme in 2017. We hope for both re-captures of sighted basking sharks and new ones to add to our photo ID catalouge.
Our head guide Luke has completed a video update with some insights into our programme and how you can be part of it this year! With some stunning footage and details of different areas of our research! For more information on how to be part of it, click here.
4 Cetacean Species in One Day
During May, we are mainly running our Seal & Lagoon tour which is the main day tour prior to the basking shark season. The tour starts in Oban and heads out to the Hebridean lagoon around 75km away, and we also have a pick-up option in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. However for a longer experience we also run multi-day hebridean wildlife tours which are a far better way to experience the wildlife and highlights of the area.
Recently there has been a very strong spring or early summer plankton bloom meaning there has been a lot of marine life around. Including basking sharks! See our previous blog on that here. However we had an incredible day for cetaceans at the weekend on our tour that we wanted to write about!
We have a number of cetacean species that visit or are resident our area, some are more common than others however it's very unusual to have all of them in one day. Harbour porpoises, common dolphins, bottlenose dolphins and minke whales (at least 8 of them!) were all spotted on our seal and lagoon tour which is amazing given the limited time we have out there. We do have a number of other cetacean visitors such as sei, humpback and even sperm whales and we do have a small pod of resident orca which we see occasionally too. We do record all our sightings and keep accurate records on location and numbers, along with any behavoirs or interesting occurances.
We would suggest our longer multi-day tours to have a better chance to see more of these amazing animals, but if you are lucky then you can see them all in one day! Which our lucky passengers at the weekend experiences!
Our top 5 most seen cetaceans are as follows in order of rarity. The top three we would generally see on our longer tours, along porpoises and minkes seen on a lot of day tours. Bottlenose are resident and move around a lot so we see them 5-10x per season and orca, unfortunatety there are only 8 left so we need to be in the rtight place at the right time to encounter them.
1. Harbour Porpoise
2. Minke Whale
3. Common Dolphin
5. Orca (Killer Whale)
New Basking Shark Clothes
Check out our new basking shark scotland branded gear! Inga doing a great job to model at our marina base in Oban this week!
Our online shop is still showing our usual basking shark offerings such as the hoody, tshirts, mask straps, books etc, but our new product has been in testing for a while! Our new range of cool clobber is a neck gaiter (otherwise known as a buff), basically a fleece and cotton neck warmer that can pull up over yoiur face. Thye are certainly great to keep your face warm and have been tested by Luke in the high arctic where they are essential rather than a nice addition! However ours has a basking shark addition of the shark logo right on the front, which can sit right over the mouth - we think they are pretty cool!
All our branded goodies, books, DVD's and other small items are available in our online shop. Please find the link here.
We do keep a stock of our standard black clothing, but any custom colours or lettering needs to be a special order.
Basking Sharks are Back
Basking Sharks Back in Town!!
Woohoo! We’ve seen our first arrival of the basking sharks back in the Hebrides for 2017!!!!!! Following on from some reports earlier in the week from the local fishermen, there was a very calm spell on Thursday evening so we zoomed out at 25knots as soon as we could!
It was a glorious evening, flat calm and sunny and perfect basking shark spotting conditions. We saw eagles, puffins, shearwaters and a variety of seabirds on the way out. In the deep water a number of Minke whales were seen feeding then a large (100+) pod of common dolphins! After another hour of searching we came across a loose group of basking sharks, and we counted at least 4! There were two larger and two smaller ones!
We sent up the drone, took some surface fin images and then kitted up to try and ID and confirm their sex underwater! Although we did find the first was a male, we thought the second was a female, they had some very inquisitive behaviour towards us in the water and not something they usually do! It's great to see them back and see below for a vlog on our first encounter with them this year! Check out the other parts of our website, about our shark science projects here, shark research trips you can be part of and our wildlife tours here.
Basking Sharks on Radio 2
It was a pleasure for Shane to be a guest on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show last week for their feature on great job Wednesday! Chris has originally been talking about whale sharks (the biggest fish in the world) but then found some information on basking sharks and wanted to chat to us! The feature was about people with great jobs, and of course since we get to live the dream with the big fish, they were interested in talking to us.
Shane says it was great to have the opportunity to talk to Chris live (although a little bit daunting) and inspire his listeners about the marine environment and our large ocean giants. The more people know and love about the oceans and it's inhabitants the better chance we have of protecting it!
The feature will only appear on the BBC website for a short while (and perhaps only for UK listeners) but see the link here!
Bottlenose Dolphin Appears Healthy Year After Injury
Last weekend we were fortunate enough to have a great sighting of bottlenose dolphins to the south of Oban. We have a resident pod that lives around the Inner Hebrides and we see them in various locations over the year.
They were quite playful with us, approaching our boat at speed, wishing to bow ride along with circling us when we shut down the boat to watch them. We immediately noticed that one has an obvious a large chunk missing from the bottom of the tail stalk. It was well healed and didn’t seem to effect its movement much thankfully. We enjoyed our sighting but made sure we took some images of the individual and the damaged area as we knew we hadn’t seen it before it that it could be important.
Firstly, the damage looked to be from an impact and so the most probably cause would have been boat strike. It’s important that the boating community understand the way to behave around these marine mammals. Although from the size, it would probably be unlikely from a smaller propellor.
Secondly, we do see the Inner Hebrides pod on numerous occasions over the year along with our friends and colleagues around the coast. At the time we knew we had not seen this individual previously and had not been aware of others reporting it either. These dolphins are studied by researchers at the SAMs Institution in Oban and with the injury being easily distinguishable it could potentially lead to easily identifying the individual. As such it forms the basis for a small and interesting case study for any historical or future re-sightings and monitoring pod movements.
This week we have been asking around friends, colleagues and organisations about other sightings of this dolphin. The chronology we have found so far appears to be as follows;
May 2016 - Sighted NW Mull Coast (Reported to HWDT)
June 2016 - Sighted SE Scarba, Sound of Luing (Reported by Claire at Seafari)
July 2016 - Sighted Tobermory, Mull (Reported to HWDT)
7th July 2016 - Sighted near Scarba, Sound of Luing (Reported by Karen Boswarva, Sealife Adventures)
At the moment, we have no further information till around Saturday 8th April 2017 when we sighted it and possibly some previous sightings during the week from boat operators around Easdale.
It appears that the first sightings were around May 2016 and it was reported that the injury seemed fresh at that time. That is nearly a full year ago and the great news is the the dolphin has survived the injury and a year later seemingly healthy and relatively un-effected.
Dolphins are highly intelligent and live in a matriarchal society. When there are weaker individuals they are looked after by other members of the pod. They may assist in many ways, including hunting, so that the survival chances in these circumstances are much higher from the compromised individual. It’s likely if this animal struggled to hunt or help the pod hunt due to the injury, it would have nursed along by other members of the pod.
A search of scientific journals reveals that there has been a lot of international research conducted on the healing process of bottlenose dolphins. Some research has pointed towards the ability to restrict blood flow to tissues, which may help stem loss during injury. This is a really interesting aspect and may relate to the mammalian diving reflex, which is the mechanism of slowing heart rate and diverting blood flow from the extremities to conserve energy/respiration during a breath-hold/diving event. Along with reports of the tissues themselves having anti-microbial rapid healing properties. Examples of this research could be external healing from a deep wounded propellor strikes bottlenose from NE England. The healing was monitored by Bloom/Jager (1994) and found to be around four months for the deeper injury but smaller superficial wounds around 37 days.
Using the example from above, if our dolphin was first spotted with a fresh-ish wound in May 2016 then it’s likely that the injury could be from March or April 2016. As much as it's great to use the example as a demonstration of the amazing properties of dolphins, it's also a good education point around how boaties need to be responsible around marine mammal. We would highly recommend the WISE training scheme which gives guidance on best practice when operating around marine wildlife.
WISE Master Accreditation - Responsible Wildlife Operations
Our passion for wildlife ensures we set a high standard to our operations and we are proud to announce that we now have been accredited to WISE Master Status. The WiSe scheme is the UK standard for wildlife watching operators and master status is the gold standard award.
Much of the materials in this scheme is based around standard marine life operations however we are very unique in what we do with basking sharks. We have created our own stringent code of practice for operating in close proximity to the sharks, more of which can be found on this link.
Although we do run wildlife watching tours, all our operational staff have marine science qualifications and we have an active science programme based on basking sharks.
The science project has been running since 2012, where we have been collating basking shark sightings. During our tours we collect a variety of data along with running specific scientific projects such as looking at the southerly migration. We operate a public sightings scheme for basking sharks and for more information about our project then check out this link.
Along with the sharks we do collect basic sightings data on our cetacean sightings (porpoises, whales and dolphins) along with rarer species such as sunfish and leatherback turtles. We even take an active interest in the local white tailed sea eagle population (given their reintroduction in the70's) and communicate sightings and interesting occurrences to the RSPB and local project representatives.
We are highly commited to responsible wildlife tourism and coninued scientific study. You can find out a little more about us here.
2016 Basking Film
To celebrate the spring equinox and the start of the change of seasons we are releasing our amazing 2016 highlights video! With winter hopefully behind us, the oceans will start to warm, and the increase in day length along with available nutrients will start the process of the spring plankton bloom. This in the engine room of the ocean, the base of the food chain the provides the summer bonanza for all our marine life! So we're looking forward to starting our season, getting out exploring the coastlines and viewing the wildlife we've missed all winter!
Our film was shot during our summer 2016 season, whilst out on our trips or in places we visit during the tours. It features our iconic summer visitors the basking sharks, along with our favorites such as seals, whales, dolphins, our kelp forests, seabirds, fingals cave, coastal landscapes and epic aerial footage. Our head guide, Luke Saddler, who many of our previous clients will know, put together the excellent film. It's a few minutes long as it covers all sorts of exciting interactions, so make sure you watch it when you have the time so you can enjoy the full film. Enjoy!
Brexit Effect - Reduced Cost for Overseas Clients
The time to book a basking shark expedition is 2017!
During the recent political Brexit turmoil in the UK, unfortunately the pound sterling has lost value against many other international currencies. Although there are many scenarios and outcomes from what may or may not happen, outside of any political discussions, we are suggesting there are some short-term benefits for our tourism clients for this coming shark season! Of course the political situation is very fluid, making future predications difficult to foresee so our information below may not be valid in 5 minutes, or it may last for a whole year - who knows!
For those of us living in the UK
All of our overseas travel has now gone up at least 15-20% making holidays much more expensive. If wildlife experiences is your passion then why not consider a holiday at home this year? We have a world class wildlife experience on your doorstep so why not take advantage of the situation!? It’s likely things are going to go up for us in the near future so it’s a great time to come visit before they do!
For those travelling from Overseas
For those travelling to Scotland from oversea, our tours have now reduced in price from last year due to the strengthening of your own currency against there pound sterling (GBP). See below for an example based on our 3 day tour, and the pound sterling vs Euro and US Dollar. You will see for a rough example based on sample exchange rate from last week, which has resulted in the price reducing for you by around 15%. However the actual cost will be determined at the time you book the tour, which may be even less depending on the currency situation at the time.
Our suggestion is that 2017 will be a great time to visit as although there may be some advantages of the political turmoil. This will likely translate into higher inflation and costs, meaning that everything is likely to go up in price for 2018. So savings on currency will probably be at the most advantageous for this coming season!
Arctic Orca Expedition 2017
We've not long returned from our winter expedition to the arctic circle in search of orca, whales, wildlife and aurora! We've endured everything from ice, snow, an actual hurricane to +8 and the return of the sun. There's never a dull moment with the weather, especially that far north, however apart from perhaps a lack of vit D, we've all came through unscathed.
