Saturday, 5 December 2009

Common Seal, River Ouse, Sussex

Another seal sighting, probable common seal. The observer reported the following. "On a dog walk today with my husband along the river bank (River Ouse) in Piddinghoe we saw a seal. There was a loud splash and then a few seconds later saw what thought was a football and then realised it was a seal looking at us. It did this for for a minute or so and then completely disappeared".

Friday, 27 November 2009

Common Porpoise stranding

A dead Common (or Harbour) Porpoise was stranded on the beach near Widewater lagoon, Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex on 27/11/09

The porpoise was identified as a female as mammary slits were visible. The porpoise was 173cm in length.

3 teeth were removed (in a dead specimen teeth fallout very easy). Teeth are routinely removed where possible from dead strandings which can be used used as a means of aging the animal. A section of a tooth reveals growth rings (under the microscope) similar to a tree which can be used to determine the age.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Grey Seal

Another Sussex seal sighting, reported as a young grey seal on the river Adur past Lancing College. This may actually be the common seal preiously reported in the River Adur, but wuld need photographs to confirm this.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Dead Seal

A dead seal was washed up on Shoreham, Beach, possibly an adult common seal. Animal was quiite decomposed. 

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Common Seal in River Adur West Sussex.

Another common seal sighting, this time in the River Adur in West Sussex. The seal was seen swimming in the lower estuary area of the river on Saturday 17th October. On Sunday, a seal (almost certainly the same one) was spotted seen a few miles up river near Upper Beeding.

I am hoping to obtain photographs of this seal. Looking at the picture that appeared in the Shoreham Herald it is almost certainly the same seal we have seen in the past in the nearby River Ouse where it swims many miles up river above Lewes.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Common seal sightings

I have just received two common seal sightings from last Friday, both inland. The first was reported on the river Arun near Pulborough (West Sussex). The second was reported near Alfriston on the River Ouse (East Sussex).

As you may know from earlier blog entries, its not uncommon for common seals to swim up river, especially the Ouse and the Arun. Its thought that these seals travel up river following fish. Unlike whales and dolphins, seals are quite happy up river, being able to haul out from time to time and rarely get into trouble.

A common seal was also seen just outside the Brighton Marina in East Sussex last Saturday 10th October.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Dolphin Rescue Workshop

The dolphin rescue demonstration has now become a course for the West Sussex Gifted and Talented Programme. The aim of the course is that the children would learn about sea mammal adaptation and use this to help plan a dolphin rescue.
The scenario for the main rescue activity is that a dolphin has become entangled in an old piece of fishing net and become stranded on a sandy beach as the tide recedes. The children will need to provide first aid that will keep the dolphin alive until the tide returns and they can float the dolphin. However, to do this the children will need a level of knowledge about dolphins and dolphin strandings.

We started with general information about sea mammals including important biological information about dolphins.
For example the dorsal fin (on the dolphins back) provides balance, the flippers are used for steering and the tail for locomotion. The dolphins layer of blubber reduces heat loss and excess body heat is removed via the fins and tail.

The children were then shown some stranding case studies and we discussed why dolphins become stranded. We discussed the problems a stranded dolphin may face and the children used this information to create their own first aid manual.

The children used the information they had recorded in their first aid manual to plan their group rescue.
The children had to decide what they should do, who should do what and in what order.

Checking the that the dolphin is alive by checking for breathing. A dolphin may breath once every 15 - 30 seconds.

More than 10 times a minute is a sign that the dolphin is deeply distressed. Monitoring the breathing is a very important role

Dolphins react very well to being stroked and spoken to softly.
Keeping the dolphin cool and wet with buckets of water and a wet towl.

Another couple of children were digging sand from around the flippers to help reduce pressure from gravity.

The tide is now coming in. Final check before attempting to release the dolphin into the sea.

Moving the dolphin and supporting it until it is able to swim away.
Recording the stranding
The rescue was a success and we discussed as a group what went well and what they might do different.
To look more closely at the issue that cause strandings the children undertook a group food web game to see how global warming is affecting marine food chains.

