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.