The weather is always a major talking point when going to sea in the arctic circle, however climate was certainly a more accurate topic for this year. The weather was generally warmer than we've ever seen before, with a period of widespread snow melt and temperatures consistently above +4 and even reaching +8. It seemed the jetstream was pushing north and firing low pressure's between the top of the UK and Iceland straight for us. There was much less herring inshore than previous years and less whales as a result. Some suggested that perhaps this was an effect from outgoing El Nino, however there was some noticeable changes in the weather pattern. Of course everything calmed down with cold weather, lovely sunshine and flat seas as we left - but that's another story!
All of our trips had a number of days with the orca but opportunites for swimming were much less than other years for whatever reason, weather, orcas travelling too fast or very young calves within the pod or us finding them on darkness! The ideal situation is to find a pod feeding where we can observe in the water silently but with less herring coming inshore meant we didn't find feeding behaviour as much as we had in previous years. However it's always stunning to watch these amazing animals in the wild with many memorable close encounters to our boats and for the first time even sperm whales to round off our third week! See below for a highlights video from the trip!
Our base location is in the middle of the fjord meaning we can choose our direction depending on where the wind is coming from, it also means on stormy days we have lots of coastline to explore along with land based opportunities! Some of the examples can be shallow shipwrecks and extensive pristine maerl beds for snorkelling and free-diving, eagle and otter spotting, or exploring historic coastal defences or neighbouring islands. The base sauna was popular with some people spotting taking a break outside by rolling in the snow and of course keeping warm waiting for the northern lights to come out! Overall it was another great winter expedition with lots of memories and special experiences!
We'll add some more images in due course, whilst we review this year and plan for next winters expedition! Look out for more details on social media along with seeing our webpage here, for future information.
Seasons Greetings 2016 review
Welome to our new website and first blog in a while!
You may or may not have noted that our website has changed recently, it's been a long project but it's finally gone live with our automated booking system. As we a small company with very few staff then hopefully this will make our workload much better and an easier process for everyone booking trips and finding our information on basking sharks!
We've had our busiest year so far, with many different projects, trips, research and expeditions over the season! Although it has been a lot more stressful so busier isn't always better! There has a lot of work along with logistical changes happen in late summer into Autumn so hopefully, like the website we will be able to settle more for the 2017 season with more logistics in place.
Spring Projects - Filming, Media Crews & Stunning Weather
During the spring we had some unbelievable weather whilst the jet-stream allowed us some respite and sent low pressure systems further south. This resulted in many weeks of sunshine, warmth and calm sea conditions! We had some epic times with our seal & lagoon tours and we were also kept very busy with film crews who had various projects in the Hebrides. We were tasked with everything from boat charter and wildlife filming support, to underwater filming and guiding, both a challenging but rewarding time.
It was great to welcome Ben Brown & Steve Booker who were based on Mull and doing a BBC project called mission selfie. We managed to be flexible to organise some experiences for them in stunning weather and they produced some amazing footage on a very short timescale. Look up the BBC series mission selfie online, but Ben's vlog from the day really sums up the vibe. It was a great day, and we were stoked to have such good conditions for them.
Our head guide and film-maker extrodianire Luke put together some of his and Shane's footage together from our spring work and locations. It's great to look back on these films at this time of year (when the weather is pretty brutal) and remind ourselves of how stunning an area we operate in. We're looking forward to getting out there again in the spring time.
We continued on with our free-diving projects over the season, including searching for new sites and exploring more of the coastline. We were very lucky to come across the location in the picture on the left. Taken by Shane, Luke is holding up a large underwater light into an air space in an underwater cave made of basalt columns. To reach this air pocket you must dive down around 5m and swim in around 20m through a huge rock arch covered in soft corals. We spend a night camping at this location, scuba and free diving, although it is somewhere we have visited before, it's so remote we don't often have a lot of time there.
We hope to bring experienced free-divers here in 2017 on our free-diving trip. See here for the details as we've put together a best of free-diving spot of the inner Hebrides. We've explored all of them and the trip will bring together some awesome experiences. Scotland is a very under-rated place for free-diving despite the stunning combination of unique wildlife, interesting geology and rich marine life. Traditionally water temperature would have been something to put people off but temperature water destinations are growing in popularity and with a 7mm open-cell suit you can easily be in the water for 2-3 hours during summer without getting cold.
We had an overall good year for sharks, with a very consistent peak season, quiet spring and good autumn! Our overall numbers are looking around the 400+ mark, which is down from 2015 which was an exceptionally abundant year.
The spring was strangely quiet we have relatively few public or our own sightings. This is normally a variable time of year and is very dependant on oceanic conditions and plankton production. However at this time we do not concentrate on sharks, and are reactive to any sightings, which meant we were able to record details on a few during good weather.
Peak season was very consistent this year with us sighting sharks on most days with less stormy weather like 2015 The sharks were much more concentrated this year with few sightings or reports outside the hotspot. This made for predictable searching and making life a 'little' easier.
We had a masters student Lotte Abels through our partnership with Heriot-Watt and Marine Conservation International. She was studying basking shark behaviour, such as the alleged courtship behaviour, male/female ratios, and follows on from the great work of Dr Gore & Dr Ormond. See one of the basking sharks breaching during one of the days with big shark numbers.
Following our Hebrides season we moved to another area to conduct research trips during the southerly migration. Although we had a short period of no sightings, the overall expedition was a great success with around 30 sharks catalogued for photo ID purposes. We gathered some interesting plankton data with regards to concentration and size, with respect to the sharks feeding and non-feeding areas. We'll be repeating the expedition again next year so see information on joining us for these research based trip here. They are research based so not like our other tours where the objective is interaction and guest experience. They are great for people who want to be involved a little more with science.
Although it will be 2017 by the time we get there we are running an expedition to arctic this winter to view the herring migration and associated whale aggregations. We ran a highly successful experience this January past with generally settled weather and lots of whales. Orca were present in large numbers, however it was the humpacks and fin whales who stole the show with some incredible interactions. Luke put together an incredible edit and his and Shane's footage, have a look below.
Basking Sharks Arrive to the Hebrides
We've had a very busy period recently during spring which has than full coincided with amazing weather in the western isles. We've had many weeks of lovely sunny and hot weather, with calm sea conditions making for stunning opportunities at sea. We have had a number of film crews with us, undertaking a variety of subjects and locations. In combination with our own filming it's been a busy month, see a small film the Luke put together from our recent missions and jobs below. Media and Diving Days - Spring Filming Locations from Basking Shark Scotland on Vimeo. Although we've had some basking shark sightings during May, the spring arrivals seem to a be a little later this and showing a similar pattern to 2013. Although we've had very good conditions for plankton production we haven't had any large zooplankton blooms until relatively recently. These blooms are always dependant on a number of factors such as sunlight, water temperature, upwelling of nutrients to kick start phytoplankton and then in turn zooplankton and then basking sharks. This year, we have had very settled weather, hot and sunny with winds from the E and N quadrants rather than traditional W/SW (coming from the Atlantic). So our feeling is that we've had great conditions weather wise, but perhaps not enough stormy conditions to promote nutrient upwelling and one of the vital components for a good bloom. The water has warmed up quite a lot recently and we've had a number of reports recently along with our own sighting last week. See below for a shark spotted during one of our research cruises in perfect conditions. This combined with other sightings seems like the main arrival for Basking Sharks into the Hebrides for 2016 and quite a similar pattern for 2013 which resulted in a strong basking shark season. See below for and some aerial drone footage from our head guide Luke. Quite interesting but at the time the shark was noted not to be feeding and perhaps transiting to a location with better plankton. First aerial footage of basking sharks returning to Scottish waters from Basking Shark Scotland on Vimeo. [caption id="attachment_3728" align="aligncenter" width="960"] 2016 Season Basking Shark[/caption] Other notable sightings include some good signs of the resident bottlenose dolphins with the calf spotted last year getting bigger. Porpoises have been sighted in good numbers recently, perhaps more so due to calm conditions making it easier to spot them from the boat. Large pods of common dolphins have also been seen with last thursday being a day to remember with hundreds around us. We haven't noted quite so many Minke Whales as yet, but perhaps more to do with our working locations not being in optimal whale grounds. Sea eagles have also been making regular appearances at our known sites and great to see them doing well year on year. Other seabirds have also made a welcome return with large clouds of max shearwaters seen at sea, with the Auks of the Treshnish Isles doing well and feeding and nesting in great numbers.
Basking Shark Spotted off GibraltarA basking shark have been spotted off of Gibraltar at the weekend! It was initially reported there was some hysteria around the shark sightings but marine authorities identified it as a basking shark and hence no threat to humans. The local police took to twitter to warm beach goer's and raised red flags for a true Jaws moment, maybe the chief was called Brody! Although joking aside large white sharks have been known to travel in Med so there is a chance that it could have been a predatory sharks. However you may wish to consider that if it was a large predatory shark, would it really have any threat to us anyway!? However that's a whole other discussion about sharks and their bad reputation! The Mediterranean has sightings of basking sharks during the winter months, however there hasn't been conclusive evidence as to their movements, locations or motives. Another mystery in the migration cycle of North Atlantic basking sharks! It also highlights the need for protection of basking sharks are they are true sharks without borders. They have heavy protection in Scottish and UK waters but what about when they leave us after summer? It's just as important to protect them outside of our waters than in them! We're awaiting the first arrivals of Basking Sharks back to our shores and we had the first reported arrivals in the whole of UK and Ireland in 2015, lets hope we continue the trend for 2016!
Swim with Orca, Humpbacks & Fin Whales - Tour Video
You may have seen our updates via social media about our highly successful tour this year. We've been heading up to the Arctic circle for the past few years and this season was by far the best one! We had the privilege of being joined by many Orca, Humpback and even Fin whales during our snorkelling and free-diving trips. There were many sea-eagles, seals and otters along the coastal fringes of our beautiful base and many nights with Aurora borealis/Northern lights. Check out some of the footage from Luke & Shane shot on the tour, and put together in another great film by Luke. For more details on the winter 2016/2017 tour see details on this link. http://baskingsharkscotland.co.uk/swim-with-killer-whales/
Iceland Swimming & Diving Tour 2015 Blog
Our 2015 Iceland swimming and diving tour was overall probably the best yet, however the extension tour to the North really put the gloss on the tour this year! We started off with our classic 3 day tour around the SW of Iceland, basing ourselves at the usual haunts in Reykjavik! The city was much the same as the previous year but it seems tourism is really doing well for the city! As ever, we started off our trips visiting the clear water of the national park where the swimmers donned their drysuits to experience the clear but cold (4deg) water in some comfort before they had a quick dip in their wetties later. The divers of course viewing this from below, gaining a different perspective on formations and geology of the split between Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.
