Monday, 22 December 2008

Another stranded porpoise

I have just heard, via the Sea Watch Foundation that another porpoise has stranded at Worthing, on Sunday 21st December. The porpoise was fairly decomposed.

Newpaper article "Lancing Herald" regarding the previous pospoise stranding discussed in my earlier entry.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Winter storms and stranded marine life

Following the recent storms, large number of dead and dying starfish have been washed up on local Sussex beaches along with other animals inlcuding crabs and dogfish. I have had reports from the Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve and Worthing Beach. The strandings at Worthing included a harbour porpoise. The report came initially from a local animal rescue charity WADARS via the Sussex Wildlife Trust. The porpoise was estimated to be able 1.7 metres and was very emaciated.

Initially it was thought the two events were not related, as winter storms can wash ashore large numbers of all sorts of small marine creatures (such occurred locally back in March this year). Since then it has been suggested that the porpoise and other marine animals at Worthing may have been the result of a trawl. The remains of the porpoise was picked up by the Natural History Museum in London and I hope to receive an official report on the cause of death.

While porpoise are not common in the eastern channel in winter they are occasionally observed, for example a pair of harbour porpoise were reporetd at Hastings (East Sussex) in January 2007. Over the years we have had the occasional winter stranding of porpoise off Sussex, in one year a baby porpoise with the umbilicus still attached.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Common Seal

I have just recieved a report, via the Sussex Wildlife Trust, of a seal that was spotted in the River Ouse just above Lewes. The seal was seen on Wednesday the 19th November at about 4.00pm. I spoke to the lady who made the observation and it appears likely that the seal is a common seal and quite possibly the seal reported earlier on Peacehaven beach.

Friday, 7 November 2008

More on the Peacehaven Seal

Further information about the seal spotted off Peacehaven East Sussex by Bill Carter. Bill also took the great pics as well.

Bills first sighting of the seal was at 2pm as he was cycling along the Peacehaven undercliff promenade on 31st October. It was a warm sunny afternoon with calm sea and the seal was basking on the groin as you can see below.

It seemed to be in good health and condition, with no sign of injury or distress. Bill took several pictures with a long lens from the promenade, the seal simply turned to keep a wary eye on him, making no attempt to go into the water. (see below)

Seals have an oily tear that runs across their eye to protect it against the salt water. This makes them look like they are crying, when they are dry and hauled out on the beach

Flipper waving, a friendly warning not to come any closer.

Looking at this photograph I am almost certain that the seal is female. Bill managed to measure a section of the groin shown in the photograph and we were able to estimate that the seal was about 1.2 metres. Female common seals are 1.2 to 1.7 metres and males 1.4 to 1.9 m, so it is probably an adult or young adult female.

The following morning was overcast and drizzly and Bill checked for the seal from the cliff top at about 11am on Nov 1st. To his surprise it was still there. The seal seemed more cautious today and slipped into the sea which was right up to the groin as it was high tide. It popped up a few yards offshore then dived again and appeared a hundred yards or so offshore, where it stayed for the quarter of an hour or so that Bill was there. It did occasionally dive for some lengths of time so it may have been feeding.

When Bill went back the following day it had gone and he hasn’t seen it since. In Bill's own words, a fascinating first encounter with a sea mammal in the wild.

Check out earlier blog entries for more Sussex seal sightings.

If you would like to see more spectacular pictures of the coast, visit Bill Carters website at

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Seal at Peacehaven, Sussex

A young seal has been reported off the Sussex coast at Peacehaven. It has been around for a few days.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Common Seal Sighting

I received a seal sighting on Monday from John Bradshaw Chairman of the Shoreham Beach LNR Management Group. An adult common seal was hauled out on the bank of the River Adur bank near the airport, at 3.00pm. John went home to get his camera but when he returned the seal was no longer there. However, a passer by said they saw the seal swim further up river. The sighting occurred about an hour before high tide.

This is particularly interesting as seals do not usually seem to swim further up the Adur than the Norfolk bridge (just south of where the seal was spotted). I do however receive reports of seals several miles up the River Ouse and the River Arun as part of my role as Sussex County Recorder for Sea Mammals. Now that common seals are a biodiversity action plan species, sightings are even more important and its always good to receive observations.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Wexford Southern Ireland

I have just come back from holiday in Wexford (town) Wexford County in Southern Ireland. As to be expected I saw some fascinating wildlife and thought you might like to see a few pictures.

A sequence of heron pictures. This lone heron was feeding in a small puddle left behind by the receding tide

Grey seals that come into the harbour and fed scraps by fishermen (Kilmore Quay)

Two cormorants startled from a rest place on the quay

One of the more secluded sandy beaches below. Most of the beaches are long stretches of sand with few people. Many are backed by sand dunes.

