Mar 132015

cruel sea cover feat

By David Innes.

The recent Pentland Firth tragedy in which the Cemfjord was lost with all hands, demonstrates that no matter how sailing and marine technology improves, the treacherous Scottish coastline and our frequently-inhospitable weather refuse to be tamed.

45 years have elapsed since the twin tragic losses of lifeboats from Fraserburgh and Longhope and whilst technology and training have improved, there remains considerable scope for losses at sea.

In a clockwise circumnavigation of this coastline in Scotland’s Cruel Sea, Robert Jeffrey charts how along its entirety, marine disaster has befallen the unwary, the unprepared and the unlucky.

He recognises the bravery of those who have fought elements, waves, currents, rocks and fortune, be they mariners or rescuers.

He also tells of the frequent crass stupidity which saw seafarers ill-prepared for almost certain death – a steam-driven submarine with folding tunnels and multiple vents? You don’t need to make that up – it happened and is well-documented here.

Likewise, his exacting prose describes clearly how the Iolaire sank just outside Stornoway harbour on New Year’s Day 1919, with over 200 men, who had survived the brutality of The Great War, lost within sight of their homes, a tragedy that is still mourned in the Hebrides.

The Longhope lifeboat TGB, from which all crew were lost exactly 45 years ago on a mercy mission doomed to failure, was recovered intact, re-fitted and went on to serve for another ten years and 41 call-outs in Ireland. Who knew that?

He describes the June 1916 loss of the Hampshire as a harrowing experience for Britain, as Lord Kitchener was the most high-profile loss on Orkney’s west coast, in an ill-considered venture into a raging summer storm. The effect of Kitchener’s death, and the conspiracy theories it spawned, Jeffrey says, would be akin to the more contemporary deaths of John F Kennedy or Princess Diana.

Of most interest to Voice readers, of course, will be the marine losses affecting NE Scotland, including Piper Alpha which caused “collective shock” not only in the oil industry, but in the country and where the bereaved and survivors found it, “as difficult to extract fairness from the multinationals as it was to get the oil and gas to the surface”.

Linked to North Sea exploration, is the insightful chapter on Chinook and Super Puma ditchings and near misses along with a tribute to pilot skills which, Jeffrey points out, have prevented many more losses in extreme conditions.

The Tay Bridge collapse of Hogmanay 1879 also gets its own chapter and Jeffrey’s frustration is obvious as he tells of the forewarnings of structural instability, inappropriate train speeds and the fears of an ex-Provost of Dundee who would only travel southbound on the ill-fated structure. It’s a surprise to learn that the final death toll has never been enumerated and that the locomotive was recovered from the Tay and put back into service.

Scotland’s Cruel Sea is informative, sympathetic, cautionary and written so that non-technical readers can appreciate the issues behind the human suffering associated with our being an island race.

Scotland’s Cruel Sea by Robert Jeffrey.

Black & White Publishing
ISBN 978 I 84502 886 2

Dec 112014
(small) Clet_the_bottlenose_dolphin_copyright_Nic_Davies_(2)

Clet the bottlenose dolphin bow rides a ferry in the Sound of Mull. © Nic Davies.

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

A solitary bottlenose dolphin that has appeared in Scotland’s Sound of Mull this week is an internationally famous individual known as Clet – who after becoming a celebrity in France and Ireland has now been recorded in Scotland for the first time, say researchers at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The rare sighting of a lone bottlenose dolphin following a ferry between Oban and the Isle of Mull on Tuesday 2 December triggered some rapid detective work at the conservation charity. Bottlenose dolphins are not unusual in the Hebrides, even during winter – but the normally social species usually occurs in small groups, with individuals rarely seen alone

By using photo identification techniques – studying the dolphin’s distinctively scarred dorsal fin – the trust’s experts identified the animal as a renowned individual that made international headlines through its unusual behaviour when last seen in September – in Galway in Ireland, some 600 kilometres away from the Sound of Mull.