Snorkelers/Swimmers in Silfra![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3535" align="aligncenter" width="900"] The amazing clear water of the lagoon![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3572" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Manson touches the two plate whilst underwater![/caption] This video footage shows you Pauline Squire a swimming coach experiencing the clear waters in the sunshine!!!! With the water temperature, most swimmers enjoy a refreshing dip at the end of the day!!! Where as the divers had a leisurely couple of dives, exploring the formations, split between the plates and stunning visibility of the lagoon. After our fun in the water and warming hot chocolate we visited the impressive geothermal sites with exploding Geysers and Gulfoss waterfall! The sun just broke through the clouds enough to form a lovely rainbow at Gulfoss, making a lovely end to another spectacular first day in Iceland. [caption id="attachment_3539" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Rainbow over the impressive waterfall[/caption] Our 2nd day we were blessed with a lovely weather forecast which really makes the landscape sing! Our destination today was the volcanic lake where we can swim and dive through the geothermal activity of bubbles! Although we also had a ice mile record attempt to complete! Roger Taylor one of our regular clients had been training for his ice mile for a couple of years and the previous years trip to Iceland has inspired him to attempt it there. Through the International Ice Mile Association there hasn't been any ice miles completed in Iceland so he was to be the first ice man, to complete the ice mile in Iceland! For those who don't know much about this madness, you need to complete a mile distance open water swim in less than 5 deg water with no wetsuit on. For us mere mortals the though of that was quite crazy! On the trip were very experienced swim coaches who were on hand to officiate and Shane who was leading the trip from Basking Shark Scotland providing some safety swimming support for Roger. He managed the feat in 58min to be the 132nd person in the world to have done so! Huge congrats to Roger - what an achievement! [caption id="attachment_3575" align="aligncenter" width="500"] Bubble bath!!!![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3540" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Ice Mile Lake![/caption] Then of course after a couple of days playing in the cold water a trip to the Blue Lagoon for a celebratory beverage is necessary! It's a great place to unwind after a stunning couple of days! The pool was a nice temperature this year, with the obligatory face mud masks accompanying a welcome beer after a hard couple of days in the water! [caption id="attachment_3569" align="aligncenter" width="640"] Roger trying his best photo bomb during our Aurora photography session!!![/caption] We had been slightly spoiled with Aurora already on the trip, as only moments after we picked up the minibus at the airport, the Aurora filled the skies giving us a wonderful welcome on arrival! We took a break the first night from an official trip out but on the second the forecasted cloud was due to pass so we headed out to our usual spot. Photographers with their tripods clicked away while the water babies wanted more hot water so got in the hot tub whilst watching the lights! After another great evening, everybody was able to sleep well after a busy couple of days. Our last day in the south the weather was quite poor (rainy) but still we managed to explore some amazing waterfalls and have some al fresco swimming and splashing!!!! However it also gave us a little break from such a hectic schedule so we could pack up for the next part of our journey! [caption id="attachment_3577" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Tackling the waterfalls!!![/caption] Our extension tour this year was unexplored territory for us and winding our way through the snow capped mountains and volcanic landscape certainly broke up the long journey! Arriving to our new base was a real treat and the outdoor hot tub was of course a huge highlight! Our next two days were magical, exploring remote areas, more cold and warm water to swim and dive in with added caves to explore!!!! The area had very little visitors, just clean water and nature in bucket loads ! Again the underwater visibility is excellent making for spectacular vistas! Check out the video of the hot/cold site with fantastic visibility, cold spring and dancing sands! The next video was taken when we explored some warm water caves! We really tried to pack in as many experiences as possible with numerous opportunities to get wet! You could free-dive (breath-hold) into a couple of different chambers and it was challenging for some of the swimmers. It was great to push everyones comfort zone with a little more edgy exploration! The water was warm, even though the ambient temperature wasn't quite so high! Along with our diving and swimming, of course everyone was enthusiastic about wildlife and we were incredibly lucky that a number of Humpback whales were in the fjord at the time of our visit. Even better that we were able to make a trip out to visit them. Getting the whole fjord to ourselves along with calm and sunny weather just made it another magical experience. We had numerous viewings of them on the surface in-between feeding dives with them presenting their tale flukes for our photos!!! Just listen to camera shutters in the video! As if all that wasnt enough we also had a level 8 Aurora borealis storm in addition to clear skies. Over two nights we had one of the best displays we've seen! In the end it worked out to be 'one of those trips' where everything went right and we had lots of luck with everything! Probably the best ever trip we've had up in these parts!! Can't wait for more in 2016 so get in touch via the page here if you interested in joining us! See below for more images of the trip- we'll post some more when time! [caption id="attachment_3580" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Dancing sands and stunning water![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3556" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Celebrating the Ice Mile, with an Aurora storm, hot tubs and a cold beverage! Well done Roger![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3533" align="aligncenter" width="900"] More cold water and volcanic plates, what a treat to be the only ones here![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3538" align="aligncenter" width="900"] One of the hot water caves, unfortunately this one is a little too hot, so maybe only dipping a toe in![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3537" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Some very close encounters with feeding humpbacks, the mountainous fjord was a perfect backdrop![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3536" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Storm level Aurora plus hot tub = very very happy people!!![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3566" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] An active vent in one of the Geothermal areas we visit![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3567" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Stunning Waterfalls cover the landscape here![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3579" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Exploring remote places underwater![/caption]
Leatherback Turtle in the Hebrides
Well July 2015 was a first for us (ever!) as we were treated to a sighting of a rare Leatherback Turtle. Although the event of seeing this amazing animal with your own eyes is special, once you start reading more into their biology the experience takes on a whole new perspective! These are the largest sea turtles in the world, growing to over 2 metres in lengths and up to around a tonne in weight! An amazing size for something that lives on jellyfish! Apparently they can consume over twice their body weight in jellys over the period of a day!! Unlike other turtles they have no shell but a thick hard leathery tissue with longitudinal ridges which their leatherback name derives from. So a very unique animal and to start off, Shane will tell the tale of what we saw!!! [caption id="attachment_3516" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Skerryvore Lighthouse (Shane Wasik/BaskingSharkScotland)[/caption] On one of our longer expeditions in July 2015 we had headed offshore to the remote Skerryvore lighthouse off the coast of the Isle of Tiree. This is a very remote part of the country and visiting there requires good weather and some courage! It's an area where deep water comes to shallow (therefore causing upwelling nutrients) but also out in the Atlantic where the slightest wind or swell can create dangerous waves. It's not well charted and there are numerous submerged rocks which can't be seen from the surface along with the actual reef, jagged like sharks teeth! Anyway, we had headed there in less than perfect weather, safe in the knowledge our Redbay boats are the best around for the test of the Atlantic Ocean. We were on the lookout for big fish and pelagics but with some chop we made it over to the lighthouse reef for a nosey about. No sharks were found here but on the way back we had stopped for a cup of tea and a flapjack in calm water for a wee break from searching. There were a number of seals nearby and we were floating quietely in the tide, telling stories and keeping an eye around us for marine life. One of the passengers alerted us to something of possible interest over to the north east. The direction was near a known seal haul out, so in the first instance we suspected it would be a seal. However Luke (our head guide) took a closer look with his bino's and the immediately shouted LEATHERBACK TURTLE, LEATHERBACK TURTLE, LEATHERBACK TURTLE! An excited air immediately sprang up on the boat as everyone scrambled to take a look! Ooohs, aaaaaahs, wow's…….! I trained my skippers bino's over on the mark, as at that stage I was still a little skeptical. Even though Luke is a amazing individual, the rarity of turtles in these area made it extremely unlikely so it was almost like I couldn't believe it even though I trusted him 100%. The next moment, as my eyes focussed on the shape was the unmistakable long dark nobbled back and the smaller head lifting up to breathe, almost speechless I think I made a urgggggh noise! The next thought was 'camera' which normally would be round my neck but was in the cabin but I was standing on to pod the engine box at the stern was a higher perspective! At that moment the turtle disappeared, the head lift was likely the last big breath before diving. Taking a break, we were all excitedly talking about it and the conversation turned onto their biology and distribution. With myself and Luke being marine biologists we had a basic knowledge of the turtles but not being a regular species we didn't have such in-depth knowledge of other more regular marine life. The question we posed to ourselves was how long a turtle dived for, and when we could likely try and spot it again!? We quickly googled it and found that it can be over an hour and they could swim fairly fast! So that made any further sighting fairly unlikely but we did hang around for the best part of an hour, with not so much luck! So an amazing sighting, but slightly less gloss with no picture!!!! We'll get that one day!!!! [caption id="attachment_3515" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Leatherback Turtle in the Tropics (source Wikipedia)[/caption] So what a day and a complete privilege to see one of these iconic turtles! However after researching more about them, it's even more amazing that we were able to see one in the Hebrides! Leatherbacks undertake huge migrations between their breeding and feeding grounds, with the graphic below you can see where their Atlantic nesting sites are compared with the Hebrides of Scotland, being mainly west Africa and the Caribbean. The reason for their large migration is food and their prey is jellyfish, something we have a lot of during our summer feeding bonanza! Think about how far they would have to swim between these places and Scotland, it's almost unbelievable they would swim so far!!! [caption id="attachment_3517" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Leatherback Turtle Distribution inc Nesting SItes (Source Wikipedia)[/caption] Unfortunately Leatherback turtles are also known as being endangered or even critically endangered on the IUCN list. They are vulnerable to fishing gear in the open sea and there are also many problems with nesting sites which have been the attention of many conservation projects. One of the main issues is also to do with their food, when hunting jellyfish, human plastic waste can look very similar and there have been many turtles found with stomachs full of plastic. They have an amazing adaptation for feeding with their throats having layers of backwards facing spines called papillae which means once a jelly has been swelled it can't come up again! However the same is true for plastic debris such as shopping bags! See below for a couple of images of the summer jellyfish that the turtles will comes to feast one! Last year in 2014 at the end of a particularly warm summer, there was a spate of leatherbacks deaths with some washed up on the west coast of Scotland and also one on the east coast near Dunbar which was tangled in a creel pot line. [caption id="attachment_2097" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Pelagia noctiluca Jellyfish (ShaneWasik/BaskingSharkScotland)[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3518" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Lions Mane Jellyfish (ShaneWasik / BaskingSharkScotland)[/caption]
Basking Shark Video 2015Happy New Year to everyone! If you haven't seen our 2015 basking shark season video via our social channels then please check it out below. Our film this year was shot over our 2015 season, generally between April and September by our head guide Luke Saddler and BSS owner Shane Wasik. Although we've featured more scenery and other wildlife in previous films we tried to concentrate on the basking sharks this time around! Luke does freelance video work during the down season (see his site here) and did an amazing cut for this year film, along with tracking down some powerful music to accompany the spectacular footage! 2015 was an incredible year for wildlife, with over 700 sightings of basking sharks, including the ones sighted through our own programme and public submissions to the basking shark database. For more information on the basking shark sightings programme and our own science programme click on the links. We also had over 1000 cetaceans, comprising of minke whales, common & bottlenose dolphins along with our first sighting of an Atlantic white sided dolphin this year. Then lastly the harbour porpoises we spot mainly on the calm days! Operating round the biggest concentration of UK white tailed sea-eagles means we had 100's of sightings of them on our trips and they are a real conservation success story in the area.Then of course we had our rare sightings such a number of oceanic sunfish or Mola mola which come to the Hebrides in the peak of summer and our first ever leatherback turtle. What an exciting day that was but unfortunately no photos! We'll have more on another blog about the turtle! 2015 was a stormy year for weather but the abundance of sharks made it a season to remember! Why not come with us on one of our 2016 expeditions! Check out our calendar here. <iframe width="640" height="360" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/GKpn0qLJaWM?rel=0" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Countrywise Basking Sharks with Liz BonninFor those who may have missed the TV broadcast you can see the video below. It was great to host Liz Bonnin and her crew, as they filmed a small part of their Countrywise series with us this summer on the basking sharks. [caption id="attachment_3503" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Liz & crew spot the first Basking Shark[/caption] We took the guys out through some of our favourite spots to show them some of the area we explore and involve them in some of the studies we conduct around the basking sharks. The guys soon spotted some sharks and from memory we had around 6 sharks around us, along with some dolphins not far away we had to ignore (no play time for them!) After we had observed the basking sharks for a while and did some plankton sampling to demonstrate their food. We chatted about basking shark conservation and their migration patterns along with why the Hebrides are so important. Liz then kitted up with her snorkelling gear and we took her for a guided swim with the sharks. Of course as the pressure was on as we had a film crew with us, the basking sharks were playing hard to get in terms of getting good underwater footage! However at least the weather was fair at the time given our 'summer' and we managed to get the film shoot all done in the end - so it turned out very successfully! Let us know what you think about the programme, Shane always cringes when he see's himself like this!!! Don't wind him up too much about it!