We finished with an activity about marine litter, especially plastics. We looked at how long different items take to biodegrade and the dangers to marine wildlife from plastics and other marine debris.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Bottlenose whale stranding

Sadly, the bottlenosed whale mentioned in my entry 16th September was been found dead on the beach. There are marks on the whales body that suggest it may have been entangled in nets or a rope but this will need to be confirmed by the post mortem.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Amazing World of Sharks

Yesterday I ran another of the popular shark courses for the West Sussex Able Pupil Enrichment Programme. The aim of the course is to challenge children's perceptions about sharks, to show children that while sharks may not be the dangerous man-eater that everyone thinks, the truth is actually more amazing (hence the title, "The Amazing World of Sharks").
Right at the beginning of the morning we asked the children to do a "true or false" quiz. These included statements such as "sharks only live in saltwater", "Sharks eat about 200 people a year", "Great white sharks are endangered", "shark meat is poisonous to eat"and "sharks are the most dangerous animals in the sea". We did not tell the children what the right answers were, they would find out during the course (and we would test them again at the end of the day).
The children discovered the many different species and how they use different methods for catching and eating a wide range of food. We also gave them a food web activity.
In two groups the children constructed the food web (using clues on the reverse side of the cards) and then used these finished food webs to complete and sheet.
The children were also asked to explain what would happen to the great white shark if the mackerel disappeared because of overfishing. We wanted the children to understand how important sharks are in marine food webs for keeping them healthy and in balance.

We also encouraged the children to think about how dangerous sharks really are. We use a fun quiz that helps to put into perspective the likelihood of being attacked and killed by a shark.
Again, we use questions that include "are you more likely to be killed by an elephant or a shark", "are you more likely to be killed by a coconut than a shark". The first question in the quiz is how many people are killed by sharks each year (the actual answer is between 5 - 15). The last question is how many sharks are killed by humans each year (the answer is over 1 million). This always surprises the children. We asked the children to suggest how and why humans kill sharks, their answers included "out of fear" "for sport and jaws as a trophy" to eat.

One of the worst thing people do to the sharks is to kill them for their fins to make shark fin soup. The sharks are caught and the fins cut off and the rest of the shark thrown back into the sea, sometimes while it is still alive. Its is unbelievable cruel.

To end the course on a more happier topic we finished off by showing the children how scientists are studying sharks so we can understand more about these beautiful fish and how public aquarium, authors and educators are all playing their part to raise awareness of shark so hopefully we will treat them better in the future.

We showed the children some picture of great white sharks leaping out of the water. They do this when they speed up from the sea bed to catch seals on the surface. This only happens in a few places in the world and is really spectacular. A sea shaped decoy is pulled along the surface of the water encouraging teh shark ton attack so they can study this behaviour. The children also got to handle one of these decoys that had been chewed up by great white sharks. It was donated to the course by Chris and Monique Fallows who study the sharks and donated some of the pictures they had taken. The children were very lively and enthusiastic and I think they all enjoyed their day. Sharks really need our help and hopefuly the next generation will treat the earth and oceans with more respect and in a more sustainable way.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Unusual whale activity off Sussex and Southern UK

We have received some unusual sightings for the south coast of the UK recently. Firstly, a pilot whale, a species of toothed whale, was stranded on Rustington beach, west Sussex on the 7th September.

In late August a possible Minke whale was reported off Rottingdean. We have not been able to confirm this identification, but it may have been the bottlenose whale currently off Bournemouth. This is a deep water species and not usually found in the English Channel however it is of course the species that became trapped in the River Thames a few years ago in 2006. There was also a bottlenosed whale stranded on the mud flats near Chichester Harbour at the end of July Last Year. Sadly the whale did not survive. The bottlenose whale currently off Bournemouth is being monitored and it is hoped it will head off west and out of the English Channel. This is a deep water species more at home in the open waters of the Atlantic where it feeds on deep water fish and squid.