“To our knowledge, this is the first time that Clet has been recorded in Scotland, and in fact this is the furthest north he has been recorded to date,” said Dr Conor Ryan, Sightings Officer at Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

“Bottlenose dolphins are usually considered to be resident to certain areas, so long-distance international movements such as this challenge our understanding of this species, and also challenge our ability to protect them using Marine Protected Areas alone.”

The male dolphin was named by locals from Cap Sizun, Brittany in France, where he used to follow fishing boats between 2008 and 2010. He then travelled to Cornwall, Devon and Wales before appearing in West Cork in Ireland, where he spent several weeks interacting with boats. The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group then recorded his movements along Ireland’s west coast to Valentia, County Kerry.

The last recorded sighting of Clet was on 28 September 2014 at Inis Óirr off Galway Bay. Although not confirmed, he was thought to be responsible for a dolphin attack on a group of swimmers in Salthill, Galway. The RNLI ensured that the swimmers were able to get to shore without harm, but unfortunately the incident resulted in some sensational news headlines.

Pádraig Whooley, Sightings Officer for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, said:

“We think it’s remarkable that Clet’s movements can be tracked to the Irish south and west coasts from France via English and Welsh waters, using images from the general public. The addition of Scotland after a two month interval brings his known tally of passport stamps to five countries and counting, and shows the need for international collaboration when trying to monitor these highly mobile marine mammals.”

Solitary dolphins such as Clet do not pose a threat to people in boats, but can be aggressive towards swimmers. The biggest danger to solitary dolphins is injury from boats, as the animals appear to seek out vessels to interact with. The deep gash on Clet’s dorsal fin may be from coming to close to boat propellers.

Wildlife photographer Nic Davies, who recorded Clet close to shore from Craignure on the Isle of Mull this week, said:

“I was out photographing otters when I heard a loud blow sound just out from the shore, and then I spotted the dolphin heading at speed towards a departing ferry.”

Clet may remain in the Sound of Mull area for weeks or even months, as he has done in other areas. Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is asking boat owners to be respectful and to give Clet the space he needs, and hopes that the dolphin will continue to enthrall onlookers from the shore and from the ferries, which he has been bow riding in the Sound of Mull.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is asking the public to report sightings of whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – and basking sharks at The charity’s extensive Community Sightings Network uses such sightings as a key way of strengthening understanding of the local marine environment and of these spectacular animals.

High quality images of cetaceans and basking sharks can be emailed to the trust at This helps in photo identification research – a technique that allows individual cetaceans or basking sharks to be identified by their distinctive markings, often shedding new light on population sizes, social dynamics, and areas of important habitat.

Volunteers are also wanted to join the trust’s research expeditions on its specialized yacht Silurian next summer, working alongside marine scientists.

The bottlenose dolphin is a highly protected species under EU law, and the Hebrides marks the most northerly reaches of their geographical range. Some of the biggest bottlenose dolphins in the world have been recorded in Scotland, where individuals usually grow to 3.5 metres in length.  Over 70 individuals have been catalogued in western Scotland.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust is working to secure the future of western Scotland’s cetaceans and the Hebrides’ globally important marine environment through education, research and engagement with local communities. For details call 01688 302620 or visit

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Sep 052014

With thanks to Don Staniford Director, Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture.

friendly looking sealThe Scottish Government is set for another bloody battle with Scotland’s Information Commissioner after refusing to disclose how many seals have been killed by salmon farmers.

On Thursday 21 August, GAAIA filed a formal review seeking to over-turn the Scottish Government’s refusal to disclose the information.

In May last year the Scottish Government were finally forced to publish the names of salmon farms in Scotland killing seals – with data made available online for 2013, 2012 and 2011

This week’s refusal to disclose data for 2014 runs counter to rulings made by the Scottish Information Commissioner in November 2012 and April 2013. The Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture is now calling for a boycott of Scottish farmed salmon.

