Marine Life & Conservation Blogs
Western Ecology Tour Expedition Report: Stats & Scotland
During June 2021 a team of us Photographers, Filmmakers, Scientists and Divers took part in the Western Ecology Tour, an expedition that involved diving some of ‘The Best’ of the West Coast of the UK. The Expedition took place between the 17th and 29th of June, and we traveled to 3 key locations throughout the UK. The expedition started out in the Lochs of Scotland and finished along the Pembrokeshire coastline.
The expedition was led by Andy Clark of ATND Services and @fancy_a_brew_podcast. He sought out talent, sponsors, and expertise to aid him in achieving the goals he had planned for the expedition.
The expedition had three main aims; To support scientists who are working to better understand and protect our coastlines, wildlife, and ecosystems, to tell the unseen stories of our hidden coastline, and to promote sustainable adventures.
The expedition had a number of sponsors with all of them supplying equipment to the WET Team, these sponsors included Northern Diver who supplied Cylinders and Dive Lights and a Northern Diver bags for the Crews equipment, Analox who supplied a Nitrox Analyser, Dryrobe who supplied Dry Robes to members of the WET Team, GearAid supplied Cleaning and Repair equipment, Stream2Sea Supplied Alcohol Hand Sanitiser, Neptunic supplied T-Shirts and Rash Vests and Modena Journals supplied Journals to each member of the WET Team to make notes throughout the expedition.
Other sponsors included OThree who donated an array of items for Raffle Prizes and Finisterre who donated a £150 Voucher also for a raffle prize.
A prize raffle was run leading up to the trip, this raised £2,005 with £397 being given to each of the 3 projects that were supported, and the rest going towards supporting the team throughout the expedition. To reduce costs and minimise the teams carbon footprint, we lived life as simply as we could, which we did by staying at campsites.
In total the team collectively covered around 12,500 miles, with travelling taking between 5 – 10 hours to travel between each area of work.
- Collective Miles driven – 12,500
- Dive Sites Visited – 12
- Max dive time – 74 Minutes
- Collective Total Dive Time – 30.7 Hours / 1,847 Minutes
- Max Depth Reached during Expedition – 34 Metres
- Camp sites visited – 3
- Collective Midge Bites (Scotland) – Unknown (Possibly Hundreds)
- Largest Item of Pollution removed – Oil Drums
- Projects Supported – 3
- Total money raised during fundraiser – £2,005
- Money raised for each charity – £397
In Scotland, our team were supporting Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, with Chris Richard and Dr Lauren Smith. Chris and Lauren are working alongside fisherman and the local community to better understand the movements of the Flapper Skate, an animal that was once in abundance, hence why it used to be called the Common Skate, but it is now classed as a Critically Endangered Species. Chris & Lauren have managed to identify an egg laying site of the Flapper Skate but are unsure of how many animals are using the site and with the surrounding area being used for fishing, it puts the site at risk. Thankfully the specific site is closed to fishing and even diving, Chris & Lauren are working to try and better understand the Skates and learn more about their movements as this will help them place better protections on not just the site itself, but also the routes the Skates are using in and out of the site.
The one thing they mentioned is that the local community are an almost untapped source of local knowledge and resources. Due to the rarity of Flapper Skates Chris and Lauren have put together a Facebook page where local divers, walkers and nature enthusiasts can report their sightings of Flapper Skates and other Shark & Ray species.
We left from Andy’s house in Wigan for around 10:30am and it took us around 10 hours to travel up and arrive at The Wee Campsite which is located on the shores of Loch Carron. As soon as we arrived, we were mobbed by thousands of Highland Midges which resulted in some members of the team having between 10 – 100 midge bites on a single arm. We were warned about this before heading up but we weren’t expecting the sheer amount of them.
The campsite was however situated amongst some of the most breath-taking landscapes and vistas that the UK has to offer. Once we had all set up camp and eaten, it was time to set up our cameras and make sure that we were packed and ready to set off for 9am the next morning.
