After a day on the beach on the south coast of Cornwall this Sunday, we heard that a Sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus had stranded at Perranporth on the north coast. We quickly drove there and make a long trek over the beach to see it. The 40 foot (13-14 m) female had just died (beached whales usually die quickly). A post-mortem has been conducted to try to establish a cause of death (see here). There has been a recent mass stranding of Sperm whales in the North sea (see here for a very good overview article, including a map). The recent UK strandings all involved young males who often travel together, and probably got disoriented travelling south into the shallow funnel that is the North Sea. However, females are usually confined to the tropics and so this stranding is unlikely to be related. It was a very sad sight to see.
I have not much to add to that header actually. Found it today on Castle Beach in Falmouth and notified the Marine Strandings Network. Decomposing but not smelly. I do not know if this is a Common dolphin or a Bottlenose dolphin. Second stranding in Falmouth for me so far, the first one was not decomposed and a more special species.
When going out rock pooling, I always take my iPhone and Canon Powershot (for underwater use) and take at least a couple of photos. Because of a lack of time, or because a single good photo is not enough for a new post, not everything ends up on the blog. Now I have some free time, I picked a couple of unused photos made this year that seem blog-worthy. First up, In realized only what I had found on the beach at St. Ives when leafing through the The Essential Guide to Beachcombing and the Strandline: a Seabeard! This hydroid, Nemertesia antennina, grows as stiff colonies protruding from a matted base and occasionally washes up on shore. It looks a bit plant-like; at the time I did not have the opportunity to have a closer look and just snapped a quick photo. Next a Lesser sandeel Ammodytes tobianus found at Gylly beach. I always see them when snorkeling or diving (see here) but this was a good opportunity to see one up close (I get excited when I spot a dead fish on the beach (see also here) and I am not afraid to admit it!). Following are two colour varieties of the Spiny starfish Marthasterias glacialis, a Common brittlestar Ophiothrix fragilis and a shot of an Aequorea forskalea (or maybe A. vitrina) jellyfish. Next the gastropod mollusc Chinaman’s hat Calyptraea chinensis. I went back to Mylor marina for some pontooning recently but not much was growing; the only thing that stood out was the luxuriant sponge growth (I am not sure of the species, perhaps Halichondria).And of course some seaweed pictures. By iPhone: Under tongue weed Hypoglossum hypoglossoides in Flushing, Black scour weed Ahnfeltia plicata in St. Agnes and a photo showing a variety of wracks all colonizing the same patch (Flushing): Serrated wrack Fucus serratus, Spiraled wrack Fucus spiralis, Bladderwrack Fucus vesiculosis and Egg wrack Ascophylum nodosum. Next some Canon Powershot underwater pics (see also this post and this one): a random rock pool picture of mostly decaying seaweed, a closeup of my favourite the Bushy rainbow wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia and a shot of Wireweed Sargassum muticum that has completely taken over a pool. Finally an SLR photo of a rock pool at Gylly beach with large Cystoseira baccata plants (middle, Wireweed on the left).
We had a good snorkel session at Nansidwell Beach with an enormous amount of two-spotted gobies about. We found some less lively fish as well on the beach: a bunch of juvenile Mackerel Scomber scombrus (already in a bit of a bad state) and also a juvenile Horse mackerel Trachurus trachurus (see here for a live one):
All over the news yesterday: the stranding (or rather hauling out of the shallows) of a Bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus in Kingsand (check the BBC, with the Western Morning News claiming it was worth a million pounds; as freshness is key for sushi I don’t think a dead fish washing ashore will have any value but there you go…). Strandings are sad events (see also here) but are also exciting as they offer a glimpse of creatures you normally won’t ever see. The news mentioned that the cadaver would be brought over to the University of Exeter at Falmouth and sure enough I saw gloved men deliberating how to get a heavy bodybag into a cold room when arriving at work this morning. Not sure if a proper autopsy will take place to determine cause of death, but if that happens I will try to stick my nose in (figuratively speaking) and report back to you dear reader.
The first weekend after the recent storms and a bright blue sky meant that it was time for some beach combing. The beach at Praa Sands looked glorious in the sun, but we were probably a little late for the serious stuff (if there was any to begin with). So no dead Triggerfish, Columbus crabs or suitcases filled with cocaine. Instead, lots of bits of plastic and rope and some Velella remnants and empty Dogfish (or Small-spotted catshark Scyliorhinus canicula) egg cases. Of course also Common goose barnacles Lepas anatifer:
More interesting was a vat with (dead) Devonshire-cup-corals Caryophyllia smithii attached:
Damage to the coast was evident:
A short walk on a Tuesday afternoon on Holywell Beach west of Newquay: dark, bleak, with a bit of rain and a lot of wind. The upside was that we had the beach pretty much to ourselves. Holywell is named after a well in a cave (see here), and I was quite curious to see it. Unfortunately, although we had a look in some smaller crevices, we seemed to have missed the main cave…Ah well, a good excuse to go back some time.No rock pools here, but there was some good beach combing to do with this stormy sea. For the first time I found the By-the-wind-sailor Velella velella, a Siphonophoran: a colony of specialized polyps, with short tentacles underneath and a little sail on top. They are related to the Portuguese Man-of-War. These organisms live on the open ocean, but can be blown onto shores in storms (mass stranding are common on the West Coast of the USA):The pollution of our seas with plastics is a big problem and becomes very apparent when surveying the strandline. Depressing stuff:
The second good rock pooling session in Bretagne was in the little port of Pleneuf-Val-Andre. The rock pools themselves were very similar to those in Erquy. The only interesting find there was a pretty gastropod I had not seen before (a white snail with a dark brown/black shell about 1,5 cm in length).
It looks like a Trophon muricatus, although I am not 100% sure Raphitoma purpurea:
Cuttlebones were scattered everywhere along the shore and we even found a clump of Common cuttlefish Sepia officinalis eggs:
The eggs were quite big and had a weird texture. I don’t know if these egg clumps can survive hours on the beach at low tide, probably not. It would have been cool to take them to an aquarium to see if they would hatch. It is extremely difficult to keep cuttlefish though, they need live food and large aquariums which usually are still too small still to prevent ‘butt burn’ when they jet backwards into the tank wall and their cuttlebone gets exposed right through the mantle. In the next post I will get to the washed up seaweeds.