“It’s shameful that the Scottish Government is once again protecting the predominantly Norwegian-owned salmon farming industry from public scrutiny rather than protecting Scotland’s seals,” said Don Staniford, Director of the Global Alliance Against Industrial Aquaculture

“Surely the public have a right to know which sites are killing seals and make an informed decision about the salmon they are buying? 

“Judging by previous rulings, the Scottish Information Commissioner should force the Government to name and shame those salmon farmers with blood on their hands. In the meantime, consumers wanting to avoid seal-unfriendly products should play it safe by boycotting all Scottish farmed salmon.”

John Robins of Animal Concern added:

“Marine Scotland and the Scottish Government are continuing to treat Freedom of Information legislation with total contempt,”

“At the moment there are a number of cases where they have either totally failed to meet time limits for responding to FOI requests, refused FOI requests or have released paperwork with so many redactions that it is incomprehensible.

“Alex Salmond and his Ministers are bending over backwards to protect netsmen who are killing thousands of wild salmon before they can swim upriver and breed and a mainly foreign owned factory fish farming industry which profits from damaging the Scottish marine environment and killing the creatures which inhabit that environment.”

Read GAAIA’s request for a review (21 August 2014) of the Scottish Government’s refusal to disclose seal killing salmon farm information online here – the review request includes:

“The real reason the Scottish salmon farming industry does not want data on seal killing salmon farms to be disclosed is market success and the future certification of farmed salmon. In December 2012, the SSPO wrote to the Scottish Government claiming that the release of the names of the seal-killing salmon farms would “have a direct impact on the market success of their products” (read the SSPO’s letter in full online here).”

More info:

Sunday Times Article 24.08.2014: “End Secrecy Over Seal Deaths
Scottish Information Commissioner’s rulings in 26 November 2012 and 23 April 2013 and press statement in April 2013.
Letters to the US Government calling for ban on imports of farmed salmon – online here
Humpback whale was killed by a salmon farm off the Isle of Mull in July – read more via “Salmon Farming Kills Whales“.
More background via “The Killing Farms” and “Scottish Salmon’s Seal Killers!

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[Aberdeen Voice accepts and welcomes contributions from all sides/angles pertaining to any issue. Views and opinions expressed in any article are entirely those of the writer/contributor, and inclusion in our publication does not constitute support or endorsement of these by Aberdeen Voice as an organisation or any of its team members.]

Jul 042014

HWDT_stranded_humpback_whale_1With thanks to Richard Bunting.

Scotland’s first full post mortem of a humpback whale – found dead at Fishnish on the Isle of Mull last Wednesday – has been carried out by veterinary pathologists with the assistance of conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

The seven-metre, eight-ton animal – believed to be the first humpback whale ever to strand on Mull – was discovered floating close to shore on Wednesday 25 June, and was craned out of the sea the following evening. The male calf had not recently been feeding and was probably still dependent on its mother.

Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust’s Science and Strandings Officer Dr Conor Ryan, who is an expert on humpback whales, assisted with a post mortem examination with veterinary pathologist Andrew Brownlow of Scottish Rural University College to establish the cause of death.

Preliminary results from the examination were consistent with drowning, although the cause is unclear.

“This highly unusual and sad discovery is a reminder that Scotland’s west coast waters are extremely special and host a great variety of marine species, including magnificent and iconic humpback whales – and that conservation action and research are vital for the protection of such remarkable animals,” said Dr Ryan.

Humpback whales today face a range of threats including collisions with vessels, entanglement in fishing gear, pollution and reduction in stocks of their prey.

People are encouraged to report sightings and strandings of whales, dolphins, porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – to the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust via or on 01688 302620.

The charity’s Community Sightings Network works with residents and seafarers across the Hebrides to map cetacean distribution off Scotland’s west coast as part of its work to ensure the long-term survival of cetaceans and basking sharks through improved knowledge and understanding.

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) are rarely encountered in the Hebrides but are known to migrate through the region far from shore when travelling between their tropical breeding grounds and Arctic feeding grounds.