A humpback whale stranded in the Thames and was found dead near Dartford Bridge Kent on Saturday 10th September. It was first seen alive on Thursday and was originally mistaken for a minke whale. This is also a possible candidate for the cetacean seen at Rottingdean. A few years ago, I am guessing about 2001 (I do not have the data to hand) a juvenile humpback whale stranded and later died on a beach in Kent. This occurred around the time that we had a report of 3 large cetaceans off Hastings (which is to the west of Kent). These were reported as Humpback whales, but unfortunately we could never verify it. However it was a week or so later that the juvenile humpback whale stranded in Kent. We do not have a huge quantity of cetacean sightings in the south compared to some parts of the UK but we do get some unusual/strange sightings from time to time.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Working on Ocean book for kids

For the last few months I have been busy working on a new book for children about the Oceans. It is now nearing the finishing stages, checking the layouts and making last minute adjustments to text and captions.
Books make important support tools for environmental education work and I always consider how one of my books could be used for teaching even in the early planning stages.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Tide Pool Event Shoreham Beach

This is the third year I have run this popular tide pool ramble, with an estimated 60 adults and children. The beach is just inside Shoreham Harbour, adjacent to the Old Fort and the Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve. The event is part of the Friends of Shoreham Beach annual events programme.

It is a very safe beach for family events providing the opportunity to explore both a sand/silt habitat and a rocky habitat all in one place. The beach is also visited by a variety of sea and wading birds such as terns, cormorants, gulls, turnstones, dunlins, oystercatchers and little egret.

As usual we started off with an introduction about inter-tidal zone wildlife and this year I did a quick demonstration on the causes of tides inlcusing spring and neap tides using a cardboard cut out of the sun, earth and a yellow ball for the moon. This was done with the help of three child volunteers.
Everyone then spread out across the pools and explored the beach as the tide receded.
We helped by pointing out various seashore creatures and identifying the wildlife finds and generally providing facts and information about the animals that were discovered.

A juvenile plaice. Juvenile fish often live in the river estuary where they are safer from predators.
A compass jellyfish stranded on the beach. I carefully moved it to a rockpool to see if it was still alive, but sadly we discovered it too late. A volunteer stayed by the jellyfish to make sure no one touched it (as they can still sting when dead) and also to tell people about the jellyfish.
A dead eel was also discovered on the beach. It appeared to be partly eaten but the skin was still quite shiny in places and the fish did not smell so it must have died very recently.

We set up a small tank and containers at the top of the beach to temporarily house some of the discoveries so we could talk about them at the end of the event.

We identified and kept a record of the marine life discovered during the event.

These included lugworm, sand mason worm, shore crabs, common prawns, sand hoppers, edible periwinkle, chitons, barnacles, dogwhelk, bass fry as well as animals mentioned above.

After a picnic lunch, the Friends of Shoreham Beach organised a beach art activity. Children created sea creatures on the sand using pebbles, shells, sea weed and other debris washed up.

Fish design
Another fish design
The children produced some great sea creature art and prizes were awarded for some of the best.

Friday, 31 July 2009

UK National Whale and Dolphin Watch Event

The Sea Watch Foundation National Whale and Dolphin Watch ended last week end. The aim of the event (in its 7th year) is to provide a snap shot of whale and dolphin sightings around the Uk during the event. the secondary aim is to raise awareness and encourage people to take an active role in monitoring UK whales and dolphins. This event supplements the ongoing monitoring that takes place all year, co-ordinated through the 35 regional groups.

Sadly this year (as Sussex regional Co-ordinator for the Sea Watch Foundation) I was unable to organise a manned watch site during the event. As always I have encouraged my volunteers and requested sightings through the press so we may still get further results. As with last year, much of the week was plagued by poor weather.

We did sadly receive details of a dead dolphin (probably common, I am still awaiting images to confirm this) at the mouth of the Cuckmere River. Only live sighting was a probable bottlenose dolphin at 12:35, 25/7/09 near Cambrian wreck buoy, 50/44/42N, 001/03/40W in the Solent.

For further information about the event or UK whales and dolphins in general, check out the Sea Watch Foundation website at

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Satellite tagged seals

The satellite tagged common seals are still sending signals and providing some very useful data that will help us understand how they use the Solent area and help us provide better protection. The tags will continue to transmit until sometime in August when the seals moult and the tags will detach. (See earlier posts)

The tagged seals provided the basis for another course for the Gifted and Talented Programme in West Sussex. This course features Sussex Sea Mammals and as usual we used the life sized inflatable dolphin.
The pupils (aged 11 to 12 years) learned about the natural history and adaptations of sea sea mammals. They also compared the adaptations of the fully aquatic bottlenose dolphin with the semi-aquatic common seal.
(Seal behaviour activity)

This information was then used by the pupils to decide what information we would need to know about seal in order to protect them.

