MSc Marine Biology fieldtrip to Millport

Phrase of the trip: ‘There’s a schmell a whelk!’; meaning, there is an aroma similar to that of dog whelks in this region/from this person.

Sarah Long reports on the MSc Marine Biology fieldtrip to Millport.


The MSc Marine Biology class jetted off to Millport bright and early on Sunday 28th February for a week of intertidal and subtidal fieldwork. After a long bus journey from Edinburgh to Largs, chips and ice cream were much needed as we waited in the sun for the ferry across to Millport. Having settled into the new Field Studies Council (FSC) accommodation, we made the most of the blazing sun by taking a whirlwind tour of the island before the forecasted rain and wind set in. Along the way, we gained an extra student in the form of a photo-bombing German tourist, who was very impressed by Rob’s extensive knowledge of the island!

We struggled out of bed at 6am Monday morning to chase the tide as part of our intertidal project work on different rocky shores across the island, surveying edible periwinkles (Littorina littorea) and imposex in dog whelks (Nucella lapillus). Now that’s dedication! Even the seals watching us work from the water seemed curious as to why anyone in their right mind would willingly subject themselves to the rain, strong winds, and near freezing temperatures that battered us on the rocky shore. But we persevered and were rewarded with a liquid hug in the form of a warm cup of tea just in time before our fingers fell off!


Unfortunately the weather was too bad to allow us out on the boat to collect samples for our subtidal project using beam trawls and grab samples. Luckily for us, the skipper braved the choppy waters on our behalf (or unlucky for us when we saw the amount of creatures we then had to identify and count!!). The pier at Millport proved impossible to approach so they went above and beyond to get our samples to us by using a roundabout way back to the mainland and across again on the ferry to Millport. Meanwhile we lazed around the FSC station, making copious amounts of tea and chatting (it’s a hard life in the field!!).


Our lounging about was short-lived, however, and the samples arrived mid-afternoon. We eventually got through it all, sorting, counting and IDing brittle stars, crabs, fish, urchins, and many more! The worms were especially fun to identify, especially because they’re all so small and similar to each other!! Our favourite worm by far was definitely the Disco Worm, a nickname we gave to Nephtys sp., which sparkled like a disco ball depending on which way we looked at it under the microscope (we may also have gone a little mad at this stage!). This gruelling work drove the class to the pub for a drink (or two… or three!).

The next day was primarily intertidal work, with many of us staying in the lab examining the dog whelks we collected for imposex. This involved finding a penis and identifying if it was a male or an imposex female. This examination was done with the utmost professionalism expected from Masters students (i.e. constant, very mature penis jokes). This was followed by a wild night of tea and a movie in the lounge! Examining microscopic dog whelk penises is hard work!


Over the rest of the week the weather slowly improved, allowing us to really enjoy the trip, with Rob pointing out some of the sightseeing attractions to us along the way. Crocodile rock, in particular, caught our eye… although some of us stand by our original thought that it’s more like Dragon Rock but Rob is still adamant that it’s a crocodile… the jury’s out!

We kept the best shore for last, with some 1m2 quadrats yielding 200-300 miniscule juvenile dog whelks (most so small that they could comfortably live inside barnacle shells with room to spare!). Probably just to make life more difficult for us; they have no consideration for the plight of Marine Biologists!!

Luckily we finished our subtidal report early and so had the majority of Friday off. A hike to the top of the island was in order, with stunning views all around. Then it was back to the station for more tea and Countdown – Marine biologists gone wild! Our trip to Scotland wouldn’t be complete without a bit of deep fried haggis, gourmet cuisine from Largs!

Thanks to Rob (bus driver extraordinaire!), Ruth, and Mary Catherine for organising the fieldtrip and helping to make it a fantastic experience for us all!


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