The First day included diving the shores of Loch Duich with the first Dive Site being outside the Ratagan Youth Hostel, this had a gentle sloping seabed with a muddy bottom. Here lies a huge amount of Short-Clawed Squat Lobster, Brittle Stars, Harbour Crabs and Jellyfish. This dive was unbelievable in terms of the sheer amount of life and is a Macro Photographers dream with life that was not only in high abundance but were also confident allowing you to truly take your time in getting the shot.
The second Dive Site is known by the unfortunate name of the Rubbish Dump, this dive site sits below a small lay by that is known for dumping rubbish, and when you go underwater you see why. The wall was covered in rubbish that ranged from plates, fishing line, car tyres, and even more shocking, was the sheer amount of animal remains with skulls and bags of bones littering the seabed. Even with this sheer amount of waste present at the site, there was life clinging to the debris, from crabs who made makeshift homes beneath the rubbish, Lauren even found a Mermaids Purse that had been wrapped around discarded fishing line but after Lauren did a quick check, she concluded that the egg wasn’t hindered and rather than try and move it and damage the egg she decided to leave it to develop.
After the dive at the Rubbish Dump, Chris spotted what was first believed to be an Otter but as a surprise sighting it turned out to be an invasive American Mink who swam past the team with what was believed to be a Rockling in its mouth, only a few shots were able to be taken before it darted under some rocks.
The final Dive site of the first day is known as School Bay, this is once again a dive site with a muddy bottom. The mission on this dive was to find and photograph a Fireworks Anemone and Sea Pens. The dive site is essentially a bowl that drops to around 25 metres. Chris advised us to follow the slope down into the Bowl at a depth of 20-25 Metres and here we found huge amounts of life from Sea Pens, Sea Whips, Long-Spined Sea Scorpion and of course we found Fireworks Anemone. This site was being swept by a gentle current which was shown by how many filter feeding animals that were present here.
The only problems that we ran into on this site, was entry and exit from the water, as it was over a very rocky beach, followed by shallow areas with thick algae, so extra care was taken when walking and swimming with cameras.
After day one the team returned to the campsite and settled down, after eating and preparing cameras for the second day, to dive briefings for day 2 which were delivered by Chris and Lauren.
Day two in Scotland was a day of drift dives which first lead the team up to Conservation Bay a short drive from the campsite and a short walk down a slope to a gentle shore entry. The dive started on shallow kelp bed, but with a short swim out however had us swimming out into a gentle drift dive, the walls here were covered in Dead Man’s Fingers, Kelp and Anemones. Ollie managed to get some incredible footage here of the walls and life that clung in the gentle drift.
The second dive was another short drive to Castle Bay, a beautiful dive site which had Strome Castle overlooking the bay that we were diving in. The current on this dive was much faster, however manageable when we were trying to capture imagery and footage of the site. The walls on this site were once again adorned with Dead Man’s Fingers, Anemones, and Common Urchins, however the drift was fast enough that it lasted for around 20 minutes before slowing in much slower water. The wall at this point flattened out and became a gentle sandy floor with huge amounts of flatfish, decorator Crabs, Moon Jellyfish and Nudibranchs. This area alone would have constituted a dive all on its own due to the abundance of life that was present.
The final dive of day two was a quiet one with only two members of our team going down for this one, as other members of us went off to photograph the site from above water and conduct drone shots for the Expedition film that is currently in production. It was Chris and Ross who decided to get in for the final dive of the Scottish leg and they dived on a huge Maerl bed, Maerl is a hard Seaweed that forms huge carpets on the seabed and creates a diverse habitat for other wildlife, they reported back after the dive after seeing Nudibranchs, Butterfish and Flame Shells amongst the Maerl beds. Scotland was finished off with Chris and Lauren giving their interviews about what they do at Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, along with some time to take images of some of the expedition’s sponsors.
