Blue sharks

This Monday I was lucky to be invited to join several colleagues for a trip to find Blue sharks with Chris and Annabelle Lowe of Atlantic Diver. Blue Sharks Prionace glauca are not uncommon around Cornwall at the end of summer but they are a pelagic species and usually do not come close to land. We left at 8:00 from Newquay harbour to go 20 miles offshore, get in a cage and see what would swim up! Chum was made by cutting up mackerel and mushing it in a bucket with a spade, out at sea, it was hung overboard in bags to create a trail. On the way I saw my first ever Sunfish Mola mola; a tiny one (30-40 cm or so) flapping about on the surface. We also saw a variety of seabirds: European storm-petrels, Fulmars, a Great skua and Gannets attracted by the chum. The picture above was taken at the end of the day when the weather was a bit more settled, but it was quite rough when we were on board. Let’s say I added a bit to the chum trail! The Fulmars are supposedly a good indicator of sharks, as they are the firsts to fly off. Not this time though, we spotted a small Blue shark (a bit over a meter in length) but all birds seemed oblivious to it. I had expected for the shark to be a bit closer to the surface, but it remained 5-10 meters deep and was quite hard to see. We took to the cage in pairs. It was bobbing about quite a bit and the water was flakey with mushy mackerel. The shark swam in big circles around the cage, once or twice it touched the cage but otherwise it kept her distance. We believe we saw a second shark of about the same size, but they did not appear together. The slender profile and deep blue colour of the sharks were very striking. One of the sharks had a parasite trailing from the tail fin, probably a copepod. The cage might seem a bit overkill for these sharks (there are two tour operators on the south coast who go out on trips without one), but perhaps not when considerably bigger specimens could also turn up (see this link for a recent angling record) and there are multiple confirmed Blue shark attacks on humans. The swell and ‘mackerel snow’ made it hard to focus, but more frustratingly my camera let me down once again by being unresponsive, so I have to really send it out for repair. I also brought my GoPro (one of the old models without a viewfinder unfortunately).  The longer first clip does not show the shark all the time (GoPro switched its software from ‘Studio’ to ‘Quick’, and whereas it is now easy to add a generic dubstep soundtrack, editing out bits does not seem possible) but gives a good impression of the experience nonetheless. All in all it was a great outing and I hope to go again some time. Many thanks to Chris and Annabelle, a very friendly and knowledgeable couple who are highly recommended for their sea safaris!

 

Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia

David Fenwick (Aphotomarine), Matt Slater (Shoresearch Cornwall) and Thomas Daguerre (HydroMotion Media) had all tipped me off about the elusive ‘Cave of Dreams’ at Pentire/Fistral Beach in Newquay. Recent posts by Cornish Rock Pools and The Marine Enthusiast reminded me of the stunning Scarlet and gold star coral Balanophyllia regia that live there and made me decide to drive all the way (well, it is a good 45 minutes) to the North Coast. I did not find the cave on two earlier visits (see this post from almost exactly one year ago), but today Thomas showed me exactly where it was. Cave is a big word, it is more of an overhang, and I don’t think I would have ever managed to discover it myself (you can find a photo of it behind the aphotomarine link). The corals are tiny, 5-10 mm in diameter, but there are many of them, in the low hundreds. Unlike most corals, this species relies solely on catching food with its tentacles, and it does not have algal symbionts (zooxanthellae) to provide energy from photosynthesis. Dark ‘caves’ with lots of waterflow are thus a good habitat for them. They look a  bit like the tropical sun corals, who I was lucky to see in Hong Kong last year, and which are quite popular in the reef aquarium hobby. I had to carefully position myself on the rocks, dipping my camera in the water. It was too shallow to stick my head in, and I did not want to enter the water anyway, to prevent disturbing this widespread, but uncommon species. There were some interesting sponges (one of them Polymastia boletiformis) and red seaweeds, but I decided to only focus (no pun intended) on the corals. I was quite excited, this is definitely one of the most interesting species I have seen so far in Cornwall and I am sure that many people would be amazed to learn that corals live on our shores. I played around with my wide-angle lens, my new macro lens and took shots without the wet lenses. The light was low and I had to contort myself a bit but some of the shots turned out nice. The macro is still difficult, but maybe I might be expecting too much from the setup I have (without strobes). I hope to go back soon and try to get more photos, I would love to try an underwater panorama shot!

 

Pentire

IMG_2288Three weeks back I had to pick someone up from Newquay airport and decided that it would be a good idea to combine that with some rock pooling action on the North Coast. I was told that the Pentire end of Fistral Beach was a good spot for Dahlia anemones and so the decision was made. Unfortunately I did not find any anemones, but it was a beautiful day nonetheless. The relatively few North coast sites I have explored all seem a bit barren in comparison to the South coast: more exposed, with sand meeting scoured rocks, leaving only hardy seaweeds, mussels and beadlet anemones to cling on. I need to spend some more time to find the right spots that’s for sure. The top of the cliff contained some rock pools, but they were quite milky due to the recent weather. They were full of the beautiful Brown tuning fork weed Bifurcata bifurcata (as I was on an anemone hunt, I was hasty and most photos did not come out especially nice, so see this old post for a nice photo of this species). The rocks were very slippery due to the (edible) Laver seaweed Porphyra (front of the next picture).IMG_2291At the base of the cliffs were some gullies, the largest of which is locally known by the rather grandiose name ‘Cave of Dreams’. No major finds here, but it was nice to see the many colour varieties of the Dog whelk Nucella lapillus (egg clusters in the background). The second photo is an especially pretty specimen; I only later noticed the green worm (probably Eulalia viridis) and the reflection in the beadlet anemone of me holding my iPhone! Beadlets are super common here. It is interesting that this species has two main colour varieties (red and green), just like the Snakelocks anemone (green and purplish) and the Plumose anemone (white and orange). This might be a coincidence but I find it intriguing. Lastly, some Sea pink or Thrift Armeria maritima.IMG_2315IMG_2308IMG_2283IMG_2723 - Copy