Challenging Habitat Blog

Darwin200 Episode 10: Sunfish Abundance

The crew of the Pelican of London have spotted an unusual abundance of sunfish in the Western Approaches and north of the Isles of Scilly.

Watch the story here:

This morning the science conference brings together all the projects we’ve been running aboard the Pelican of London.

First off – wind energy with Lorimer and Jasper, here explaining plans for a new wind farm in the Thames estuary.

Find out more about our wind energy activities here

Kerry and Aoibhinn present data of macroplastics collected during systematic beach cleans that will also be reported to the Marine Conservation Society.
Abigail, final year Environmental Science student at the University of Plymouth, talks us through nutrient concentrations around the British coast and relates it to the objectives of Water Framework Directive for coastal and transitional waters.
Thomas introduces the world of plankton with data from Scottish and Irish waters and wonderful images and film taken with digital microscopes.

Find out more about plankton on our voyage there:

Joe collated all 110 individual sightings of whales, dolphins, porpoises, seals and sunfish on a database that he visualised on Google maps. The data will be sent to the Seawatch Foundation for further analysis.
Shaolin presented extensive background information about microplastics in the oceans, from sources to impacts. Amazing numbers of these particles and fibers were detected by microscope in dust collected in the mess, the washing machine, deck scrubbings, sea water and sediment.
Molly compared traditional and modern ways of measuring temperature at sea.
The impact of microplastics on the geological record during the Anthropocene is explained with exhibits by Imogen and Penelope. An excellent food for thought with respect to making choices about our personal choices and behaviour, as well as what we want to achieve in life.

Tomorrow, we’ll be filming each projects in more detail.

Featured image: Copyright Dr Rohan Holt. Diver: Kelly Mackay

We are waking up to a beautiful morning, 25 knots of wind, a following sea and just an hour of foul tide before approaching Pentland Firth.

Perfect timing by an excellent captain and crew!

Pelican is rolling gently, 260 tonnes of ship just powered by the staysail and doing six knots.

I’m loving this, but sadly, it’s too much to stomach for some, so science has to wait until the green drains out of the last faces and the sea state goes down to moderate.

11:30, rounding Duncansby Head with the staysail and topsail and a freshening wind, and with calmer seas now the tide is with us.

The dedicated cetacean survey finished without a single sighting, but still provides valuable ‘absence’ data to the Seawatch Foundation.

After lunch, Mizzen Watch is on and I rotate from port lookout to a challenging stint at the helm in confined waters and then to starboard lookout.

The sun brings warmth between strong gusts and I enjoy watching the fulmars wheeling around the ship.

Fulmars have been wheeling around the ship all day and I enjoy watching their play with the wind and waves.

I read up about their history and discover that they share the common name ‘Mollymawk’ with another bird, the great albatross of the South.

Another beautiful sunset leading into a night under a lot of sail as the winds weaken …

The Darwin200 science crew teams up with the engineer to set up a wind turbine on the Pelican of London.

Watch the project here:

Another beautiful morning aboard the Pelican of London.

We’ve set sail to head North through the Minch, where we’ll watch out for the blue men of the sea calling… the stories of the Selkie.

The plan is to sail around the northern coast of Scotland and reach the more sheltered waters of the east coast before the next Atlantic lows roll through bringing strong winds.

For now, we’re setting more sail!

Cetacean surveys will be our main focus on the science side, while all hands on deck are required for sailing the ship safely.

Looking out for cetaceans I’m the driving rain of the early evening requires dedication!

With the beautiful backdrop of the Inner Hebrides, we’ve got a day packed with science and filming.

The diving team is studying the benthos and once more bring specimen aboard. This starfish is regrowing several arms lost in an unknown event.

Water quality analysis near a salmon farm, plankton net trawls scanned for microfibers and plankton diversity, bird watching and cetacean surveys are all adding to our growing data set.

We’ve also started to compare surface water temperatures measured with a replica of the wooden bucket, such as would have been around in Charles Darwin’s times, with modern equivalent and the electronic sensors the University of Plymouth brought on board.

The biggest task today is the installation of our wind turbine, which was greatly helped by the ship’s engineer Daniel.

Once up and running, its operation and purpose was filmed in the style of an interview by Lorimer and Jasper. Watch this space!