After the final dive we spent an hour or so filming and taking photographs of expedition sponsors, and the general scenery before heading back to the campsite for the evening. The evening was spent with us chatting about the amazing diving we’d had during the Scottish leg and spoke about the next stop on Expedition WET’s itinerary, this was of course beautiful North Wales.
Tune in for the next entry of Expedition WET’s Trip report where I’ll be collaborating with Co-Scubaverse blogger Jake Davies, where we’ll be talking about Project Seagrass and about what the team saw and achieved during this amazing leg of the journey.
Header Image: WET Team in Neptunic gear. Photo Credit – Hannah Rose Milanković
Marine Life & Conservation Blogs
Creature Feature: Goblin Shark
In this series, the Shark Trust will be sharing amazing facts about different species of sharks and what you can do to help protect them.
Written by guest contributor – Yolanda Evans.
Mysteriously slithering around the dark mesopelagic of the western Pacific, the glorious Goblin shark swims in search for their next meal. This illusive shark is one of the most unique-looking sharks to ever exist, having a long snout called a rostrum and protrusible jaws, hailing them their common name, Goblin. Their rostrum is covered with small pores called the ampullae of Lorenzini, jelly-filled pores in the snouts of many sharks that are able to pick up changes in the electro-magnetic field, for example the muscle contractions of nearby fish. However, these pores can only detect movement only a few inches in front of the shark!
In addition to their rostrum, these sharks poses and amazing ability to protrude their jaws out or their cartilaginous skull by something called slingshot feeding. This is when the jaws are shot forward, extending 8.6-9.4% of the Goblin sharks total body length. However, this fast jaw action also creates a powerful suction-known as a pharyngeal suction-forcing their prey deeper into their mouths.
While many sharks range from greys to blues to browns, this stupendous shark can be a very pale pink! However, this unusual colour is not from a pigment in their skin, but from the thinness of their skin! Their skin has such a great transparency that the oxygenated blood that flows in their capillaries-tiny blood vessels-causes what would be their grey skin, to become pink. This amazing ability might actually been an adaptation for the shark, they live 270m-1300 m deep, red light wavelengths cannot be seen, making the spectacular shark near invisible to both prey and predators!
Their scientific name, Mitsukurina owstoni, comes from the British naturalist Alan Owston who is credited with discovering the shark, and from Kakichi Mitsuriki, the Japanese scientist who identified and described the shark. While the English common name is only from their long rostrum, the direst translation into Japanese is Tengu-zame, base of the Tengu, a Japanese mythological half-man-half-bird who had red skin and a long nose, a comparison more fitting.
Despite their somewhat intimidating appearance, the Goblin shark is not an aggressive species, predating on mainly small bony fish, crustaceans, and cephalopods. Long slender teeth that protrude out from their jaws, appearing almost like blades, are perfect for clutching onto their prey. Nonetheless, the most threat they create towards humans is disrupting our internet as they are known to bite down onto submarine cables!
Like many other shark species, Goblin sharks main threat is by-catch from deep-sea longlining and deep-sea trawling. They are listed by the IUCN as least concern. Unfortunately, being relatively understudied, this may be incorrect as there is a very minimal amount of knowledge about the lives of these sharks. Leaving the question: what else is there to know about the truly incredible Goblin shark?
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Mitsukurina owstoni
MAXIMUM SIZE: Up to 3.8 meters (12.5 feet) in length
DIET: Feeds primarily on deep-sea fish, but also crustaceans and cephalopods
DISTRIBUTION: Goblin Sharks have a wide but patchy distribution, found in deep waters of the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans.
HABITAT: Primarily found in the deep sea, typically between 200 and 1,200 meters (656 and 3,937 feet) in depth. They are occasionally seen at shallower depths, but are typically associated with steep slopes and canyons on the continental shelf and slope.
Due to their deep-sea habitat and elusive nature, they are rarely encountered and little is known about their population trends. However, they are sometimes caught as bycatch in deepwater fisheries, and there is concern over the potential impacts of deep-sea mining activities on their habitat.
