Basking shark spotted

Last week a basking shark was spotted just south of the Colourful Coast area around Seascale/Sellafield.

Basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) are the second largest fish in the world and the largest shark we get in UK waters.  They can grow up to 11 feet or over 3 metres long.  They are regular visitors to the Irish Sea in the summer months, however these elusive creatures are rarely seen from the coast of Cumbria.

Don’t worry, there is no need to fear these gentle giants as they only eat plankton.  The warm, still weather and plentiful plankton could mean that now is a good time to spot our ocean giants such as basking sharks, dolphins and porpoises.

Cumbria Wildlife Trust are running regular SeaWatch events throughout the summer sp please check their website if you’d like to join in one of these events – you never know what you might spot.

 

Honeycomb worms

After we’d finished our beach clean today we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to film some of the Honeycomb worm reefs that are exposed along our coastline at low tide.  Check out the video to see them in their natural habitat.

We’ve written a blog post before telling you all about the Honeycomb worms (Sabellaria alveolata) so have a read of that if you’d like to know more.

Look out for the Honeycomb worms when you next visit the Colourful Coast!

Blooming jellyfish!

Last week at as the tide went out at St Bees it left behind a large number of small jellyfish, marooned on the sand.  This jellyfish bloom was probably caused by suitable conditions of warmth, sunshine and calm seas meaning that numbers of jellyfish build up.  Jellyfish aren’t strong swimmers and, while they can pulse their bell shaped bodies, they can’t move quickly which means if the tide turns and rushes out they often get left on the sand.

Most of the jellyfish seen at St Bees were moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), which is one of the commonest jellyfish in UK waters.  The Marine Conservation Society have more information on all the jellyfish we commonly see in the UK, and a few more exotic visitors.

Some UK jellyfish do sting so we definitely don’t recommend touching any jellies you see washed up on the beach, but have a good look – these beautiful and delicate creatures will be washed back out to sea with the next tide.

An unfortunate discovery

While beach cleaning last week our Project Officer discovered a porpoise washed up on Whitehaven’s North Shore.  While the creature had clearly been dead for some time, so there was no question that it could be a live stranding, we still reported the individual to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP).  They confirmed the individual as a female harbour porpoise due to the spade shaped teeth (dolphins have needle shaped teeth).  Due to the level of decomposition there was no way to determine cause of death.

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The UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) has been running since 1990 and is funded by Defra and the Devolved Administrations. They coordinate the investigation of all whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans), marine turtles and basking sharks that strand around the UK coastline.   As well as documenting each individual stranding, they also retrieve a proportion for investigation at post-mortem to allow them to establish a cause of death.  Strandings that undergo post-mortem examination provide valuable information on causes of death, disease, contaminants, reproductive patterns, diet and also useful pointers to the general health of the populations living in the seas around our coasts.  This provides useful baseline data to help detect outbreaks of disease or unusual increases in mortality. The CSIP depends on the publics help in the reporting of strandings around the UK.

More information about the CSIP and what to do if you find a stranded animal can be found on their website or by reading their strandings leaflet which they have kindly let us share CSIP_leaflet

Who lives in a house like this?

Along the Colourful Coast when the tide is out and the lower shore is exposed you can often find strange looking honeycomb like structures forming hummocks or sheets across the rocks and sand.

These fragile structures are the home of the aptly named honeycomb worm (or Sabellaria alveolata if you want to get technical).  The reefs are formed from the closely packed sandy tubes constructed by these colonial worms to live in.  The reef structures resemble honeycomb (hence the name honeycomb worm) and can extend for tens of metres across and up to a metre deep, constructed of thousands or even millions of individual tubes.  The worms are very specific in their requirements for forming reefs – as well as needing a hard substrate to attach to, they also need a supply of sand for tube-building so they are found on shores where there is sufficient water movement to bring a sand supply from nearby.  Their tubes are made by gluing sand and shell fragments together with mucus.  The worms head protrudes from the tubes to feed when the tide covers the reefs and then retreat into the protection of the tube as the tide goes out.  The reefs also provide habitats for a wide range of other animals including anemones, snails, shore crabs and seaweeds.

Honeycomb worm reefs are just one of the unique aspects of the Colourful Coastline, and one of the reasons why the area was designated as a Marine Conservation Zone, or MCZ.  The Cumbria Coast MCZ stretches for approximately 27 km along the coast of Cumbria, extending from south of Whitehaven, around the cliffs at St Bees Head, to the mouth of the Ravenglass Estuary.  More information about the MCZ can be found on the Natural England website.

Snails of the sea

Last week we spent some time on the shore in Whitehaven and came across some empty Flat Periwinkle shells (or littorina obtusata to give them their full Latin name).  These small marine molluscs are widespread and common along the UK coast and can usually found on rocky shores amongst the brown seaweeds.  They grow to about 1.5 centimetres and can occur with orange, yellow, brown, grey or even chequered shells.

A little way further along the shore we found an occupied shell with a periwinkle exploring its surroundings.  Check out the video on our instagram page.

When you’re next on the shore why not stop your stroll and take a while to look closer at the amazing creatures you can see?