Dune insects fighting near a hole (not sure what they are)

Burnet moth

There are lots of sea shells laying on the sand, wexford mussel, razor shells and large otter shells. This shell has a hole made by a predator, probably a neclace shell.

There were many seabirds including several gull species, fulmar, gannets, oystercatchers and terns. The terns were diving for fish, this one was successful.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

Shoreham Beach Marine Week Event

Last Monday (11th August) I ran an event for the Friends of Shoreham Beach for Marine Week. This was an inter-tidal session on a small beach inside Shoreham Harbour. Protected it makes an idea beach for this type of event, both for the variety of creatures and the safety of the participants.
We found a wide range of animals life including beadlet sea anemones, edible winkle, limpet, dog whelk, numerous shore crabs, sea slater, amphipods, sand mason worms, rag worm, blenny and goby (fish)

Beadlet Anemone

Chiton (or coat-of-mail shell)

Common shore crab
Goby and juvenile shore crabs

There were various marine birds such as turnstones, dunlin, cormorant, terns and this egret.

We mingled with the visitors to the events and answered questions ansd pointed out things of interest. We set a few tanks and containers up at the top of the beach to house a few animals temporarily and discussed these before they were retrned to the tide pools. There was a lot of interest and many of the people said they would come back and explore the beach themselves - which is really the main aim of such an event, raising awareness and encouraging people to enguage with their coastline.

Catch Up

Due to the large amount of urban wildlife work I have been doing over the last few months I have rather neglected this blog. So I thought it was time I caught up a bit.

3rd May
A common seal was reported up the Arun River past Amberly castle by the railway crossing.
The common seal has a definite forehead and is more dog-like in profile than our other UK seal the Grey Seal. The other difference is that the grey seals nostrils are parallel while the common seals are V shaped and with the muzzle look distinctively Y-shaped. We do have a handful of seal sightings upriver each year, usually in the Ouze and the Arun. On the river Adur, the occasional seal visitor seems to be restricted to the estuary region between the harbour mouth and the Toll Bridge.

While both grey and common seals visit Sussex waters, it is the common seal that is most frequently reported (out of the sightings where a species has been identifiable). Almost all seals that have been specifically identified in upper reaches of these rivers have been common seal.

15 June 2008
Another seal, probably a common seal, was spotted in the River Adur lower estuary, first of all on the Sussex Wharf side of the river in the early evening from 8:30 pm. It then swam over to the scrapyard side (east of Monteum, where the fishing boats moor up and unload fish) and was seen for 45 minutes chasing after the fish in the river.

Dolphin sightings have been poor this year off Sussex, just a few. We were lucky to get a sighting during National Whale and Dolphin Watch last week in June (the only one for the south coast east of Devon). This was a sighting a sighting of a bottlenose dolphin close to the shore near Shoreham Harbour.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Shoreham Beach

Had a look at Shoreham Beach to see if there were many stranded starfish and what else I could find of interest on the strandline.
There were very few starfish present. Mainly bits of larger ones, especially single legs. There were a quite a few dogfish egg case but only two ray egg cases. Only one of these was intact and possible to identify. It was from an undulate ray. The egg felt heavier than the empty cases and smelt. I carefully cut it open to reveal a partly developed ray with egg yolk. The embryo had started to dry. (see below)

It was interesting to see the number of pebbles with holes on the beach. It took a lot of searching last month to find a few for a display, today they were everywhere. We now call thgem lucky stones but were originally refered to as hagstones and where reputed to be a protection again witches. Here are just a few of the hagstones I found on a short stretch of beach.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Beachcombing after the gales

First chance to check out the beach following the severe gales recently. We went to Southwick Beach first starting at Carrots Cafe along to the eastern arm of Shoreham Harbour.

We walked to the end of the harbour arm where a couple of fishing boats chugged along underneath a cloud of seagulls wheeling overhead. Within the harbour mouth a great crested grebe dived periodically beneath the water. Not a common bird in this area but I have noticed reports over the years of Great Crested Grebe on the sea at Shoreham.

On the way back to the car we explored the strandline. The most common strandline objects were the clumps of whelk eggs. Usually washed ashore after the eggs had hatched, due to the stormy seas some of the egg capsules still had eggs. There were also large piles of slipper limpet shells that had been washed up together. There was also a dead spider crab and numerous dead starfish amoungst the debris.
There were numerous empty dogfish eggcases and a few ray egg cases (Dogfish egg case below)

We also found about a dozen scallop shells (below) and several oyster shells, the latter had both halves (valves) still intact.
Afterwards we drove along the coast to Hove beach for a hot drink and to further explore the strandline. My wife Sharon and our friend Xena had visited this beach yesterday and said there was lots to see.
There were many slipper limpet shells on this beach as well. I also found a stack of live slipper limpets, 5 stuck together in a stack.

