Gifted incredible online snorkelling conditions; with still, millpond waters and inspired by a successful snorkel social and from watching the BBC’s big blue live; Grace, Steph and I made the short journey round to Wembury Point; to join John Hepburn, in his search for mermaids purses. After struggling to get into layers of neoprene (it’s still quite chilly) we set off down the hill, heavily laden with masks, fins and recording equipment: resembling penguins with our black suits and ungainly neoprene induced walks.
Today we would be snorkelling looking for sharks eggs (mermaids purses), assisting John with his project to monitor and tag, shark eggs from a shark called a bull huss (Scyliorhinus stellaris).
We were ungainly on the way down and when we finally reached the water we were ungainly still; crawling through the shallow water before we were deep enough to actually swim.
If you get the conditions right, snorkelling in the UK can be a magical experience, with swaying forests of seaweed providing the backdrop for fish as they dart around busy in their underwater lives.
Whilst searching for mermaids purses we saw large groups of two spot gobies, hanging around like teens outside an off license; edgy and quick to scatter if you get too close (views my own). Corkwing wrasse briefly came into view, flashing blues and greens, before swimming into cover. Huge snakelocks anemones waved green and brown tentacles at us as if welcoming us to their underwater world.
Like on land, there is seasonality in the rockpool, with different seaweeds dying back, others growing and colours changings; depending on the time of year. Steph and I had previously gone searching for mermaids purses with John a couple of months ago and were able to see visible changes in the amount of rainbow wrack (Cystoseira tamariscifolia). Before it had glowed iridescently; blues, greens and reds. But now it was duller and harder to spot. the bull huss or nurse hound, likes to lay its eggs at the base of rainbow wrack; tethering it’s eggcases to them so that they don’t get washed away by the currents. Eventually we started to find more of this seaweed and then we found lot’s of shark eggs!
The nurse hound is a relatively large creature and can grow up to a metre and a half. Considering that we know a lot about the development and lifecycles of tiny bacteria and of minute zebrafish, you would think that we would know a good deal about the lifecycle of one of our most common sharks.
It turns out that we don’t know about the timings of their different stages of development, how long they take to develop. We also don’t know if anything eats their eggs? With his tagging project, John is hoping to answer some of these questions.
If you have an underwater torch you can see something really special. By shining the torch through the eggcase you can see the baby shark inside!
Snorkelling, is cold work and after finding lot’s of sharks eggs and seeing some amazing marine life, we were glad to get out of the water and have a warm cup of tea.
If you are reading this and want to get out and experience the marine environment, there are lots of easy ways to do this through; rockpooling (we lead guided rockpooling at Wembury), swimming, snorkelling or even bird watching. Watching big blue live has inspired us all at Wembury. But it is important to remember that incredible wildlife experiences are not just for the TV and you can easily have tangible wildlife moments on your local beach.