Breaching Basking Sharks[caption id="attachment_3297" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Another sunset shot from an amazing time with a large shark aggregation[/caption] Picture the scene, a flat calm evening, deep hues of orange fill the sky, with perfect weather enhancing a spectacular Hebridean sunset. In July this year we were lucky to have such conditions but along with this, dozens of basking sharks! This was not long into the main summer plankton bloom and the basking sharks had arrived en-masse! Our first photographer week group had arrived and with a poor forecast the next day, we elected to take them out early to share this special moment. During the day, we had some outstanding basking shark action, some of the best of the year with basking shark trains forming, feeding on the plankton. However leading into the evening the sharks were still hungry and hoovering up all the thick plankton. Again this led to some spectacular encounters with numerous sharks. As the light stated to fade, everyone returned onboard to soak up the atmosphere with a hot chocolate (no cocktails I'm afraid!). What a privilege to experience such conditions with so many sharks. As we operate in the wilderness there was no-one else around, just us, the ocean, the sharks and the sunset! There had a lot of breaching basking shark activity recently and it's a spectacular sight to see on our tours, so it was not an uncommon sight at this time of year. However we just started discussing how cool it would be have a breaching shark with such as stunning backdrop of the sunset then BAM!!!!!!! Around 100m away, a shark breached clean of the water! WOW! Totally spectacular! The sharks often do this in succession so we all trained our cameras on the horizon and waited! Right on cue, another shark breach in a similar direction but this time we made no mistake with the shutters! One of our passengers Laurent ( a well known French photographer & guide ) was rolling his video and managed to capture it perfectly! Have a look at his video below as this is certainly one of the most impressive sequences we've seen, the sunset adding to the atmosphere. We all felt very lucky to experience such conditions. In nature it's not often all the conditions come together at once, however for the lucky few on this trip they had an experience they will not forget in a very long time! We actively study the basking sharks whilst on our tour programme, and breaching is some of the behaviour we're looking at. See this previous blog post from 2013 about breaching behaviour. Basking shark breaching from Laurent Cocherel on Vimeo. [caption id="attachment_3298" align="aligncenter" width="960"] A basking shark breaching at sunset, one of our most spectacular encounters![/caption]
Long Basking Shark SeasonOur season here is still in full swing with our wildlife sightings being top class. We're ending August with a bang with our final (august) trip having around 10 sharks all feeding on the plentiful zooplankton. Our sharks have been constantly good this month, but as always it's never a perfect record with two non-sightings days. We're still in high 90's percentage success which is amazing given we're searching for a highly migratory shark that spends much of it's time under water!!!! It's not only the sharks that have been showing well, we've had (literally) hundreds of common dolphins, Luke estimated around 500 one day and we counted 10 Minke Whales on the same day also. Bottlenose dolphins have popped up more regularly than we're used to, with porpoises also been ever present. Our longer tours on Coll have shown some good otter watching, with clients early morning tenacity winning them some good photos for the memory cards! We've even had a few days where they have been swimming past the boat in broad daylight. Sunfish have been spotted a few times this month, but conditions haven't allowed any close encounters. However White-Tailed Sea Eagle sightings have been really good recently with the chicks fledged there is a few squabbles between juvenile and adult, making sure they find their own territories. Memorable encounters include some swooping down to fish behind a passing trawler or circling above the boat. With probably the highest concentration for WTS Eagles in the UK our waters are sure one the best places to see them! Our tours continue into September with our last shark specific trips at the start of Sept (and will continue with sightings) and when then move onto a mixture of wildlife which include our lovely Seal & Lagoon trips. We'll also be preparing for our October return to Iceland and our autumn scuba diving. Check out our calendar here for opportunities. [caption id="attachment_3312" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Photographer Lawson Wood eyeing up a large basking shark[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3307" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Surface Feeding Basking Shark[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3306" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Basking Shark Feeding[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3311" align="aligncenter" width="940"] Common Dolphins Underwater[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3309" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Snorkelling at our little slice of Hebridean Paradise[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3310" align="aligncenter" width="583"] Proud eagle overlooking it's territory![/caption]
Summer Basking SharksSo our last blog post was a few months ago…….oops! However we have a good excuse as we've been very busy out with the fishes in our peak season! We've had all sorts of exciting sightings such as a leatherback turtle to white-beaked dolphins. Common & bottlenose dolphins have made spectacular viewing and the common & grey seals making regular swim buddies. However the return of the basking sharks in good numbers to the hebrides was welcomed with up to 150 being counted in one day. Large aggregations of basking sharks have been feeding on thick zooplankton blooms with some days having 5 of more sharks in short successions hoovering past our swimmers. We've even had good breaching sightings including a very memorable one at sunset! Our science project which accompanies our trips is in full swing with lots of data being gathered along with images and video of the sharks. The weather has been challenging this summer but the wildlife and landscape more than make up for the lack of sunshine! More updates when we can catch our breath!!! See below for some of the images on our trips over the last while. We'll try and keep our social channels a little more regularly updated. [caption id="attachment_3292" align="aligncenter" width="960"] One of our swimmer clients in with a large shark[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3293" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Approx 8m long shark, but you still need to look the right way to see it!!![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3294" align="aligncenter" width="960"] A nice underwater image from an unusual angle from our head guide, Luke Saddler[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3295" align="aligncenter" width="800"] A feeding basking shark, mouth wide open! Trying to do an impression of our logo![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3296" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Shane having some fun with a shark selfie![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3298" align="aligncenter" width="960"] A basking shark breaching at sunset, one of our most spectacular encounters![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3297" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Another sunset shot from an amazing time with a large shark aggregation[/caption]
Epic Basking Shark Spring TripsOur awesome spring season continues! Although we have been very quiet in terms of passengers, the wildlife and conditions haven't let us down! May is an unusual time here, the weather usually settled and May is one on the sunniest months but it tends to be quiet in terms of visitors! Perhaps one the day the secret of May will get out! We start our scheduled shark tours later this where we based ourselves out in the Hebrides for 4 day expeditions! We had some great weather last week and ran a complete epic wildlife tour, one as good as the peak of summer! It had started as one our Seal & Lagoon tours but our lucky guests were in for a treat! As well as the wall to wall sunshine we had calm conditions and interactions with a pod of bottlenose dolphins on the way out. We do have a resident pod here and they move around so we don't see them on every trip, so when we do it's a special time. These large dolphins can grow over 3m long and weight 300-400kg so they are large dolphins and spectacular when they jump clean of the water! As the photo below shows they also have cute faces! After a short stop in the coastal village of Tobermory we headed onto our main event of swimming with seals. The lagoon was at it's best with great visibility and kelp swaying in the mild current. Like the trees budding, underwater growth has started with the seagrass bed looking in better condition and juvenile fish swimming around in the protection of the reef. There were also lots of anemones, crabs and sea urchins to observe too. Of course the seals did not disappoint and they provided some nice interactions with us, after some careful guidance by our team to ensure our soft approach. See below for a game of follow the leader!!!! Given the lovely conditions we had some good reports of wildlife and oceanic feeding happening so we decided to treat our passengers to an extra session looking for pelagic life offshore! It wasn't long till we came across around seven sharks, entranced in hoovering up the springtime plankton! We observed these sharks for a long time before we found a suitable individual that we were happy to interact with through our code of practice. Again using soft encounter techniques our swimmers we able to interact with these ocean giants, observing them in their natural environment. See a video below shot but Eszter one of our shark guides. Following fantastic encounters with the sharks we then spotted some Minke Whales in the distance, and we managed to watch them feeding and surface for a while before it was time to head home!!! Although the journey back was also kept exciting by us spotting number of porpoises then a sea eagle flying right over the top of the boat!! What an amazing day!!!!! With all these brilliant experiences, it shows that the Hebrides are a world class destination! Then, the following day, the warm weather and sunshine continued with us having divers out on Cearban through our sister business Dive Oban & Argyll. We were close to Oban for some excellent dives on submarine walls but we were also treated to a further wildlife encounter. We had noticed that some birds we working in a specific patch of water and with the sea being flat calm we took a look in that direction to see if anything was feeding. Several harbour porpoises were spotted and usually they are elusive and do not interact with boats. However some of these individuals made a beeline for our boat, again after us using our soft encounter approach techniques. What happened next was a first for us as they did laps around the boats, then shooting off and back in towards us. We were rewarded with around a 15-20min encounter of this interaction much to the amazement of the divers on board. We managed to shoot a video of some of the action and see this below. Everyone is looking forward to the season ahead with a spring this good, it's surely going to be a spectacular season in the Hebrides. Join our tours from May-Sept direct from Oban and on the Isle of Mull and Coll.
Oban Festival of the SeaFrom 22nd-31st May 2015, the Oban Festival of the Sea will be taking place once again as a celebration of our surrounding seas, coastlines, people and activities! Check out their website and Facebook page for more info. Although a busy time for us at the start of our shark, diving and wildlife season we will be undertaking a few events during the Oban Festival of the Sea! Tuesday 26th May- Experience Snorkelling Session - £40pp We will running an experience snorkelling session from our base at Dunstaffnage Marina. Ever wondered what lies beneath the waves around the Oban coastline? We're a BSAC snorkelling school and our instructors will be on hand to give you a introduction into snorkelling and then there will be time to explore the coastline! After kitting up in our super warm equipment, you will get taught a few of the skills you need to snorkel. Our instructors will then show you some of the local marine life round the coast, looking for crabs, anemones and fish. All equipment is included. Sessions run 11am -2pm and 2pm-5pm with check in 30min before. Showers and toilets available at the marina. Booking in advance is essential. Get in touch here to book. [caption id="attachment_2893" align="alignleft" width="300"] Stunning Visibility[/caption] Wednesday 27th May - Seal & Lagoon Tour - Adult Swimmers £150, Adult Watchers (inc island landing & kayaking) - £120 , Kids £90 We will be running a tour out to the stunning Hebridean lagoon which has some of the clearest water in Scotland, a large colony of grey and harbour seals which we can snorkel with, along with opportunities for kayaking among the sheltered islands or landing ashore for lunch. This is full day away and we cover around 80-90miles over the day with a stop in Tobermory in the morning and afternoon. Meeting time 8am for 08:30 departure and expected return time approx 17:00-17:30. See this link for more details about the tour and book here. Thursday 28th May- Careers Fair (free) and Dive the S.S Breda - £20pp Day Time - Oban Careers Fair, the Basking Shark Scotland crew will be attending the careers fair to give some advice to the young people about a career involved with the ocean and conservation. Shane will be giving a talk to the classes about the sharks and inspiring them with lots of cool pictures and videos from around the world! Evening Time - Diving on the S.S. Breda. Through our sister business Dive Oban & Argyll we will be running a diving trip out to the wreck of the Breda from our base at Dunstaffnage Marina. The intact WW2 wreck is covered in marine life and acts as an artificial reef attracting lots of fish. The deck at the bow end of the ship lies in around 12-14m and the seabed drops away to around 25-20m. Cost is £20 per dive and ropes off is at 18:00. Places limited to 12 dives and book you space through Dive Oban & Argyll here.