Images – www.fishesofaustralia.net.au/home/species/3254 | Wikimedia Commons
Marine Life & Conservation Blogs
Creature Feature – Megamouth Shark
A rare and mysterious species, the Megamouth Shark Megachasma pelagios was first sighted when one had gotten entangled in a sea anchor (Oceana, 2023), and hauled up by fishermen on-board a navy ship in 1976 (Black, 2014). The Megamouth Shark is distributed worldwide in tropical to temperate latitudes, can be found in costal to open ocean (epipelagic to bathypelagic), and is a filter feeder, like that of the Whale, and Basking Shark (Oceana, 2023).
Upon its first discovery, this genus of shark generated its own taxonomy, Order Lamniformes (mackerel sharks), and belongs to the family Megachasmidae (megamouth sharks) (Oceana, 2023). Currently this shark is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List, with the most recent assessment of species health being in 2018 (IUCN Red List, 2023). The Megamouth Shark can be found resident in countries such as Australia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, South Africa, and China, with the current population number of sharks being unknown due to their rare sightings, and lack of research (IUCN Red List, 2023).
A large species of shark, reaching weights of up to 2700 pounds (1215kg), and approximately 16 feet in length (5m), this species has only been observed within the wild a few times, with less than 60 individual sharks having been known by scientists to of ever been captured or observed (Oceana, 2023). The smallest of the three species of filter-feeding sharks, this shark derived its name from its remarkably large, circular mouth (Oceana, 2023). From what little research has been carried out on the species, from the rare few sightings these sharks have been observed residing near to the surface, in depths of up to 15,000 feet (4600m) (Oceana, 2023).
It is believed that Megamouth sharks only come near to the surface at night, spending the majority of their lives in the dark (Oceana, 2023). They are filter feeders that swim through the ocean with their mouths open capturing food resources, such as plankton (Oceana, 2023). The inside of their mouths contain light producing organs, believed to be used for attracting pelagic crustaceans and other prey (Oceana, 2023).
With commercial fisheries pushing to deeper depths to discover new species to market as food, more and more large deep sea creatures are being discovered (Oceana, 2023). Like other species of shark, megamouths mate via internal fertilization, giving birth to a small number of live young (Oceana, 2023). The adult shark does not connect to their live young through a placenta, and instead the mother provides an unfertilized egg during gestation (Oceana, 2023). Once born, the megamouth shark immediately becomes a filter feeder (Oceana, 2023). There is a huge lack in species behavioral ecology, and richness, and so electronic tagging studies and further research is needed in order to better understand, and to conserve this species (Watanabe & Papastamatiou, 2019).
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Megachasma pelagios
MAXIMUM SIZE: Up to 5.5 meters (18 feet) in length
DIET: Filter feeds for plankton, but also consumes deep water fish
DISTRIBUTION: Widespread distribution in tropical and temperate waters worldwide
HABITAT: Ocean-going. Surface to deep waters – 1,000m.
Due to its elusive nature and rare sightings, little is known about its population size or trends. It is occasionally caught as bycatch in fishing gear, but there are no known directed fisheries for this species.
Banner image – Wikimedia Commons | GordonMakryllos
- Black, R. (2014) A forgotten fossil megamouth gets a name. National Geographic. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/a-forgotten-fossil-megamouth-gets-a-name. Accessed: 21st March 2023.
- IUCN Red List. (2023) Megamouth Shark. IUCN Red List. Available: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/39338/124402302#taxonomy. Accessed: 21st March 2023.
- (2023) Megamouth Shark. Oceana. Available at: https://oceana.org/marine-life/megamouth-shark/. Accessed: 21st February 2023.
- Watanabe, YY, Papastamatiou, YP. (2019) Distribution, body size and biology of the megamouth shark Megachasma pelagios. J Fish Biol. 95: 992– 998. https://doi.org/10.1111/jfb.14007
This month’s Creature Feature has a guest writer – Jodie Moore
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