The bottom slipper limpet is a female the rest are males. If the female dies, for example if they are dislodged in a storm, the next male will change sex and become female. Unlike the common limpet, slipper limpets are plankton feeders.

There were also numerous whelk eggcases here too (see above). A few dogfish eggcases and a larger number of ray eggcases (see below), 14 which I found on just one area of the beach.

I found the remains of a small sea urchin (below). Not an empty test (this is what the shell is called) unfortuantely but the dead remains with the spines missing. If you look carefully at the image below you will notice the tube worm on the slipper limpet shell, top left.

The other unusual find was a clump of eggs about 10 cm across. The nearest thing I had seen to this is lumpsucker fish eggs. The female lumpsucker lays her eggs close to shore and leaves them to be guarded by the male.

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Brighton Science Festival

Last Saturday I took a display to the Brighton Science Festival with the Friends of Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve. This was a joint display depicting various aspects of the Nature reserve and local dolphin and whale sightings for the Sea Watch Foundation (for whom I am the Sussex Co-ordinator). As Sussex country recorder for Sea Mammals and Sussex Regional Coordinator for the Sea Watch Foundation (SWF) I represented the SWF with a display about Sussex whale and dolphin sightings. As a member of the management group for Shoreham Beach LNR I helped represent (with the help of members of FoSB) the nature reserve.

The Friends of Shoreham Beach (FoSB) display explained why Shoreham Beach had been made a Nature Reserve (because of its rare vegetated shingle habitat) and the work of the FoSB.

The FoSB display also included an exhibit about marine litter. This consisted of a variety of litter items cast ashore by the tide which were tied to a piece of fishing net (also marine litter). Each label had a tag with information about how long it takes each item to biodegrade.
There was also a display that I had worked on (based on te outraech work I had done with local schools earlier in the year) which depicted elements of coastal geography.
This looked at how the local coastline was formed and how it is shapeed by natural forces. This included how chalk and flint were formed and how the shingle beaches contain flint scoured from the chalk and deposited on the coast after the last ice age. Some are the result of more recent coastal erosion. The display also looked at vegeated shingle; the animals that are attacted by this habitat, how the plants have adapted to live in this harsh environment and the threats this habitat faces. These was also information about strandline objects and some examples that could be handled.

The main focus of the Sea Watch Foundation display was a life sized bottlenose dolphin, the species most frequently seen along the Sussex coastline.

Infomation about local dolphin sightings (including pictures) were displayed down the left side of the display while the right side provided information about dolphin natural history. There were also some fact quiz questions.

The remainder of the display looked at the science of studying dolphins and whales focusing on photo-identification (recognising individual whales or dolphins) , DNA sampling and satellite tagging whales to study migrations and populations. We also displayed a dolphin skull, sperm whale tooth, baleen killer whale vwertebrae (all on loan from the local Booth Museum of Natural History in Brighton. The event was well attended and there was a lot of interest and divese questions.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Wading birds, pebbles and hagstones

Took a trip to the Shoreham beach yesterday with my daughter to collect some pebbles for a coastal display that I will be running for the Brighton Science Festival on Saturday 23rd February. I started at the footbridge, crossing the River Adur. The tide was on its way out and there was a lot of bird activity. Apart from the various gulls, a large flock of grey plover were feeding on a small island of estuary and mussels.

On the mud flats on the far side of the river there were several redshank feeding. Redshark have relatively long legs and stride over the soft mud probbing every now and then with their long beaks. The display will be mainly about the Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve and will also be run by the Friends of Shoreham Beach (FoSB).

This is an exciting new nature reserve established in June 2006 and which I have been very pleased to have the opportunity to be involved with both as a member of the management group and as a honary member of FoSB.The beach is comprised of a large shingle spit, formed as the result of several centuries of wave action and westerly deposition of the shingle - Longshore Drift. Above the tide line, where the shingle is stable, is vegetated shingle, a rare habitat for the UK and worldwide. The shingle plants die back during the winter ready for a dramatic transformation in the spring when the plants will burst back into life.

Anyway, more about the shingle. People often this that the shingle is boring but it is infact very interesting. 98% of the pebbles are flint washed into the English Channel at the end of the last ice age or have been left behind as the chalk coast eroded in more recent times.

In amongst the flint are various other pebbles from inland also washed down when the ice thawed. There are also pebbles left over from the large rocks used as ships ballast from the 13th Century until about the 18th Century.

Pebbles with holes, like the one above, are known as hagstones. They were once worn to protect the wearer from witches. They were also tied around the neck of cattle to prevent witches from riding them off to their secret meetings. Large pebbles with holes were tied at the bow of fishing boats to protect them from witchcraft.