Filming Basking SharksWe've had a strong start to the shark (pre)season! We've recorded over 20 sharks ourselves with many more public sightings coming in. Although some areas such as Cornwall or Ireland have some sightings the numbers are insignificant compared to the Hebrides! Again it shows that the Hebrides are the best place in the UK for basking sharks and indeed the whole world. Our scheduled shark tours start in May with our four day 'hebrides experience' shark tours. Check out the itinerary here and book the last remaining spaces. In addition we will also be running our Seal & Lagoon trip through May and June where we take clients to experience one of the best ocean spots in the whole of Scotland! See more about these tours here. Over the last few weeks in amongst our season preparation, last minute tours and our own shark research we also managed successfully execute a filming basking sharks project. We have been working with Duncan Campbell (Turner prize winner 2014) to enable filming basking sharks for his arts project. Given our expertise in the area we were highly successful in getting Duncan and his team into the space where they were able to get the shot's they needed despite the pressures of the project. To be able to execute this mission in one day and achieve great results shows we have the skills, experience and asset to complete these types of project. For future enquires contact us here. [caption id="attachment_3211" align="aligncenter" width="900"] Filming Basking Sharks[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3212" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Shark making a bow wave with it's nose![/caption]
First basking shark arrivals in the UK- Hebrides of Course!Out of the blue…(no pun intended) the basking sharks have arrived back to UK waters and much to our surprise we had a massive number of sharks over the easter weekend! This shows the Hebrides are still the no1 place for basking sharks! Other areas in the south of the UK usually have among the first sightings as the sharks migrate north over spring, so it is unusual to have them so early beside us in so many number. Rumours are that it's very rare or barely recorded to have such numbers so early, so what this means for their summer migrational pattern we don't know! We took some plankton samples and that revealed a large number of copepods (basking sharks favourite meal) so the spring plankton blooms must have started to some extend. Plankton blooms are an oceanic event which rely on a number of factors such as sunlight, nutrients, temperature. This starts with the phytoplankton (algae) which generally can be compared to spring flowers and the conditions they need to flower in the spring. The phytoplankton is predated by zooplankon (animals) as this is the type that sharks favour! So there is quite a complex food web structure that attracts the sharks in the first place. Why there has been a bloom and early arrivals is unknown. However it has been a very windy winter with a lot of storms which is turn would generate a lot of upwelling and nutrient availability. As such perhaps the sunshine and warming of the sea has created suitable conditions for an early bloom and therefore the arrival of the sharks! We recorded 15 sharks over 24hrs out on the Hebrides on easter sunday and easter monday. All sightings seemed to be small-medium sized sharks but due to weather and limited people we could only make surface observations. The event in itself is hugely interesting and is another twist in the mysterious lives of the sharks! We had a wonderful time out at Coll and gave us a glimmer of our summer trips, with 4 sea eagles spotted, some nice interactions with our harbour and grey seals, porpoises, puffins, fulmars, guillemots and gannets all being spotted. Along with a fantastic sunset over the beautiful Hebrides. See below for some pictures and check out our four day Hebridean shark and wildlife adventures on this link - the best way to experience this wonderful destination. [caption id="attachment_3196" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Checking out our favourite snorkelling spot![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3197" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Ben More on Mull pokes out through the haar[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3198" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] An eagle soars over the islands[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3199" align="aligncenter" width="960"] Stunning Sunset over Arinagour and Loch Eatharna[/caption]
Basking Shark Spotted in CroatiaAmazing news as a large basking shark was spotted in Crotia. The shark was feeding along the Ližnjan peninsula yesterday! This area is situated in the Adriatic sea and a loooong way from the Atlantic. You can see some video above that was uploaded to youtube by the guys who spotted from their boat. We have written a blog post about shark migrations in the Mediterranean previously when there was a juvenile shark caught off Sicily (click here). Those sightings aren't too far away from Croatia (compared to the Hebrides) however it's still crazy to think about how far these geographical areas are apart. Other research has shown that the genetic diversity is very low with the north Atlantic population of basking sharks and as such the opinion is that there is one large population closely related and that the Hebrides could be a mass get together to (try) and expand the gene pool! The government sponsored tagging efforts (and by other organisations such as MCI) have shown large migrations of sharks from the Hebrides and Isle of Man, to as far as the Canary Islands or Newfoundland, but not yet the Mediterranean. We also have received reports of shark sightings in Norway and Iceland, however these seem to be a northerly extension of the UK migration pattern. These north Atlantic sightings are vastly spread out so it's interesting to come up with theories on seasonal or reproductive based migration patterns. The high incidence of juv sharks seen in the Med had led to speculation of this being a nursery area for sharks and given the long gestation period (>18m) then a breeding event in the Hebrides in July/August and 18 months would mean February pupping time, which fits in nicely with time period! Coincidence or not!? A number of juvenile sharks have also been spotted around the Isle of Man in previous year, with some reports of that area being a pupping ground. If there was a yearly migratory pattern (which has been demonstrated in satellite tags) then the 18 months would be a little out in terms of the juv sighting time around the IoM. Perhaps there are different hierarchies of sharks, with large females (which have the liver size and energy store to cover big distances) being the main breeding population and then travelling the greatest distances to these grounds. Or perhaps there is a distinct and discreet Mediterranean population which doesn't travel as far and is separate from the Atlantic sharks. For all the tagging that has happened from the Hebrides (or Iom/Ireland) then no link has been made with the Mediterranean sharks so this is still a mystery and we can but made guesses and assumption based on the current available data, study and information!
Kodak Disposable Camera - who knew!?We get a lot of photographers on our tours, both surface and underwater. Sometimes we almost need another boat to carry all the gear, sometimes the camera gear on board is probably worth more than the boat itself! However we also have a lot of guests who bring smaller waterproof cameras and also GoPro's which are able to capture high quality images/video with a small price tag and compact size -perfect for travelling! We just heard about these pictures and the full story, it's so cool we had to share it with you!!!!! During the 2014 season we had some Australian visitors, Gwen and Maddie. They had booked a shark day with us but disaster had struck! Gwen's husband Rick had taken their GoPro to Bali before their trip to Scotland and had forgotten to pack it for their trip to Europe! Opps! Not wanting to spend a lot of ££'s for another camera they desperately searched Oban high street for other ideas before their trip! Much to our surprise they were still able to purchase Kodak waterproof disposable films cameras. We thought they were confined to museums only given the digital age! However the cameras were even on special at Boots and they snapped up a 2 for 1 deal with 27 shots in each camera!!! There were 4 cameras left in the shop and they bought all 4! Were these cameras the last of the stock - who knows!!!! Gwen and Maddie had pre-booked on a one-day trip to search of sharks in the Hebrides, but unfortunately their bad luck had continued with one of high-season days we couldn't find any sharks. That's nature but they did however have a great time when we visited the seals and lagoon in the afternoon. They captured some nice pictures of the seals playing around them in nice visibility, along with exploring the reefs and white shell sand beaches. So they had an enjoyable time with us along with the cameras working well and remained true to their waterproof feature! Unfortunately Maddie had to move onto other things but Gwen was determined to try again! She booked another day later that week and had secured the very last seat on the boat. She still had one camera left after the first day trip ....! So this was her last chance! As the cookie crumbled, Gwen's second day was to be the best shark day of the entire season and the weather was even settled! On that day they were treated to the sight of numerous dorsal fins on the horizon , the sharks were everywhere -woohoo! We officially recorded around 30 sharks on our sightings sheet but the anecdotal conclusions from our staff that there must have been 'hundreds around'. Needless to say the guests all had an amazing time and encountered one of natures magnificent spectacles! These are times when everything comes together at once and it's you're luck whether you are in the right place at the right time on a particular day! It was also Gwen's last day in Scotland as she flew home the very next day. What an amazing memory to take home from our wee corner of the world! [caption id="attachment_3077" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Gwen Captures Two Sharks in One Shot![/caption] Fast forward to February 2015 and Gwen finally (back in Australia) gets her photos developed! Much to her surprise the little cameras had captured some amazing pictures of the basking sharks. She sent them over to us and we love the grainy/film look of them. The quality is great given the cost, specs and size of the camera! It's also a really cool story as to how the pictures were captured and all the factors that went against her having that experience! We had to share it with you as all was not lost with the GoPro being left in Australia! Although mum Gwen still has the shark bragging rights over Maddie - (sorry Maddie we'll get you out again in the future!) See below for a few more of the pictures - Gwen has done a great job with the wee point and shoot camera - Go Gwen!!!! [caption id="attachment_3076" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sharks feed stacking - possible male shark in front[/caption] [caption id="attachment_3078" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Nice fin ID shot!!![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3079" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Another two sharks hoovering up the plankton![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3080" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Shark heading for the end of the roll of film![/caption] [caption id="attachment_3081" align="aligncenter" width="577"] Nice close up of the gills and gill rakers![/caption]
Basking Shark Scotland joins Global Shark Diving!We're very pleased to announce that Basking Shark Scotland have been accepted into the worldwide alliance of shark diving operators called Global Shark Diving. This is an alliance of operators who stand out from the crowd by their commitment to conservation, operate with codes of conduct that is based on environmental best practice and operators who facilitate or conducts shark research. We are very proud to be flying the flag for basking sharks, where we operate in the best worldwide hotspot for these sharks! However it's also very pleasing to have our environmental credentials and practices recognised. These are things that set us apart as an operator and some of the attributes that contributed to our inclusion include some of the following;
- We work very hard on our code of conduct which ensures that we have little or zero impact on our sharks. Our CoC is unique having a blend of recommended practices along with cherry picked entires from other operators we have experiences and worked with worldwide and including some specific one to working in the north Atlantic!
- Our staff and guides have scientific qualifications in marine biology and professional diving along with our skippers having a wealth of local knowledge.
- We contribute to research through our sightings, photo ID and observations work along with collaborations with university research such as Marine Conservation International/Heriot-Watt with Dr Mauvis Gore. We're currently writing some scientific journals on new discoveries but that's one to keep under our hat for now!
- Our equipment is of a very high standard such as our Redbay Boat platforms , which
250 Basking Sharks sighted in 2014. Hebrides still the world’s best basking shark hotspot!
250 Basking Sharks sighted in 2014. Hebrides still the world’s best basking shark hotspot!2014 was an interesting year for basking sharks in Scottish waters, with many places round the UK recording their worst sightings numbers in many years. However with 250 individuals sharks being recorded on our database, it demonstrates that the Hebrides still tops the best place in the world for basking sharks.
Owner Shane Wasik says, ’Although 2014 wasn’t a classic year for shark sightings, it just goes to show we still have a world class wildlife event in our own waters. We would encourage the public to get involved with spotting the sharks as the more people that can record them from different areas, the better the data is for the scientists studying their movements’.
- 250 Sharks Submitted to Database in 2014
- 23% increase in own sightings
- 33% drop in public sightings
- ‘Sore Nose’ re-sighted and confirmed to be healthy
Basking Shark VideoHappy New Year!! Hope everyone enjoyed their festive break and don't have too much January blues! We're a bit tardy at updating the blog (maybe a new years resolution to update it more). We tend to post things more on Facebook and twitter but will start adding some more on here. We're just back from our new years break so we'll start with a small video we uploaded last year. It's of a basking shark feeding on plankton in the Hebrides. The shark had actually just finished it's feeding cycle and starting cruising along. It was of course a poor day at sea but still good enough to find some shelter and get in the water! See below for the short video and keep tuned for more blog updates in 2015.
