Friday, 12 July 2013

The perfect eco friendly Small Boat Survey topped off with some Minke magic!

Nick o'Sullivans "Celtic Wildcat"

Its a long time since we started our small boat surveys and in a way they have been superceded by our Ferry Surveys in terms of the amount we can do and their vulnerability to poor weather. Last year was terrible with only a three pretty choppy trips completed of the thirteen we scheduled between April and October.
And yet these surveys allow us to take out people and really show them the southern Irish sea with is wonderful Island bird colonies such as those on Skokholm and Skomer as well as the truly fabulous Gannetry on Grassholm. At this time of the year they are fizzing with life and productivity. Way out are the "Smalls" rocks and lighthouse an eerie place with a sad history and yet the seals love it and the tidal races attract thousands of shearwaters.  This is not your  average wildlife watching, this is as good as it gets anywhere in the world and thats without the likelihood of close encounters with Porpoises Dolphins and even Whales.
Yesterday's was the second Celtic Wildcat trip of the year with our old mate skipper Nick o'Sullivan. Nick had been out a few times the past week and had seen very few dolphins so although the weather was as good as you can ever hope for in the Irish Sea,  Common Dolphins were seemingly not about in usual numbers, as was obvious also from our ferry surveys.  This was also obvious from the first Wildcat trip of the year and, although quite good because the weather was fine, Dolphins were hard to find and our only sighting, a small pod was quite brief. Such is the luck of the draw.... 
So we started under an overcast sky but calm waters and clocked up Puffins and other seabirds everyone wants to see off Skomer as well as some nice close but brief Porpoise encounters, we headed out further for the Gannets on Grassholm eyes peeled for cetaceans along the way. The gannets were breathtaking as usual especially down wind of them where the smell of the guano produced by a hundred thousand large seabirds adds its own pungency!

The Smalls Lighthouse - Rich C

Out further still to the Smalls and still no Dolphins, although  a few thousand Manx Shearwaters milling and feeding their pattering feet clearly audible as we skirt the reef and out again to the Celtic Deep where a deeper  arm of the Atlantic cuts into the Irish Sea like a feeder road and where things like Basking Shark Blue Shark and Sunfish can turn up.

Manxie - Rich C
We went on and on but the normally quite productive waters seemed quite desolate and I began to wonder if our Dolphin famine was going to continue. It was calm and great visibility and clearly nothing could move for a miler or more without our seeing it!
At last when my eyes were getting bleary with looking at empty water, Rich Crossen shouted out Dolphins! and we connected with a pod of about a dozen which gave great views as they came into the boat to bowride!
Common Dolphin - Rich C
And it just kept getting better with a Minke that gave us a few brief views, more Dolphins and then another Minke Whale which appeared ahead of us  we slowed down to a stop and incredibly the whale popped up beside the Celtic Wildcat...

Minke: Rich Crossen
It seemed curious and swam beneath us its white banded flippers clearly visible below the boat as it spent the next few minutes popping up here and there around us! I have seen quite a few Minke's over the years but they have always seemed boat shy. I had heard they could approach boats and even seen film of one around a local fisherman's boat off Strumble Head! but up until now we had not had such an incredible encounter... After about five minutes our new best friend got bored with us and wandered off back into the blue yonder.
Rich Crossen

We had to get home as it was getting late in the afternoon and we were two hours brisk cruising out from Milford Haven. Nick turned the Wildcats bows homewards. On the way back in we had several more Dolphin encounters that we recorded but could not afford the time to stay with them. We also spotted two more Minke's but had to press on home. None the less we had some really dynamic Dolphin action as they flew in to join us briefly as we sped our way home. Lets hope they are still there for a better look next time!
So all in all the perfect Survey , three species of cetacean recorded, some great photographs taken and a great time had by all our  passengers whose contributions helped pay for the trip which really is green eco friendly tourism!
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Photos from a great trip at -

Footage from the trip -