Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Scotland Trip: Basking Sharks and Puffins

I just returned from a trip to the Island of Mull, part of the Inner Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  I was very pleasantly surprised by the the wildlife that I encountered.

Five of us (Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, and Steve Ando) traveled to Tobermory, on the Island of Mull, and stayed there for six nights.  Tobermory is a charming small town, and it is the gateway to the wildlife and scenery of the Hebrides Islands of Scotland.  It is about a 2.5 hour drive from Glasgow and involves a ferry ride from Oban on the mainland to the island of Mull.

We traveled to these islands hoping to see and photograph basking sharks -- the second largest fish in the ocean.  Nearly all of us had seen and filmed basking sharks off the California coast, 25 years ago.  However, since then, no one had seen any basking sharks off California.  The popular belief is that these magnificent animals had been fished to death, caught by open ocean driftnets off the California coast.  Basking sharks are, however, a known and relatively common sight off the coast of Scotland and Cornwall.  (True to form, while we were sitting out bad weather in our cottage in Tobermory, we heard that a group of 50 basking sharks had been sighted off the Big Sur coast -- in my backyard!). 

Our first four days were blown out due to bad weather and winds.  We were able to spend two afternoons on the Island of Lunga, where there is a wonderful puffin colony.  One morning, thanks to our friend Leigh Cobb, who saw and dove with 3-4 basking sharks the day before, we spent a windy morning with a few basking sharks.

The last day of our trip was the best -- as often happens.  We had encounters with several sharks, which were intent on feeding on swarms of reddish copepods.  You can see those small copepods in my photograph. 

Thanks to Henderson Aquatics, yet again, for making their Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  I own a 3mm Henderson Aqua Lock wetsuit, and it is the warmest wetsuit that I have ever had.  It's thin, warm, light, and flexible -- all good.  I wore this wetsuit and an old hood instead of bringing a drysuit.  The water there was a cold 55 degrees F, but I was just fine in the water.  I was in a group of four other professional divers and underwater photographers - - all of whom wore drysuits.  I was just as warm as these folks for a good three hours in the water, on the one day that we had so much time with the sharks.  I did give myself a good wash of hot water that was on the boat, and I was able to swim much faster than the others on the group since I was not encumbered by a drysuit (as always, I must add the caveat that Howard Hall swam and free dove better than me, even though he was in a drysuit).  That guy is too much -- a true underwater filmmaking artist, and a superb free diver and diver.

I came home to Monterey, and the surf off Asilomar Beach was going off pretty well.  I jumped in, the water is 60 degrees, and once again -- I have to thank my Henderson Aqua Lock suit for making this morning's boogie boarding session enjoyable and fun rather than cold and miserable.

We used a boat run by Sea Life Surveys.  The captain, and the force behind Sea Life Surveys, James Fairbairns, runs a great operation. The crew was splendid.  I really enjoyed my time with these folks.  James actually liked my sense of humor and suggested that he keep me on as a mascot.  

Thanks to my diving friends for hanging out and making this trip so enjoyable: Howard and Michele Hall, Marty Snyderman, Steve Ando, and Leigh Cobb.  Thanks to James Fairbairns and Rona of the Hebridean Sea School and Sea Life Surveys for letting us get close to both the puffins and the basking sharks.  Thanks to Andy Murch for serving as a trip leader (well, for a few days at least).  Thanks to Henderson Wetsuits for making their truly awesome Aqua Lock line of wetsuits.  And hey, thanks to United Airlines for actually providing comfortable travel to and from London Heathrow Airport from San Francisco.

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