Basking Shark! In search of the Holy Tail!Basking Shark! In search of the Holy Tail!!!!!! In July of this year we had the pleasure of having Ceri Levy (a writer, producer and film maker) Damon Albarn (lead singer of Blur and Gorrilaz and Marc Riley (BBC Broadcaster and to us, better known for cult fame as Lard, half of the Radio 1 presenter duo Mark & Lard) aboard for a private shark trip out into the Hebrides, as part of their BBC4 radion show, in search of the holy tail (haha)! We picked them up in Tobermory before heading off into the Hebrides for our day's adventure. A great bunch of blokes and they were really up for it, albeit a little nervous of the big fish. Arriving at the lagoon, everyone geared up for some fantastic snorkelling with the seals and reefs. Damon was even keen for a swim in his shorts! Declaring that it wasn't as cold as his expectations! For sure in mid July the surface temp would be about 14-15deg but only a wee bit wind chill factor on the day bringing the temp down. We spent an hour or so checking out the abundant kelp forest and rocky reefs, having schooling sand eels forming bait balls along with the resident grey and harbour seals playing around us. After that we briefed the guys on looking for the basking sharks and thankfully the big fish didn't disappoint. We first spotted a few closeby to where we had just been snorkelling but with some surface chop it was a little difficult to track them. However the sight of the black dorsal fin certainly raised the anticipation on the boat! Then after a little time scanning some of our local haunts the wind dropped and we found ourselves in the company of around 10-15 large sharks who had found a big patch of plankton! Exciting times! This time just Damon and Marc went in the water, with Ceri giving commentary from the boat. As this was a radio show, sounds of swimming and gurgles in snorkels wouldn't really cut it. So someone had to stay behind to keep the chat going. Shane, owner of Basking Shark Scotland was guiding them on the trip, and manoeuvred Damon and Marc into a great position. Soon enough the shark fins were working their way towards the group and they ended up having a great view underwater of a number of large sharks feeding - gaping mouth open! For a seasoned shark swimmer, Shane even commented that they had a great view, and there were points where numerous sharks could be spotted underwater at the same time. Time was running out and following the success of the superb encounter they were so elated and had collected all the material they needed, so decided to head back in. Everyone was stoked at how successful the day had gone and they had a real sense of accomplishment. Perhaps it was only now they admitted that they had been a tad nervous to start with! The encounter was part of a the 30min programme BBC Rafdio 4, where they also visited the sea eagles on Mull and landed to look at Fingals Cave. The show is available on BBC iplayer for those that didn't catch it at the weekend and for those overseas we hope that it would be available soon on the web. Check it out here.
2014 Basking Shark Season VideoWe've just released our 2014 Basking Shark season video. Following on from last years epic viddy action we unleashed our guide and crew Luke with his video skills and drone into the Hebrides. We've captured some fantastic shots of multiple species and landscapes which showcases what our trips and local area are all about. The pelagics species shown include Basking Shark, Minke Whale, Common and Grey Seals and of course our epic encounter with the rare visitor the Oceanic Sunfish (Mola mola). Although not all our statistics are not completed we sighted 147 individual sharks during the 2014 season. Although it has been rated a poor year around the UK for basking sharks, it shows that the Hebrides and Basking Shark Scotland are the winning combination. The video is a small taster of the highlights of what we get up to in the Hebrides and we're looking forward to the 2015 season next year. We're currently in major planning mode making all the necessary arrangements for our schedule. Keep an eye on the blog and facebook/twitter feeds for the latest information and if you want the freshest and direct info, sign up to our email list.
Has Sore Nose returned??A few days ago we came across a shark who had obvious signs of damage to its snout. Thankfully it seemed that the damage was old, healed over, and the shark was seemingly healthy. Last year we found a shark with an obvious entanglement over it's snout, which looked like a plastic packing strap or rope. Comparing the two images, it seems the damage to the shark is in a similar place, however further analysis of images and video from both sharks will need to be compared to see if they match. It would be great news if it was the same shark and that it had survived such an entanglement! It would also be interesting that it would have returned to the same area, and about the same time of year (within 2 weeks). We'll update the situation when we are able to look more into the identification markings.
Shark from late July 2014[caption id="attachment_2672" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Has sore nose returned with a no-so-sore, nose?[/caption]
Shark from early Aug 2013[caption id="attachment_2009" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Enlargement of rope around the sharks nose[/caption]
Best two days in the Hebrides….....ever!WOW!!!!! What an experience we've just had.....firstly, you can enjoy the visual feast of the video we put together of the trip, including amazing aerial footage by our crew Luke Saddler. Now for the blog about what all the fuss is about! [caption id="attachment_2640" align="alignleft" width="150"] Cearban in Tobermory[/caption] Our recent three day trip this week co-incided with an amazing 2 days of weather! Flat calm in the North Atlantic is fairly irregular. Less so when warm currents and hot weather arrive at the same time to bring 'blue water' to the Scottish Hebrides. The surface temperature was reading 18deg on our boats electronics which we thought was a glitch! We even laughed off our guide Eszter's claims that the water was 'warm'. However we also verified the temperature with the dive computers which read 17/18deg!!!! A phenomena we haven't (ever) seen before!! [caption id="attachment_2644" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Dive Computer Temp Readings[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2645" align="alignright" width="178"] Sounder Temp Reading[/caption] However it was the next two days encounters with big marine animals which was to be the most incredible. Firstly we had some sublime snorkelling at one of our favourite spots. Some nice seal interactions for our experienced underwater photographers clients and some snorkelling lessons for those who hadn't been in the water too much. We also had an open-water swimmer, who made the most of our Hebridean heat wave braving some skins swims! [caption id="attachment_2658" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Our sublime swimming and snorkelling spot[/caption] Following a superb morning we headed out to sea to look for big animals. As we were steaming aboard our smaller vessel RIB 'Cearban' the shout went up for shark as one was spotted a few metres under the surface. Stopping for a while the shark didn't reappear but the Whales did!!! A number of Minke Whale's were feeding in the area and we headed over to see what the fuss was about. Little did we know once we had made the boat silent that our giant friend would take such an interest in the boat. We had one whale do two passes underneath us, then a second do a couple of passes and the last one, turn on his belly showing the bright white underside and glide off into the distance. We were were all astonished with what had just happened, amazed at the sea conditions and the wonderful spectacle of nature. The whales had actively interacted with us, investigating out the strange floating visitors to their oceanic world. [caption id="attachment_2648" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Minke Whale![/caption] [caption id="attachment_2660" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Minke Whale close to the boat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2666" align="alignleft" width="399"] Nice interaction with a medium sized male[/caption] Numerous porpoises were sighted feeding along with hundreds of seabirds such as Shearwaters, Puffins, Fulmars, Bonxies and the spectacular diving Gannet. It wasn't too long that we then came across our cartilaginous friend the Basking Shark. Following our code of conduct we had some nice encounters with everyone getting views of the big fish. We had purely male sharks and none were feeding, they all seemed to be sniffing out the best areas for plankton as they were clearly transiting. Once everyone had managed to get some decent pictures we headed back for Tobermory and a late dinner. On the way back we were treated to a nice sighting of the White Tailed Sea Eagle in the conifers and then incredibly an otter fishing along the coast. We were all reduced to muttering wrecks by this stage as we had hit so many wildlife boxes in one day! It was also the Tobermory highland games so we had some great open air music by Trail West at MacGochans Bar/Restaurant near the pontoons in the late evening! A great way to finish up an amazing day! Next morning we awoke to stunning conditions and everyone was amped to be getting in amongst it for a second day! After stocking up at the excellent bakery we headed out into the Atlantic again! Patrolling the area of blue water a distant fin was spotted, not a shark fin, but one that was waving and flapping at the surface. We knew this was a sunfish and slowly motored the boat before making quiet at a safe distance. The sunfish moved towards us and our crew Luke, launched the drone to capture some incredible aerial footage along with everyone getting very good images from the boat. The sea was like a mirror with a deep blue colour. The Sunfish was very relaxed and again actively interacting with us. They are known to have a symbiotic relationship with seabirds who remove parasites so perhaps it was seeking something similar from us. Shane sensed that this individual could be one that we could work with and quietly swam out to it at a distance using USEA techniques. The sunfish was very relaxed and we were able to all have some very calm interactions with us both equally checking each other out. Sunfish are pretty rare in these waters, with a few sightings each summer. Better known in the tropics, Shane was sent on a photo trip to Bali to try and capture pictures of them and unfortunately they didn't show!! All that way when he could have stayed here!! They are the heaviest of all the bony fish , reaching up to 3m and can swim huge distances. As one small group was swimming with the sunfish we also had a basking shark pop up off the stern of the boat and a whale surface not far away. Unfortunately they were at 3 different sides to the boat (as we would have loved to get an image of all three in one shot!) but to have 3 different ocean giants round the boats was very very special - almost surreal given the flat calm conditions. [caption id="attachment_2653" align="alignleft" width="800"] Sunfish Interacts with the boat[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2654" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Shameless sunfish selfie[/caption]
Returning to Arinagour we had a great meal at the hotel and reflected how lucky we were over the last few days. Everyone had experienced a once in a lifetime phenomena and achieved some incredible interactions with marine wildlife. Not only just to view them but there was genuine interaction, which thanks to using USEA techniques, were possible in a non-disturbance ethos. We all feel blessed to have been given this opportunity by Neptune, perhaps helped by our offering of shark whisky before the trip...(note- doesn't always work!). It was also really cool to have a couple of kids on the trip who we hope will have lifetime memories and inspire them with the marine world. Oh and the adults were all equally as stoked!!!!
Till next time....off to play with the fishes!
Basking Shark - Hebridean ArrivalsThe basking sharks have arrived WOOHHOOOOOOO!!!!! Amazing to get the first sharks of the year after 9 months!!! After a few rumours of sharks over the last few weeks we timed a great weather window and tracked 5 basking sharks over the our day out in the Hebridean sea. The timing is about 2 weeks earlier than our first trip last year, however we do know they arrive in May but in smaller numbers so we don;t normally schedule trips till later on in the season. We noted 3 females and sizes were 4-6m, one of the females had a large number of parasites so perhaps indications of a long time travelling the seas. (see earlier blog posts on breaching). Although we couldn't get an ID shot it would be interesting if we could track this individual and see if she had parasites later in the year (perhaps adding to breaching theory). The water is alive with plankton at the moment and our samples showed a high number of copepods and crustaceans ( mmmm nutritious big fish food!). The early summer plankton bloom looks like it will setup a great year and where theres food there are fish!! See a small article in the Scotsman newspaper this morning here - http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/bumper-basking-sharks-season-off-scotland-s-coast-1-3429679 Basking shark trips will now run on weather/sightings/minimum numbers policy. So if you want to get out there, email or call in and we can see what trips we can put together. These will be mid-week and in addition to our schedules trips over the next few weeks. We still have spaces on our photographers and adventure week w/c 28th June - 5th July. [caption id="attachment_2616" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Basking Shark feeding on abundant plankton[/caption]
Basking Shark Breach[caption id="attachment_1504" align="aligncenter" width="642"] A breaching shark caught on camera![/caption] The Basking Shark, do you see them as a gentle giant swimming gently along or aerial acrobat breaching clean out of the water, did you know these huge basking shark breach??? In fact the are the biggest shark (and fish) in the whole world to do so! It's mind boggling when you think about the energy involved in such an activity. For a shark that can weigh numerous tonnes and one that consumes plankton as their sole meal, how can they afford to use such a vast amount of energy to propel their huge bodies out of the water? There are two theories on why the sharks breach out of the water; 1) To rid themselves of Parasites! The Sea Lamprey (Petromyzon marinus) attach themselves to the sharks usually on the underside of the shark but sometimes around their bodies too. Their positions sometime co-incides with the location of the 'boy bits' making it a little difficult to tell if the shark is a boy or a girl! The lampreys have a mouth full of hooked teeth and attach themselves to the shark, feeding off them (as parasites do). If you imagine how streamlined the design of a shark is, these lampreys must cause all sorts of turbulence for swimming and hence extra energy required, not good extra work for just eating meals of plankton! Perhaps it may cause irritation to shark (however given the size of their brain and records from the historic shark hunters, we're not sure whether they would 'feel' them). However if they do 'feel' them, how far do you go to scratch an itch!? [caption id="attachment_2553" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Parasitic Lamprey of a Basking Shark[/caption] 2) Courtship Behaviour Around our waters it has been said there is a lot of courtship behaviour with the sharks. It has been suggested that sharks perform courtship where they closely follow each other. With our waters also having a mass aggregation of shark later in the season (remember the survey of 918 sharks....), the current thinking is this is could be to do with our late summer plankton bloom or, as seen in many other areas of nature, a large population all heading to one place to try and expand the gene pool! It's around this time we see most of the breaching so 2+2=...? Our own feeling on it is that that the argument must be balanced. Ok the parasites might be annoying but is it would expending all that energy? It's a little anthropomorphic to suggest they get annoyed and getting rid of parasites will be purely for biological gain e.g. better streamlining and therefore less energy required for swimming or reducing output via the parasite. So then is the energy saved from the extra drag, worth the acute burst of energy by leaping out of the water? The sharks do swim 1000's of kilometres, so long term vs short term? The other argument is clear to make comparisons to other parts of nature where elaborate or intensive displays are made to attract a mate (e.g. frigate birds appendage, elephant seals fighting, pub on a Sat night?). You could say this is mostly males in other parts of nature, however we're never usually quick enough to tell on the shark. But is there an argument for the huge amount of energy expended to be a mating activity? E.g the bigger the splash, the stronger the shark, the better the genes? It will be interesting to try and get more of an understanding of this, maybe this season! If you have any thoughts, answers on a postcard! See a picture from one of our clients out last August (2103), great skills to capture the shark (nearly) in full flight. Awesome work Ray! [caption id="attachment_2552" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Breaching Basking Shark caught by Ray Mahoney[/caption]
Basking Shark Scotland in DIVER Magazine[caption id="attachment_2486" align="alignleft" width="960"] Article of Basking Shark Scotland & Sharks of the Hebrides, Basking Shark Scotland in DIVER Magazine[/caption] Really cool to see Basking Shark Scotland in DIVER Magazine this month. Following last years Coll of the Sharks Festival, Grant Henderson got some wicked underwater shots of the sharks whilst with us for the long weekend. He has written a really good article on the sharks, the festival and us which we're super stoked about. It's the March 2014 issue of DIVER magazine which can find at your newsagents. Get a copy and have a read!