They watched a presentation on how and why we tagged the seals and used all this information to help analyse the movements of the seals, displayed on Google Earth. The pupils were provided with a sheet of questions to help and guide them with this analysis.

The pupils were looking for data about how the seals used the area that could be used to help protect them. The pupils discovered that the 5 tagged seals moved around quite differently using different areas that overlapped. They also discovered two possible haul out areas and two possible foraging areas

We also investigated the threats to common seals in the UK, over 50% of the UK population has declined in recent years. As part of this discussion the pupils undertook a food web activity used to explain bioaccumilation - how pollutants build up and are transported to top predators through food chains.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Another bottlenose dolphin

Another bottlenose dolphin sighting. The dolphin was seen off Lancing/Shoreham (West Sussex) yesterday (Monday) at about 2.30pm.
This sightings was also made from a vessel about 1.5 miles off the coast and may have been the same dolphin as yesterdays report (as this sighting occurred a few miles west of yesterdays sighting).

Monday, 15 June 2009

Bottlenose Dolphin

A solitary bottlenose dolphin was observed off Brighton yesterday at 7.30 pm. This sighting was made from a vessel about 1 mile south of the Brighton Marina. Sightings along the Sussex coastline have been quite poor so far this year.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

World Oceans Day 2009

World Oceans Day
In June 1992, over 150 Heads of States signed the Convention on Biological Diversity at Rio de Janeiro. They did so to express a shared belief that action must be taken to halt the worldwide loss of animal and plant species and genetic resources. World Oceans Day was first declared as 8 th June at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Since then, events have occurred on or around this day all around the world.

I took a sea mammal display again this year. This year it was made up of 2 main themes, the inflatable dolphin and local dolphin and whale sightings and the seal tagging project included on this weblog.

The life sized inflatable bottlenose dolphin represents the species most commonly seen in Sussex. The display included biological information about dolphins and information and pictures of local sightings.

We also had a static display including a dolphin skull, whale vertebrate and a sperm tooth.

The seal display included information about the seal satellite tagging project. Between 2000 and 2007 the UK common seal populations declined by 56% and continue to decline. The display also included information about local seal sightings including a picture taken about 100 m away from the marquee in the adjacent River Adur.

I also presented a dolphin rescue re-enactment demonstration with participation from the audience.
The scenario for the stranding was a dolphin entangled in a piece of old fishing net. The children were asked to suggest what we might need to do to provide first aid for the stranded dolphin and volunteers helped in the demonstration.

It was decided the first thing we needed to do was to check the dolphins breathing to see if it was a live. The breathing rate should then be monitored to see if it speeds up or slows down, a sign that there could be a problem.

Dolphins have blubber that reduces the loss of their body heat when in the sea. A stranded dolphin can easily die from heat exhaustion so a row of 4 children keep the dolphin wet and cool with buckets of water (not real water of course). Dolphins control their body heat by loosing heat through their tail and fins. Water poured onto these can also help to cool the dolphin down.

Dolphins can also die from the effects of gravity, so another volunteer dug holes around the flippers to help alleviate this problem. Two volunteers filled in the stranding form and identified the species from an ID chart.

Other information was recorded such as injuries and natural markings, and the dolphin was measured.

The dolphin was returned to the sea, the volunteers walked the dolphin around until it could swim under its own steam. Back on the display stand, we answered many questions about dolphin strandings and the problems of marine mitter - especially plastic.

There were also many other very interesting displays including

The county rangers presented a fascinating display about the various shells, bones and egg cases that wash up on the beach

The Friends of Shoreham Beach Local Nature Reserve (FoSB) display depicted the rare vegetated shingle beach habitat on the nature reserve and a display about marine litter and the threats to wildlife and the environment.

The British Marine Life Study Society had several displays where you could come face to face with a variety of marine life.

There were also various experts on hand to answer questions.

It was a great day with much interest and lots of questions from both the adults as well as the children.