They were hunted in the Hebrides in the early 1900s, but only 19 were caught during 20 years of hunting – suggesting they had been over-exploited by whalers elsewhere to the north and south of Scotland.

HWDT_stranded_humpback_whale_2Although sightings are still very rare in UK waters, this species is being observed with increasing regularity in Irish waters.

Named after the distinctive hump in front of their small dorsal fin, humpback whales are known for their acrobatic aerial breaching and for complex and beautiful songs performed by males during courtship.

Adults can range in length from 12-16 metres and weigh up to 36 tons.

Humpback whales are widely distributed throughout all the world’s oceans and are highly migratory, travelling thousands of miles from warm-water breeding grounds in the tropics to cold-water feeding grounds in the polar regions.

The species has an estimated global population of 60,000 individuals and is increasingly popular with whale-watching trips worldwide.

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Jun 062014

Minke_HWDT_smallerWith thanks to Richard Bunting. 

A new annual week-long festival boosting the profile of The Hebrides as an internationally-important hotspot for whale spotting and conservation action will be launched on World Oceans Day on 8 June, in what is believed to be the first event of its kind in Scotland.

Humpback whales, orcas and bottlenose dolphins will take over Tobermory on the Isle of Mull between 8-15 June 2014, as conservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) celebrates its 20th anniversary with its first Whale Week.

A wide range of activities and events will increase knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s spectacular whales, dolphins and porpoises – known as cetaceans – and The Hebrides’ globally important marine environment.

HWDT hopes that the local community, schools and tourists will be inspired to help ensure the long-term survival of these remarkable marine creatures, which are facing increasing stress from human activities including climate change, habitat degradation, pollution, entanglement in fishing gear, and underwater noise.

So far 24 cetacean species – including several national and international conservation priorities – have been recorded in the region.

Eva Varga, HWDT Operations Manager commented:

“We want Whale Week to create a real buzz about western Scotland’s wonderful whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks. We are fortunate to have one of Europe’s most important habitats for these remarkable marine creatures – and by raising awareness and protecting them we can bring economic and social benefits to the entire region.”

Guests will be able to step onboard survey boats, hear talks by experts, and enjoy fun and educational activities.

There will be a daily treasure hunt and displays at HWDT’s visitor centre; touch tank sessions run by Tobermory Harbour Association and HWDT; a pub quiz and music evening in Tobermory’s Mishnish Pub; and an award ceremony for artwork, music and writing created during the week and for the winners of a window display competition.

SilurianHWDT’s unique research yacht, Silurian, previously used in filming of the BBC’s acclaimed series The Blue Planet and nicknamed the ‘floating classroom’, will return from pioneering research expeditions across the Hebrides to Tobermory on 8 June for four days.

There will be opportunities to go onboard Silurian and Celtic Mist, the research vessel of the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group.

Presentations will highlight the latest research findings and discuss the killer whales of the North Atlantic, including the West Coast Community living in the Hebrides – a pod thought to be the UK’s only resident group of orcas.

The Irish Whale and Dolphin Group will discuss their research of humpback whales in the North Atlantic, while local company Sea Life Surveys will describe 30 years of respectful whale watching.

The closing day on 14 June will feature beach activities with competitions, demonstrations and creative activities for children, families and adults.

HWDT works to secure the future of western Scotland’s cetaceans and their marine environment by enhancing knowledge and understanding through education, research and engagement with local communities. People can support crucial research by reporting sightings of cetaceans and basking sharks, or by volunteering alongside marine scientists on research expeditions.

For a schedule of Whale Week events, please call 01688 302620 or visit

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Mar 142014

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConservation charity Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) is celebrating today’s announcement that it has been awarded £120,000 through the UK Government’s Coastal Communities Fund – enabling it to launch an innovative project to strengthen people’s connections to the sea in 15 remote island communities across the Hebrides, including by creating sustainable eco-tourism employment opportunities.

HWDT’s ambitious Sea Change project will strengthen conservation of whales, dolphins and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – and develop the region’s appeal as a major destination for wildlife tourism.