Basking Shark Scotland in X-Ray MagazineCheck out the new magazine article by photographer and journalist Lawson Wood has written for the super cool X-Ray Magazine! They do lots of neat articles so go have a look here- http://www.xray-mag.com Lawson was out to the Hebrides with us on the last trip of the 2013 year and was lucky when we had a large numbers of sharks and encounters galore over our 2-day trip. What a way to end the season! I can't remember off the top of our heads (and would need to go and check the records) but we had over 30 and there must have been 2-3x that number around at least! However we can only swim with so many!!!! This was the trip where we made a amazing new discovery but that's a story for another time and all kept under wraps for now! Tune in later in the year for more on that. We're really pleased about the scientific and factual content which sometimes gets a little bit swayed in the media. We also love thais part and it's what we're been telling everyone.... '...it is now reckoned that there are more basking sharks found in Scottish waters than any other place on the planet' This link directs right to the pdf article - http://www.xray-mag.com/pdfs/articles/SharkTales_LawsonWood_59_locked.pdfwww.xray-mag.com
Wind Turbines & Fish Farms - Basking Sharks are Saved (for now)!!It was christmas come early yesterday with news on two fronts! Two industrial proposals for the shark hotspot have been scrapped or shelved. Great news for this Hebridean environment and basking sharks. 1) The Argyll Array See here for BBC report (link), but plans have been dropped for the massive offshore windfarm off the SW coast of Tiree. Although we are in favour of long term renewable energy (as fossil fuels aren't going to last for ever, along with climate change etc etc - but thats for another time) the site choice here highly concerning from both an environmental and visual point of view. Given that there are current plans for a marine protected area here, a huge industrial power site wouldn't really fit within the landscape of a marine park which people want to visit for stunning coastal vistas and wildlife! This is from a tourism operator perspective, as we don't live on Mull or Tiree we can't comment from their view. However enjoying an idyllic island lifestyle in the sunniest place in whole of the British Isles i'm sure does't marry well with a huge wind farm just off the coast. Secondly the planned wind farm was in the area highly frequented by basking sharks. Although there has been a benefit to the proposals, which has meant there has been a lot of extra study on the sharks and the area itself. Information that we would unlikely have had if there was no proposal. Studies were undertaken in the area south west of Tiree and almost unbelievably, on one day in August 2012, 918 sharks were sighted! Yes thats right - 918!!!! As far as we are aware this is numbers never seen elsewhere in such a short space of time in the whole world and on the face of looks like the area could be of worldwide importance for the sharks. As such the area needs protection and there should be onus from the rest of the world, not just for our own consideration. [caption id="attachment_1532" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Basking Sharking Feeding near the Tiree Array[/caption] A large scale windfarm in this area, with the associated installation, maintenance and underwater electrical fields could have had serious implications for the shark population. How mitigation would be proposed for this is anyones guess, our opinion is that there would be no way to understand the effects given we know very little of the sharks behaviour and distribution. However given that sharks are highly sensitive to electrical and magnetic fields then it's very easy to understand that they could be effected by such an installation. The power company have said the project has been shelved for this decade, but by then hopefully we will have a far better understanding of the sharks to ensure planning considerations fully consider these protected species. Maybe by then the Skye to Mull marine protected area will have no such threat from industrialisation! 2) Coll Fish Farm On the same day, another proposed industrial site was also scrapped for the foreseeable future, two wins on one day!! This time a large salmon farm was proposed for the NE coast of Coll, an area we visit most frequently for many reasons. This an another area of sharks, and we did see many along this stretch of coast this year. It's also an area where many species of Cetaceans have been spotted, Killer Whales, Minke Whales, Common & Bottlenose Dolphins, along with Common & Grey Seals. We were not in favour of this as we visit this area for it's natural beauty and wildlife, not to look at salmon cages. The proposed area has really good diving sites too with excellent soft coral reefs, almost next to the proposed farm. Those who know the effects of intensive fish farms will know about the damage they cause to the surrounding seabed. The effect of seals being attracted to the farm and potentially being either caught in nets or shot was also a large concern. Given there is a large seal colony nearby which we visit on almost every trip means they would likely have been attracted to the farm. It's existence would have likely altered their natural behaviour and caused a pest problem to the farm, ending badly for the seals. Again for an area under consideration for a MPA due to the outstanding wildlife, it makes no sense to have such a facility there. [caption id="attachment_1654" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Inquisitive Common Seal[/caption] Hopefully the information that has been gained from both exercise will now provide a more robust case for a large scale MPA in the area which can be the world stage as a haven for wildlife. Enhancing both the environment, bringing jobs through eco-tourism and money into the Scottish economy. Why not have a Galapagos style marine park for Scotland, where else has seen 918 shark in one day!!! [caption id="attachment_2316" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Skye to Mull MPA Search Area[/caption]
Lonely Planet - No1 Eco-Friendly Destination to Swim with Sharks!!!This weekend we were totally stoked to receive the Lonely Planet Traveller magazine in the post and find out we are named as Lonely Planet - No 1 Eco-Friendly Destination to Swim with Sharks!!! The article is written about the plight of sharks around the globe, their declining numbers and how people can swim with them in various destinations. The worldwide issue of the shark finning industry was also highlighted, which is great to see in mainstream media. See the January 2014 issue of Lonely Planet Traveller magazine. [caption id="attachment_2201" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Lonely Planet - Shark Article[/caption] The article suggests that one way to help is getting people up close and personal to sharks. Although there are also warnings (and rightly so) about choosing a responsible operator and checking their interaction policies. A top-5 destinations spread follows and the no1 entry was Basking Shark Scotland, beating operators in South Africa, Galapagos, Belize and Fiji!!!! How stoked are we about this news! We are really happy that our code of practice policies have been recognised in an eco-friendly manner as we work hard to ensure this is a big part of what we do. With Shane's background in Marine Biology it also gives us an unique opportunity to combine the tourism side of our operation with contributing to science. Code of Practice We have seen many shark diving operations world-wide and we can use an example of Whale Sharks in the Maldives as an example of how shark operations shouldn't be run. Not all operations are like this - we are only sharing our experience!! Imagine one large Whale Shark (10m+), with around 10 boats and over 50 people in the water swimming to keep up with it. People were getting pushed out of the way, kicked in the head and it wasn't a place to be if you were not a confident swimmer! The whale shark seemed to be oblivious to the melee and in the end just swam into the blue when the reef came to an end. Being a massive destination for tourists, you could only imagine that this practice happens day after day and so a case could be put forward for continual disturbance of these giants. There are growing calls for more regulation over these operators at this destination and hopefully this will be implemented soon. [caption id="attachment_2202" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Swimming Mayhem With Whale Sharks in the Maldives[/caption] Compare this to our own practice with the Basking Sharks, small numbers, maximum 4 people in with a shark, accompanied by a guide. Silent entries, minimal splashing, time limits with individual sharks and our contribution to ID and scientific projects.We believe the way we operate ensures that no disturbance is caused to the sharks and at the same time contributing to the overall understanding of the species. You can see more about our code of practice here. This also sits with the bigger picture of creating more public interest in shark conservation and changing perceptions of sharks in general (although ours just eat plankton!!). Along with getting people great interactions with these gentle giants and promoting new dynamic tourism in the Argyll area and Scotland. Scotland has some of the most prolific 'cold water' (and its not that cold...) marine environments in the world and we are on a mission to promote the amazing wildlife and in-water based adventures you can have here! [caption id="attachment_2203" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Correct Practice with Basking Sharks[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1530" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Swimmer getting a Great Interaction with a Large Basking Shark[/caption] Check out our 2013 highlights here!!! We had a LOT of fun this summer - why not come and join us in 2014!
Coll of the Sharks Festival 2013Phew, it's taken a wee while to get this blog up but what a fantastic Coll of the Sharks Festival 2013 we had!
ThursdayIt all started on Thursday, a few bright eyed and bushy tailed sharkers arrived at Oban, eager to get out there. With a good forecast and sun predicted, along with sharks over the past few days it was great to de-stress a little knowing everything was coming together. [caption id="attachment_1606" align="alignleft" width="199"] Clear Water & White Sand Beaches[/caption] First stop, Tobermory of course, hit up the Island Bakery as usual for some tasty cakes and off we went in search of the big fish. With a few inexperienced folks and some super keen to see the seals we headed off to our favourite snorkelling spot. 15-20m viz as per usual, seals everywhere, abundant reefs and sunshine. What more could you want! Well, as soon as we left our snorkel spot=, on our way to pick folks up at Arinagour, we heard on the radio that an Orca (Killer Whale) had been spotted where we just were! With people to meet, we had to keep to schedule (grudgingly!) so off we speeded to find our passengers and get back out there! After excitedly explaining to our new visitors we had heard about the orca on the radio and that all haste should be made to get back to the last known area, we all boarded the boat off in search of the Orca. Basking sharks can be tricky to find but we knew where some were - a little bit of a predicament of what to do. In the end we opted to search for Orca - you can imagine what happened next. Orca had disappeared in true Orca style! However we did have a decent size Minke Whale surface for a couple of cycles so all was not lost! Heading off to find the sharks and we weren't disappointed soon after coming across 4 or 5 individuals! The only problem being the time, as we diverted to look for pesky Orcas our time was running short. Everyone managed to get a good look at the sharks and we managed to get everyone in at least once. All haste on the way back and we got back into Arinagour just in the nick of time. Unfortunately, despite an overall good forecast for the festival the next day wasn't so good, so with everyone settled into their accommodation it was off to check weather forecasts and make plans! [caption id="attachment_2037" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Basking Shark 'Basking'![/caption]
Friday[caption id="attachment_2041" align="alignleft" width="300"] Sharks in Rough Water[/caption] Next morning the weather was pretty poor with strong SE winds. The film crew were out with us too - so no pressure then! We let everyone have a bit of a lie in as the wind was forecast to drop during the day and we managed to find a groups of 5 or 6 sharks feeding. Unfortunately a few of the crew were a bit green and conditions too rough to swim for now. At least we had sharks! Heading off to shelter around Mull, we still didn't have much joy so off to Tobermory, checking out the eagles and seals on the way. Grabbing a coffee and visiting the 'posh' toilets gave everyone a bit of a break. After a few tales being told between the group we were ready to look again, with the wind dropped even more. We were spurred on by reports of sharks to the south so we all donned wetsuits ready for some action! [caption id="attachment_2042" align="alignleft" width="300"] BBC Filming the Sharks[/caption] Despite the wind dropping there was still a healthy swell and as the sun set we didn't have any more luck finding sharks in calm conditions. We stayed out till sunset by the time the wind dropped it was too late to head off to where we knew they were! It was a nice sunset to end the day, but not quite as successful as our first day of the festival! Better forecast for tmrw!
