At last we are back in Breachacha Bay, the bay of two castles, on the wonderful island of Coll. Our research campaign and annual census of basking sharks got off to a good start and in the first week we recorded 133 shark encounters. We got good sets of photo-identification photographs of the fins of all save one or two of the sharks, and managed to get a pop-up satellite tag attached to one of the largest. This one we named Vittoria, after our intrepid young Italian volunteer research assistant. After that however things changed a bit, and for five days now we have had westerly gales, too strong for us to get much useful work done, or even really for us to leave the bay in our trusty motor boat “Fairy Tern” without taking a bit of a risk. But on the brighter side, we have really comfy accommodation in the little cottage that Pete and Jill Coleshaw have kindly loaned us at the back of the bay. And given this retreat, the pause in bat action has enabled us to sort and analyse the data to date and find time to pen this update…and calm weather is expected in just another day or two. The target is to reach 200 photo-IDed sharks by the end of next week.
One other event deserves mention. A basking shark festival held at “An Cridhe” – the beautiful new Coll Community Centre in Arinagour – proved a great success. The event was the brain-child of Shane Wasik, who runs one of the new operations (Basking Shark Scotland) now taking visitors out to see the sharks, and in his case snorkel with them (see www.baskingsharkscotland.co.uk). With four speakers including underwater wildlife cameraman Doug Anderson (of Frozen Planet fame) and Lilian Lieber, working on a basking shark Ph.D. at Aberdeen University (as well as Mauvis talking about our own work), there was slight concern the speakers might outnumber the audience! But the large hall was full to overflowing with over 150 people coming from the neighbouring islands of Tiree and Mull, as well as Coll itself. The rapt attention of the audience clearly reflected growing awareness of and interest in this most fascinating of species.