Key to this will be engaging coastal communities in learning, training and volunteering – so that they can develop stronger links with and understanding of their marine environment, and invest in its sustainable use for the long-term benefit of local people.

“This Coastal Communities Fund award is fantastic news for our work with communities in the Hebrides. We want our Sea Change project to help local people make the most of their natural marine assets – benefitting the conservation of our world-class marine environment and bringing real economic and social benefits to the whole region,” said Eva Varga, HWDT Operations Manager.

“The project will set up a legacy, with the communities themselves taking ownership of it, and so ensuring its sustainability for years to come. We hope that increased tourism numbers will also strengthen the tourist-dependent businesses in each community.”

She added:

“In the communities involved, the success of our Community Sightings Network – through which people can report sightings of cetaceans, helping us to map their distribution off Scotland’s west coast – and of our educational visits have shown a real enthusiasm for Scotland’s remarkable and inspiring marine biodiversity.”

The scheme will support local people by developing skills and creating work opportunities through an extended Community Sightings Network.

It is planned that the Sea Change project will be carried out on Mull, Coll and Tiree, Islay and Jura, Colonsay, Barra, Small Isles (Eigg, Muck, Rum, Canna), Mallaig and Arisaig, and in two locations on Skye.Each of these communities attracts tourism and has seen an increase in wildlife tourism in recent years.

The importance of white-tailed eagles to the local economy of Mull and Skye is well-documented. HWDT believes developing sustainable marine wildlife eco-tourism could have similar or greater success.

The Sea Change project will directly create two new jobs, and potentially safeguard and indirectly create many more employment opportunities in the region.

The Coastal Communities Fund was created to direct regeneration investment to seaside towns and villages

HWDT will recruit a new full-time Sightings and Strandings Officer, to train volunteers, organise school visits and support 15 community-based hubs on the islands, which will then run the project from their own community. The new employee will also liaise with boat operators, local people and tourists on reporting marine animal sightings and strandings.

HWDT plans to work collaboratively with community enterprises, trusts, wildlife groups, businesses, schools and individuals, so that the project is tailored to each of the 15 communities and to encourage as many volunteers as possible to get involved.

Engagement with local communities and education work are key parts of HWDT’s pioneering work to secure the future of western Scotland’s cetaceans and basking sharks, as well as the Hebrides’ globally important marine environment.

A new Visitor Centre Manager at HWDT will ensure that the charity’s headquarters in Tobermory becomes the project base and a community resource for learning, training and volunteering.

HWDT also carries out scientific surveys, and is currently recruiting volunteers to take part in its 2014 expeditions onboard its research yacht Silurian, working alongside marine scientists. For details call 01688 302620 or visit

The Coastal Communities Fund was created to direct regeneration investment to seaside towns and villages to help rebalance their local economies, reduce unemployment and create new work opportunities for young people from the local area.

Announcing the Coastal Community Fund winners today, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rt Hon Danny Alexander said:

“The Coastal Communities Fund is supporting some of the most fragile communities. It is a great way to make sure that people living around our coastline can share in the benefits of the increased returns for the Crown Estate’s marine activities.”

Over 50 projects across the UK have been awarded a share of £27.7 million through the Coastal Communities Fund. Details of the project winners are at

Dec 192013

Volunteers onboard HWDT’s unique research vessel Silurian. Copyright: G.Leaper

With thanks to Richard Bunting.

Research surveys conducted by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) during 2013 have identified a remarkably wide range of whale, dolphin and porpoise species – highlighting the need to conserve the rich biodiversity and globally-important marine habitats in western Scotland’s seas.

The latest research is part of HWDT’s unique and long-term monitoring project of cetaceans – whales, dolphins and porpoises – in the Hebrides.
With growing concerns over the state of the UK’s seas, and threats to wildlife and ecosystems from human activity, HWDT is calling for volunteers to help continue the pioneering research in 2014.

In total during 2013, HWDT recorded more than 400 encounters with cetaceans and basking sharks, and made almost 1,000 underwater detections of cetaceans using specialist listening equipment.