Saturday[caption id="attachment_2047" align="alignleft" width="300"] Two sharks in same shot!![/caption] A lovely morning and flat calm seas made excellent conditions, especially for our BBC cameraman's last opportunity (Lunch time ferry!) It wasn't long when we found some sharks in our favourite spot! Everyone was super excited onboard and the film crew got some amazing shots, along with presenter Sarah Mack having a great time!!! A quick change over at lunch (and the cameraman made the ferry) and we were out again for another trip. This time seeing two or three Minke Whales and even breaching sharks! Fantastic! Everyone had great swims and the weather stayed nice and calm. On the way in we spotted a sunfish on the surface which truly rounded off a magical day in the Hebrides - unfortunately nobody got pictures of the sunfish and by the time I'd got in the water it had disappeared!! Honestly!!! The great thing was everybody was really amped and set the mood up perfectly for our evening presentation night. [caption id="attachment_1360" align="aligncenter" width="642"] An Cridhe Community Centre[/caption] Being held at the An Cridhe community centre, we had arranged an evening of four presenters and by 5pm the crowds were already starting to turn up. By the the time we were getting ready to go we had filled the hall to capacity and then some, a complete success and we had people for all over the isles, mainland and overseas! Thanks go to Stray Seal for the great event photography which you can see in the slideshow below of the evening. [slideshow_deploy id='2087'] A fantastic night and all 4 four presentations were well received. A mixture of current issues with Robert Trythall talking about the proposals for the Tiree Array and potential effects on sharks, Lilian Lieber and Mauvis Gore with interesting shark facts and details about their basking shark research. Then finishing off with fantastic footage from BBC cameraman Doug Anderson. A few celebratory beverages at the bar and after the pace of the last few days, none of us had any trouble getting to sleep!
SundayA wee bit weary after last night, but elated nonetheless. We rose to another perfect morning and we knew today would be another good day! [caption id="attachment_2094" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Big shark passes the boat![/caption] An interesting phenomenon had happened and with the wind patterns, large concentrations of plankton were evident and some HUGEEEE sharks had sniffed them out. We found a bay with around 10 sharks gorging themselves in plankton soup! The weather was calm so were kept the boat well away from the bay and swam in to where they were feeding. Everybody got amazing experiences of the sharks and memory cards were full to bursting of shark piccies. [caption id="attachment_2095" align="aligncenter" width="800"] See the size of the dorsal![/caption] With the concentration of plankton we also noticed concentrations of Pelagia noctiluca or Mauve Stingers. They do have a bit of a sting but with bright blue and purple they are a stunning creature of the ocean. Being the first time I've seen them around Scotland (usually more in the sub-tropics) it was an interesting side effect of the plankton concentration. Some people mentioned that I was more interested in the Jellyfish than the sharks!!! [caption id="attachment_2097" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Pelagia noctiluca Jellyfish[/caption] After another excellent day of sharks, diving was also on the cards for sunday night. Although we lost a few from suffering the effects of some really quality sharking, and last nights festivities there was still some super keen folk (e.g. Grant, Heather, Kelda and Lyndsay). Thanks to Ruaridh for helping out with the van we got all the gear down and Cam rowed over with the dingy to make sure no-one was off where they shouldn't be. Lovely viz again and covered in life! Always love to see peoples reaction from never diving in Scotland and seeing the amazing life and colours we have, even if it was a little cloudy on the surface by now! [caption id="attachment_2098" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Dive on the Calmac Pier[/caption]
MondayOur last morning before heading back to Oban and a little more wind this morning but still plenty of sharks around. We had about 5 or 6 sharks in a small area but again some fantastic encounters! [caption id="attachment_2099" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Basking Shark Swims Past Feeding[/caption] Returning around lunchtime we grabbed some sandwiches from the cafe, packed up our gear and people for the return fast ferry to Oban (to turn round and do it all again tmrw!). The Coll of the Sharks Festival 2013 had been a great success! We can't wait for next year again, we'll have more events and are working on a few more surprises! See you there! For more info see the Coll of the Sharks page. See the video below of the ONE Show report on the festival.
Basking Sharks Injured by Marine Debris[caption id="attachment_1893" align="alignleft" width="300"] Shark with rope/plastic round its nose. Ouch![/caption] After spotting a basking shark this summer with rope around its nose we were rightly upset about the distress that was being caused to the shark.White abrasions can be seen where the rope has been cutting in and being in close proximity to the eye, must be damaging. We did not see the shark again, so unfortunately couldn't help it even after gaining the necessary means in which to do so. After a request to use the image of the shark to show school kids, highlighting the problem of marine debris, I did some searching on the net to see if any sharks had been seen before. [caption id="attachment_2009" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Enlargement of rope around the sharks nose[/caption] We found out that another shark with plastic on its nose was seen in 2012 by Craig Whalley round the Isle of Man (see his picture below). We got in touch with Craig (a kayaker from the IoM) and Jackie Hall from the Manx Basking Shark Watch. They had actually seen their shark this summer (2013) too, two years in a row. They named the shark Ringo for obvious reasons, putting an upbeat side to the sharks predicament. [caption id="attachment_1996" align="alignleft" width="464"] Craig Whally's Shark as seen from a Kayak at the Isle of Man[/caption] Initially we thought it was good news that the basking shark had been seen and that the shark was surviving under the circumstances. However after checking videos and pictures (looking for the sharks 'bits') it seems that we had spotted a female but the IoM shark was male. The debris on our shark does appear to look like rope and the IoM like the plastic wrapping that goes round cardboard boxes. Jackie also advised that Colin Speedie, a Basking Shark researcher, saw one in 2001 fouled by plastic wrapping off Cornwall. So it's very distressing to hear that three of our gentle ocean giants have been affected by our waste in such a way. [caption id="attachment_2000" align="alignnone" width="1024"] Plastic Box Strapping on the Beach Courtesy of Balloons Blow (http://balloonsblow.org)[/caption] What you also must remember that a sharks nose is a highly sensitive part of its body, an area where the sharks electro-senses are concentrated. There is no question that this fouling will have an effect on the shark. Imagine what it would be like to have something on a sensitive part of your body but not have the means to remove it! The way I think about it, is having a splinter of wood stuck under your fingernail but not being able to get it out. Painful and extremely irritating. From seeing these amazing sharks in this state, the lesson for us is to make sure you cut any strapping up before you dispose of it, if you are walking along the beach, please pick it up. Make sure that you dispose of all waste responsibly and along with the bigger issues of marine debris, try to reduce the amount of plastic that you use! If we ever see this shark again, we'll be geared up to help it. Please share this message with everyone so the message hits home about our how rubbish is effecting our ocean giants. With lots of messages of around the world about the issue of marine debris, here's a real story from your own doorstep - it's up to you to do something about it!
Swimming Fingals CaveA popular tourist trip in the summer, even highlighted by recent travel magazine articles as a 'wonder of the world' but not many people have heard about swimming fingals cave! The Island of Staffa, the name coming from the norse word for pillar or stave ( relating to the basalt columns). As island to the west of Mull, south of the Treshnish Isles and north of Iona! An isolated island made famous for inspiring the Hebrides overture by Felix Mendelssohn. If you want to have a listen click here. The gaelic name also gives a clue to the famous sounds of water and rock, named An Uaimh Bhinn( the melodious cave)! Basically both sets of inspiration coming from the noise of the waves and water within the cave itself. The name Fingal's Cave is supposed to come from a variety of tales in which Scottish and Irish giants battle each other. The same rock formation is found at the giants causeway just over 70miles away in Northern Ireland! [caption id="attachment_718" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Fingals Cave[/caption] We enjoy visiting Staffa on our shark trips but when we have the right people and weather - taking a swimming fingals cave excursion is amazing!! We can also lead a kayaking excursion to the rear of the cave. You can even do all three!!!! Looking up from sea level, the pillars rise dramatically above you on the sides of the cave and on the the roof. Continuing into the water, the sea floor is a few metres underneath with walls plunging down covered in kelp on a stoney floor! We need good weather and low swell conditions to swim here but when it comes right, it's an amazing experience that not many can boast about! [caption id="attachment_1775" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Swimming at Fingal's Cave![/caption] [caption id="attachment_1772" align="aligncenter" width="664"] Photographer in Fingals Cave[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2741" align="aligncenter" width="533"] As interior view of Fingal's Cave[/caption] [caption id="attachment_2786" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Kayak Fun in Fingal's Cave[/caption]
Belnahua Quarry - a loch on an islandEver wanted to dive or swim on a loch on a deserted island? A fairly well kept secret up till now however we have taken a few groups there this year and had so much fun we are looking to do more!! Why not come out for some exploration of Belnahua Quarry - a loch on an island. The island was part of the slate quarrying industry in the local area, and is known as the slate that roofed the world. The slate going all over the world, even as far as New Zealand! The buildings and machinery are all derelict, lying around the island so you can imagine how people used to work here mining the slate! You can even walk to the top of the hill and look out over the restless waters of the Slate Isles, Garvellachs and Sound of Jura. The water is clear with lots of interesting artefacts and even fish!! However we'll not tell you all the secrets, you'll just have to come and see for yourselves! Some teaser piccies below! We are running trips over the winter months and you can also book on as a group. Contact us for more info. [caption id="attachment_1572" align="aligncenter" width="800"] A swimmer in Belnahua Quarry[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1564" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Exploring the machinery and buildings of Belnahua Island[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1567" align="aligncenter" width="564"] Machinery still lying in the same position since the day it flooded[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1571" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Belnahua Quarry and Island from above[/caption]
Shark City!!!!August has been an amazing month for sharks in the Hebrides, the biggest sighting was 50+ sharks in one day and we managed 29 including a number breaching. There has been a huge amount of plankton around and the sharks have been gorging themselves on this. Its not only the sharks too, with the abundant food, we spotted 3 minke whales on the last trips, large pods of dolphins and birdlife. SOme pictures of our last trips and adventures over the first couple of weeks in August. [caption id="attachment_1474" align="aligncenter" width="642"] A huge mouth scoops ip the plankton[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1501" align="aligncenter" width="642"] White Tailed Eagle in Flight[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1502" align="aligncenter" width="642"] Overseas visitors enjoying the wilds of the Hebrides[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1503" align="aligncenter" width="723"] A great day with 10+ sharks around. Unfortunately this one had a rope around its snout which is causing abrasions.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1504" align="aligncenter" width="642"] A breaching shark caught on camera![/caption] [caption id="attachment_1505" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Closer view of the breaching shark.[/caption]
Clear Water Scotland!!!
[caption id="attachment_1290" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Wild Swimming in A Secret Cover[/caption]
[caption id="attachment_1301" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Clear Water, Blue Skies & Remote Beaches[/caption]