Whales and dolphins of the Moray Firth, Day 7, 6 June 2008
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6 June 2008 - Feel like Jonah in the belly of a whale - Day 7


It is incredibly early in the morning, although being northern Scotland, the sun has been shining for hours. Three men are asleep in the beds, in sleeping bags. The atmosphere is heavy given the extreme lack of sleep of the three men which isn't helped by them having gone to sleep only a few hours before.

The door opens below. There is the sound of footsteps coming up the scary steps with the slippery carpet. The bedroom door opens.

It is 5:30, the weather looks fine, let's get ready to go.
(Leaves room.)

Silence. Long silence. Even more silence. Eventually there is a small amount of moment as the men slowly start moving and getting up.

Early morning in Gardenstown.

So yeah, as threatened, the weather was fine in the morning and wake up was at 5:30 am. But our crew gets Orca II today, which is moored in Gardenstown. So there is no packing up the trailer and we can wait until the other crew gets their stuff assembled and then start suiting up. We are on the water by 7. Besides the extreme tiredness, it is really great out here. The seas are glassy, the sun is at a low angle and everything shines and sparkles. Sadly, Soo isn't with us for our final voyage. She didn't sleep very well and just couldn't make it up.

On the water early.

We head east and start our survey. We see a few porpoise pretty quickly. We note them down in the log and keep moving. I take over driving for a bit and play with keeping the nose down, listening to the engine and when it makes the right sound, and occasionally push the throttle the wrong way and we lurch a bit. Sorry about that. And you just want to move it a tiny bit but it feels all sticky and is hard to move just a tiny bit. Not much more to see right now.

Break in Rosehearty.

By the time we get to Rosehearty, a toilet break is called for. Pine takes the boat in and we tie up at the end of the harbor. It has a tiny opening and is surrounded by thick seaweed. And the ladder up is mighty spooky. There is no bottom step so you have to step on the bit of the wall that flares out and the first step is broken and crooked and covered in slippery algae. We make it up top without incident though and make the long hike into town and find the toilets. The harbor is a bit smelly too, more so than others. Lots of rotting seaweed and fish.

Back on the boat, we finish our route to Fraserburgh and close out our survey. It has been a nice morning out so far, but it would be nice to see something and make getting up this early worthwhile. By about 9 am, we sit out at the edge of Fraserburgh Bay and the Sovereign shipwreck and get out some food and snack. Having been up for absolutely hours, it feels like lunch but I must pace myself and not eat it all right now. So, I eat one sandwich. We sit and float and watch the seals and try to get them to talk. But no pointing at them. Apparently that spooks them and they won't come out. A few swim over a little bit and one is on the other side of the boat, but none of them come all that close.

Seals off Fraserburgh Bay and the Sovereign shipwreck

Ok, last picture of barely visible seal heads.

Heading towards bird rafts.


Feeling refreshed, we head out to deeper water to start our survey route back to the west. There are a few promising bird rafts around and we move around to check those out. We sight something pretty quickly. It was probably Duncan, he didn't miss a thing. Minke, hurray. It looks to be an adolescent. Wait, there is another one over there. Wow, cool. We keep seeing more and more in all different directions. It is hard to say for sure how many there were, either 4 or 5, since they are only on the surface for a few seconds and they move fast and far between breaths. They are all hungry whales and are feeding. All of us take different directions and keep calling out sightings, blow at 3 o'clock. Feeding strike. We go on and on. Although it is hard to keep track of which ones are diving, so we can't really time the dives, and even hard to decide which way to go since they are in all different directions and moving. For most of it, we just switch the engine off and drift until they get too far away and we move to follow the closest one.

Minke whale.

Aftermath of a feeding strike.



Then a bunch of porpoise show up. And the gannets are diving and going nuts. And and what do we watch now, there are too many things going on. And puffins, damn they are cute. This goes on for about two hours until we have seen enough. We can't get dive timings and we can't really add to the count. We followed them for a little distance and we take location readings for that, but there isn't much else to do. We hear from the other group, they haven't seen anything yet and they are green with envy. Harbor porpoise (with Amber making blow hole noises in the background).