Meanwhile, I had a bit of fun running a 12 V fan off the battery we charged with it… Captain Ben thought it hilarious.

Emerging from a good night’s sleep to a peaceful, sunny morning in the Narrows of Raasay fills me with joy and gratitude.

The exhaust repair successfully completed, we’ve set sail as soon as leaving the dock and are cruising comfortably South at 5 – 6 knots, now powered by the wind.

Sustainability in practice!

We’ll pick up this theme with the installation of a wind generator aboard in the next few days.

The gentleness of the motion and tranquility of sounds of wind and waves around the ship is good for the soul and everybody’s mood is lifted.

As we are progressing from Lewis to Harris, we get busy with casual observations of cetaceans before we even start our dedicated survey: pods of porpoises, two minke whales traveling together and adult common dolphins with juveniles. Joe identified the sighting of a species new to our voyage as striped dolphins.

The slight sea state allows crew to carry out maintenance aloft.

Meanwhile, voyage crew relax in the sunshine while not task with watch duties.

From my vantage point on the bowsprit, I observe the distinct change in behaviour of a pod of six common dolphins: I first see them cross our bows in NEly direction, turn due north to meet us, then play in our bow wave, turning belly-up and showing their underside for a while, travelling south with us, before departing in SSWly direction.

Is it as much fun for them as it is for us to watch?

Even as the blue skies turn grey nature’s spectacle is awe-inspiring.

Soon we’ll be anchoring and taking more samples for analysis.

It’s a sunny morning on Lewis and we are preparing for departure.

That means cleaning of heads and showers, happy hour, including brassoing (is that a word?) the brass.

Penelope and Jamie polishing the brass of our compass

Then Patrick Harper captured our ‘pet seal’ on video.

We also had a briefing on VHF DSC use and handling emergency situations by our first mate Tamsin.

Tamsin capturing the attention with humour :)

Shaolin used the rest of the morning alongside to scan the airborne particle collection pots for microfibers coming off our fleeces and other synthetic clothing.

The five passive samplers with an aperture of 50 mm have been in position in the mess for two weeks and the first milliliter of solution analysed had a count of 85!

Fibres deposited from the air into our samplers.

Perhaps it is time to reconsider what we wear? Check my posts on sustainable outdoor clothing.

A delayed spare part for the engine delays our departure until tomorrow morning.

Instead, some of us climbed to the top of the mast to check out what’s up there…and of course that remains a secret kept from all until they climb themselves.

Among rare rays of sunshine and driving rain, the view was great and it really appears to be high up, as you cling on to very narrow ratlins.

To top it all, a seal appeared and I could watch it swim and surface, bottle and dive.

Some (seals) are lazily digesting their food …

… while we going live with ‘education by the seats of our pants’ to hundreds of schools around the world with the stories of sailing and science aboard the Pelican of London.

Manx sheer water, sunfish, history and culture of Lewis, water sampling, and of course the Darwin 200 project featured in a 30 minute session.

Kids asked inspired questions, including ‘why did you become a scientist?’

Then we started the hard tack competition. Hard tack is a biscuit made with flour, salt and water and baked so hard that it lasts for years, give the odd weevil or two.

Some of our designs are not entirely traditional…

Hard tack used to be part of sailor’s rations, along with rhum and salt pork, on voyages that lasted months and years.

Oh, how I would miss my greens!

My hard tack came out of the oven in tact and represent the Pelican of London sailing under the Harvest Moon.

Our scientific observations and experiments are contributing to a puzzle from which stories emerge…

Soon, we will be able to provide a snapshot of water quality data at locations around Britain.

We are compiling a list of bird species seen during our voyage and obtain a count of marine mammals sightings.

Plankton net analyses provides data on groups of plankton and microplastics found suspend in the water column.

Many questions have already arisen:

How will all the plastic reflect our age in the geological record?

Fibres settled out of the air in the mess of Pelican during our voyage.

What can we learn from shedding of microfibers about our next purchase of outdoor clothing?

What processes impact on phytoplankton growth in estuaries?

Actually, what exactly is pollution?

These are just some of the stories championed by our young scientists on board, and we look forward to seeing each of them report to you before the voyage is completed.

Your litter may end up at sea! Watch this video to learn more about research aboard the Pelican of London

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