Saturday, 16 January 2016

Stormy seas

On Wednesday with a few hours to spare, I took a wander down the beaches of North Berwick to assess the impact on marine life from recent storms. Walking along I came across an eggcase from a Lesser Spotted Dogfish (Scyliorhinus canicula). Small species of shark, skates and rays lay their eggs in these protective sheaths (also known as a Mermaid's Purse) which remain well camouflaged, attached to seaweed. The young embryo develops inside and once free the eggcase often detaches and can wash up on local beaches. Using the identification guide on The Shark Trust website (Link) it is possible to determine which species the eggcase belongs to. Please also record your sightings via the page in order to allow the charity to analyse the distributions of sharks and rays in the UK.

Eggcase of a Lesser Spotted Dogfish found on a beach at North Berwick (Photo Laura Shearer)
Continuing with my walk I found large chunks of marine life washed up along the shore. Huge clumps of Laminaria kelp littered the beaches and many marine snails had dried up during the low tides. Hundreds of desiccated Dead man's fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) could be found evenly dispersed along the shore. This soft coral is brutally ripped from rocks and boulders during stormy weather and is named after their appendage-like appearance once they become dehydrated. This species can be found along the Northern Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America and comes in various shades of pink, orange, yellow, white or grey. 

Dead man's fingers washed up around North Berwick (photo Laura Shearer)
Winter storms causes the demise of many marine organisms however the consistent bad weather of recent weeks means even healthy animals struggle to cope. In the last fortnight Little Auks (Alle alle) have been well documented becoming lost and stranded around the UK with the SSPCA reporting record numbers requiring rehabilitation (SSPCA blog). Travelling South from North Berwick I came across an adult Little Auk (around the size of a Starling) which had succumbed to the weather laying at the side of the road.

Dead Little Auk, found on roadside at North Berwick (photo Laura Shearer)
Back on the beach I continued with my hunt for seabirds. Walking for almost 2 hours I seen small numbers of roosting Shags (Phalacrocorax aristotelis) however none were ringed and therefore we are unable to determine if they are local or visiting birds. Good numbers of Eider ducks (Somateria mollissima) rested on the surface close to the shore alongside a handful of Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos). Walking back to the car I stumbled across a dead Guillemot (Uria aalge) with a ring from Heligoland, Germany (awaiting feedback from study group).

Dead Guillemot found on beach at North Berwick (photo Laura Shearer)
Guillemot found on North Berwick beach was ringed in Germany (photo Laura Shearer)
If you find a ringed bird please report through the following website:

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