We have just come back from a lovely week on the Isle of Mull and I will be sharing some of the nature highlights in three separate posts in the coming few days. First up is a wonderful whale watching trip we took with Sea Life Surveys from Tobermory. We took the four hour “Wildlife Adventure” option which cost £60 per adult.
Over the years I have been lucky to enjoy several wildlife watching boat trips. I have seen Sperm Whales from New Zealand, Pilot Whales from Tenerife and Humpback Whales from Iceland along with several UK dolphin trips. Each trip is special in it’s own way but I can honestly say this trip was as good as any I have done abroad and the best I have done in the UK.
First, the modern, fast boat meant we could make the most of the four hours and travel from Mull via the Ardnamurchan Peninsular to the north of the Isle of Coll and subsequently travel up to the south of the Isle of Muck before returning to port. We pretty much travelled from one sighting to the next with very little downtime. Second, the boat was generously staffed with, in addition to the captain, a dedicated wildlife guide and a knowledgeable volunteer who both explained what we were seeing. They also tuned in to individual interests (for example, not everyone had my appetite for seabirds) and shared more information with those who wanted it. Lastly, we were very fortunate with the conditions as we had very little wind, flat water and this meant any cetaceans (aquatic mammals) were easy to see a long way off.
Altogether we saw four different species of marine mammals – Bottlenose Dolphins, Harbour Porpoise, Minke Whale and Common Dolphin. The following video shows some of the highlights of the trip,
As we travelled from Tobermory we saw several seabirds – Black Guillemot, Common and Herring Gulls and lots of Shags. We also passed a rock with some Common Seals (aka Harbour Seals).
Before we left the coast of Mull we spotted Bottlenose Dolphins near a yacht which was ahead.
Soon we were surrounded by a pod of about 7-8 Bottlenose Dolphins. This was a lovely experience as the dolphins interacted with the boat riding the bow wave when the boat was moving fast and swimming around when the boat slowed down. Bottlenose Dolphins are known to stay in close-knit family groups and the volunteers took several photos of dorsal fins to submit to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust for identification. These were large dolphins (up to four meters) and great fun to watch as they sped between boats and rode the bow wave.
After about 20 minutes with the Bottlenose Dolphins we moved away and headed to the north of the Isle of Coll. At this location two currents from either side of the island meet and there is also a great variation in the depth of the water. This means that there are upwellings of currents which makes great conditions for sea birds and mammals.
As we approached the area we saw several seabirds including Manx Shearwaters, Gannets, Common Guillemots (including Bridled), Razorbills, Puffins, Kittiwakes and Great Skuas. Before long we saw a pod of several Harbour Porpoises. These behaved completely different to the Dolphins, making no effort to associate with the boat but just continued to feed and gently go about their business. There was also a clear size difference with these porpoises being one of the smallest of marine mammals (only up to 1.5 meters).
Before long we also saw the much larger Minke Whale breaking the surface several times before diving. All in all we saw 2 or possibly 3 separate Minkes. Much larger than anything we had seen to date (7-10 meters), and only from a respectful distance, it was great to see these whales. Again we didn’t interact with these, the second smallest baleen whale.
If our trip ended at this point I would still have rated it very highly, however our captain had spotted some dolphins to the south of Muck and we were soon off again. Before arriving, our guide had identified them as Common Dolphins (aka Short-Beaked), based on their behaviour. A Great Skua flew right over the boat and circled around as we arrived among the dolphins.
These dolphins interacted differently with the boat, frequently jumping out of the water (porpoising) and jumping onto their side. It was also a much larger pod with several dozen individuals together. Unlike their Bottlenose cousins Common Dolphins are not loyal to a family group and frequently join together in different pods and sometimes into groups a thousand strong.
Golden Eagle and Raven
After another 15-20 minutes with the Common Dolphins we returned to Tobermory via the Ardnamurchan Peninsular. As we travelled past the most western point of mainland Britain we saw several Ravens flying over the ridge and then two Golden Eagles. These were distant views through the binoculars but a fitting end to a great wildlife watching experience.
This was a great trip and I would strongly encourage you to book yourself on a whale watching trip from Mull. We were very fortunate to see four species in one trip and clearly, with nature and Scottish weather, this cannot be guaranteed. I found it really helpful to see Common and Bottlenose Dolphins as well as Porpoise in one trip and am now confident I could confidently identify them from land after this educational trip (in fact I did later in the week from a coastal viewing point). Lastly, it was also excellent that the animals chose to come close to us or kept their distance, which was then respected by the boats. It is a privilege to see these magnificent animals in their habitat and important that their welfare is respected.