A spectacle straight out of a nature documentary….

by Winnie Courtene-Jones

Today marked the long anticipated start of the Extended Ellett Line transect and CTD deployments. The first station is located just off the west coast of Scotland and so as we ate breakfast we were in sight of land. After looking out and seeing only waves since we left Southampton just over a week ago there was a real sense of excitement from all the scientists on board, and lots of picture taking of the green mountains of Scotland.

Next to begin CTD’s; no sooner had the first CTD gone in the water someone shouted “dolphins”. A group of common dolphin approached the ship, perhaps curious about the noises coming from the CTD. All those not on duty ran up to the fore deck to get a surround view of the dolphins. Those on ‘watch’ (including myself) dutifully sampled the CTD, taking water samples for analysis of dissolved oxygen concentration, nutrients and salinity.

Once the samples were safely transferred to the lab, we all headed back out to catch a glimpse of the dolphins. We need not have worried about missing any of the action as the sea was alive with common dolphin and diving seabirds. We could see dark patches- bait balls of fish, under the water’s surface which were attracting the dolphins pushing the fish up to the surface where gannets, guillemots, arctic terns, gulls and skua’s were taking advantage of the bounty of fish.

Pods of common dolphin kept appearing and joining the feeding frenzy; others swam right up to the boat, so close you could hear their blows as they surfaced. They were truly incredible to watch, their grace and synchronicity as they leapt and twisted through the waves was remarkable. Being so close to so many dolphins (a conservative estimate of ~ 60 individuals) and seabirds was a true spectacle, something straight out of a nature documentary.

The nature of CTD’s means the ship travels between stations and then spends periods of time stationary, when we are conducting the CTD deployment. We have been incredibly lucky as dolphins have come to join us throughout the day, bow riding, breaching and swimming right under the boat while we have been stationary. They appeared to be curious about the CTD, circling around it and coming extremely close when it was in the water. Seeing common dolphin riding through the waves, the ease by which they move and their sheer playfulness, cannot help but make you smile. Everyone is in high spirits. This has been a great start to the CTD transect, let’s hope our luck continues (despite threats of a coming storm)!

Photos by Winnie Courtene-Jones

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