The marine biology research vessel Silurian is due into Stornoway on Sunday (September 2nd), bringing a ‘floating classroom’ to be enjoyed by primary school pupils next week.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) are heading for the Western Isles from their base in Tobermory today (Friday August 31st) to launch their new Gaelic identity with an education programme first – on-board lessons in marine research in both English and Gaelic.

The move’s been supported by Bòrd na Gaidhlig and will see the charity getting the additional name ‘Urras Mhuc-mara nan Eilean’. It also sees Gaelic intern Kenny Rankin from Localsh delivering teaching sessions aboard the Silurian, to pupils in Gaelic medium classes.

Silurian will come into Stornoway harbour around midday on Sunday, and will be berthed alongside the Stornoway lifeboat on the pontoons. On Wednesday (September 5th) Silurian will hold an open boat session for the general public, with everyone invited aboard for sneaky peak at the inside of a research vessel. 

On Thursday and Friday (September 6th and 7th) primary classes from Laxdale School and Stornoway Primary will come aboard for adventure classes giving a glimpse into the life of a marine scientist.

They’ll be able to get hands-on experience of hoisting sails and navigating and will explore the crew’s living space and galley. On deck, they’ll have a taste of spotting wildlife using laser range-finders and binoculars. Separate sessions will be delivered to GME pupils in Gaelic only.

HWDT’s community engagement officer Pippa Garrard told We Love Stornoway: “Gaelic-language sessions are an absolute first for us, and Stornoway is the first place where we are offering them. All the sessions are curriculum-linked with maths, science and social studies content and we’re also hoping to offer a special tour for Gaelic-speakers during our public open boat session on Wednesday.”

The HWDT researchers will be working with secondary 1 pupils from the Nicolson Institute and Sir E Scott School between Monday 10th September and Thursday 13th, leading field trips to Tiumpanhead and Eilean Glas lighthouse in Scalpay – both excellent locations for whale and dolphin spotting.

And throughout September and the first two weeks of October Silurian will become a familiar sight in Hebridean waters, conducting research in the Minch, off the Butt of Lewis and in the Atlantic to the west.

Pippa said: “We’ll be guided by the weather, but we expect to spend six weeks around the Western Isles, anywhere that conditions allow. We’ll be conducting surveys of whales, dolphins and porpoises, with two people on watch at all times.

“We use a hydrophone to detect and record sounds from the whales themselves, but also to measure data about sounds from fish-farms, ferries and other water-users. We’ll also collect photo ID of dorsal fins in good spotting conditions.”
In previous survey trips to the Western Isles, HWDT spotters have had memorable sightings including a pod of nine killer whales seen west of Barra in June, and a huge increase in sightings of white-beaked dolphins off the Flannan Isles.