Minke surrounded by birds.

Except have lunch. That was hard work, now it feels good to sit and eat, looking out occasionally when you hear a blow hole blowing. All is good. Well, except for Andreas, he wonders if it would be against the rules to pee over the side. Pine says go for it, it shouldn't be a problem. He has had the great perch up on the front of the boat, a rack mounted over the side to clip onto and use as a platform to take identification photographs. All through the encounter, he had been snapping pictures of the minkes (and I caught him taking pictures of puffins occasionally too).

So, he attempts to unzip slightly, without taking the top part of, the arms and head out of the collar. And stands there. And stands there for even longer. We laugh at him to make the stage fright a bit worse and Pine snaps a few pictures. And still standing there and eventually gives up and starts unzipping the suit and then stands there again. And stands there and we laugh and this goes on for about three hours.

But moving on then, we end the encounter officially and start our survey route. The seas are still pretty glassy and it gets really hard watching. I'm so tired and I start to worry that I'm going to fall asleep and topple off backwards and end up in the water. Finally I take over driving and that's much better. It is more active and I have to move around and it makes me slightly less sleepy. We approach Gardenstown and we have been out for quite a long time and it seems like a good time to head home. The other group by now has found some whales are quite excited. But on our boat, Pine takes over driving and once we hit Gamrie Bay, she opens it up and we zoom into harbor and tie up and unload.

Back in Gardenstown.

It is sort of the walking dead then around town. We shuffle back to the office and unsuit and rinse off the equipment and put things away. Good bye dry suit, good bye wooly bear, you were good to me, I hope your next occupant is kind to you. We shuffle to the office, to #2, read email, write, organize pictures, and anything else that doesn't require a lot of energy or fast movement. I go and take a short nap, which revives me enough so that I can stumble through the rest of the day. Around this time, the other group gets back and they are pretty pumped up (and incredibly tired too). They had lots of minkes and theirs came really close and they were very excited.

Beginning of sunset.

Amber and Duncan make a nice dinner and we eat that. Of course there is more hula hooping and that stupid broom trick thing. We also have a quick impromptu ceilidh. Now all the ceilidhs I've been to, no dance inspires more fear than stripping the willow. It is completely confusing and bewildering and this version is even more confusing than others I have done. Still, it is fun. Amber ends up with massive bruises from Kevin's talon grip on her arm, but as far as I know, there are no other injuries.

Impromptu ceilidh

Then it being Friday night, and the last night, and already watched the sun set, it is off to the pub, again. Ahh, it is so sad, I'm really going to miss hanging out with all these people. What an excellent group. The pub goes without incident, unlike the night before when we ended up with a few locals taking up lots of room playing darts and pool. We played darts a lot of other nights but never really had a conflict with the people playing pool, but well, maybe it is a locals vs out of towners issue.

At the pub.

As sad as it is that the night is passing quickly, it is pie night. How Gardenstown ended up with such a great bakery, who knows, but pie night, that's just inspired. At midnight on Friday nights, they open up the back of their bakery and sell 50p freshly baked pies (savory ones). I get greedy and have both a mince beef one and a macaroni and cheese one. Mac and cheese one, that's totally inspired and it is fantastic. It is funny, walking down a street and opening some unmarked door and ending up in the middle of a kitchen with racks of pies cooling. It feels like being let behind the velvet rope.

The pub is closed then, where do we go now? It is late but it is too sad. If we go to bed, then it will be tomorrow and we will have to go home. So, we head off to #2 and sit and chat for as long as we can until we can't stay awake any longer. Kevin promised us a big group breakfast in the morning at 8 before the first few people have to leave at 9. So we at least have that to look forward to. Sniff, sniff, off to bed then. Good night all.

Pie night at the bakery.