Kerry Froud, HWDT Biodiversity Officer, said:

“The impressive range of species of cetaceans and basking sharks that we have documented this year highlights the wealth of marine life in Scotland’s west coast ocean environment – and the importance of ensuring the continued survival of these spectacular animals and maintaining the healthy seas that support them.”

With the help of 48 volunteers working alongside marine scientists, the charity carried out nine surveys on its research yacht Silurian during 2013.

The surveys covered more than 3,000 nautical miles and spanned nearly all of the Hebrides and beyond – from Ballycastle, Northern Ireland in the south, west to the Outer Hebrides, and to Cape Wrath in the north.

A major encounter – in August near the Isle of Skye – was a rare sighting of three members of a group of killer whales known as the ‘West Coast Community’. This very small group consisting of just five males and four females is thought to be the UK’s only known resident group, but, as no calves have been seen within the group, it is likely to go extinct in our lifetime.

Other highlights included:

  • 417 encounters with cetaceans and basking sharks – consisting of 321 encounters of harbour porpoise; 34 of minke whale; 32 of basking shark; 22 of common dolphin; six of white-beaked dolphin; one of killer whale; and one of Risso’s dolphin.
  • Recorded acoustic detections of 821 harbour porpoise; 129 common dolphin; six white-beaked dolphin; and one Risso’s dolphin – the latter adding to sparse acoustic data currently available for this species.
  • Visual sightings of 316 harbour porpoises, with the species being detected acoustically 821 times. Scotland’s west coast is one of Europe’s most important habitats for harbour porpoises.
  • 50 basking sharks recorded in nine days alone in June. Sightings of basking sharks have been increasing in recent years.

Although little was known about Hebridean cetaceans until relatively recently, HWDT’s work is strengthening knowledge about their distribution, movements, habitats and behaviour.

medium_Basking_shark_under_Silurian_Copyright_HWDTThe charity’s findings now form the most comprehensive data available, supporting effective conservation – which includes providing researchers and policy-makers with crucial data on cetacean distribution patterns – and benefitting HWDT’s education work.

HWDT’s findings will contribute to the Scottish Government’s historic initiative to identify areas for possible Marine Protected Areas featuring cetaceans and basking sharks.

This year, a network of 33 marine reserves has been proposed. A decision on which will go forward for designation as Marine Protected Areas is expected in Spring 2014 – potentially providing protection to Scotland’s marine environment by preventing damaging activities within the reserves.

HWDT’s data will also contribute to the Joint Cetacean Protocol, a UK-wide initiative that is combining data from different sources to add to knowledge of cetacean distribution and trends.

Western Scotland’s seas are one of Europe’s most important habitats for cetaceans.

The long, complex coastline, strong ocean currents and wide variety of habitats help make the Hebrides one of the most biologically productive areas in the UK. So far 24 cetacean species have been recorded in the region, many of which are national and international conservation priority species.

Marine ecosystems are fragile, and cetaceans face increasing stress from human activities including climate change, entanglement in fishing gear, pollution, underwater noise and habitat degradation.

HWDT improves knowledge and understanding of Scotland’s whales, dolphins and porpoises and the Hebridean marine environment through education, research and working within local communities to ensure lasting conservation of species and habitats.

The charity is recruiting volunteers to take part in its 2014 surveys.

Volunteers will live and work onboard Silurian for almost two weeks, working alongside marine scientists, collecting data during visual surveys, and conducting acoustic monitoring including with hydrophones. They will receive full training and assist with the day-to-day running of the research vessel.

Places on the surveys – which depart from Tobermory on the Isle of Mull or Kyle of Lochalsh – are available from May to September. Participation costs range from £800 – £1,300, which covers boat expenses, supports HWDT’s research programme and includes accommodation, food and insurance onboard Silurian.

For details call 01688 302620 or visit


Pictured: HWDT’s unique research vessel Silurian; basking shark alongside Silurian