Three days Shorewatching on the Isle of Skye

By Scottish Dolphin Centre residential volunteer Maddie Cayley 

At the end of August, Shorewatch Coordinator Katie and I travelled over to Skye to visit WDC’s two existing Shorewatch sites on the island, Kilt Rock and Armadale, and to open our new site at Bornisketaig in North Skye. Skye is magical all on its own but add some epic cetacean sightings and some lovely Shorewatch volunteers and there’s few places better.

View from Armadale Pier, Isle of Skye. Copyright WDC / Maddie Cayley.

Once we were on the island, we headed straight for our site at Armadale Pier. Beautiful sunshine, a dog pal, lots of friendly faces, and biscuits made for the perfect watch. Katie spotted a harbour porpoise passing by, which I managed to miss because I was distracted by all the amazing seaweed around the site. Later, still a little disheartened at missing the porpoise, I kept looking out, and suddenly noticed a huge splash out on the horizon line. I had said to Katie in the car that I would really love to see a whale on the trip, and my heart started racing thinking maybe I might actually get my sighting. Sure enough, keeping an eye on where I saw the splash, a minke whale breached! The dark body came out of the water like a torpedo and went under again with another huge splash. I was too stunned to properly ID the animal, but luckily Katie and another Shorewatcher caught the subsequent breaches and spotted those distinctive white minke armbands.

This was just another lesson for me in the patience and perseverance needed when shorewatching. Never give up because you never know what you might see! It is fairly unusual to see a minke breach, so we were extremely happy to have spotted this – we were quietly hoping the whale might have been breaching to ward off John Coe and Aquarius, the resident West Coast orcas who have been known to eat minke whales. That double sighting would have been awesome to see, but we had to be satisfied with just our breaching minke. It is sightings like this that really make Shorewatching the most addictive activity.

The next day we headed up to Kilmuir Hall to host a Shorewatch training session. We had a great session with the group – it was so nice to meet an enthusiastic bunch of new Shorewatchers. After the session we all headed over to the new site at Bornisketaig and went through the Shorewatch methodology, inaugurating the newbies with porpoise and common dolphin sightings! It’s always special to see people spotting cetaceans for the first time.

Public watch at Kilt Rock. Copyright WDC / Maddie Cayley.

We returned to the new site the next morning, and Katie and I had a very peaceful watch. Bornisketaig is a really quiet, meditative spot. The views over to the Shiants and Rubha Hunish are stunning, and you can get an amazing bird’s-eye view of the kelp forests below from the cliff tops. Sadly, no cetaceans passed by but we were happy enough with a lovely stint outside on the clifftops. We then headed over to Kilt Rock (stopping for a cheeky snorkel – that seaweed was begging to be looked at more closely!) and joined a local shorewatcher. Between the three of us we chatted to tons of passers-by, handed round binoculars and helped folks spot the common dolphins playing out in the Minch. We also had at least one minke pass by! There was no breeching that we saw, but there was a huge, tantalising splash just before we left – it was almost impossible to leave but of course we had to turn our backs at some point and head back to Spey Bay.

If you are interested in becoming a Shorewatch volunteer for WDC, please email [email protected] for more details.

View from the cliffs at Bornisketaig, WDC’s new Shorewatch site. Copyright WDC / Maddie Cayley.