Galathea strigosa

Rockpooling on a mega-tide

This week the spring tides are huge, which means perfect rockpooling conditions all around Cornwall. Yesterday’s ‘storm without a name’ passed just in time and today the sun shone, so I dusted off my waders and followed the tide out to see what it would reveal. Answer: lobsters, baby sharks and a whole lot more.

Greater spotted catshark baby - Scylliorhinus stellatus
Greater spotted catshark baby – Scyliorhinus stellaris

I was hoping to re-discover an overhang packed with jewel anemones at the far end of the beach that I’d come across once before, but couldn’t resist taking a look at the wildlife on the way. You know it’s going to be a good day when the first stone you lift is unexpectedly awesome. This one was hiding a troop of hermit crabs, a rock goby and a beautifully camouflaged scorpion fish.

The colour and texture of this scorpion fish allow it to blend perfectly with the sand -only its eye gives it away.
The colour and texture of this scorpion fish allow it to blend perfectly with the sand -only its eye gives it away.

I pressed on towards the general area where I hoped to find the overhang, but there were so many distractions. A stalked jelly caught my eye.

This stalked jelly (Haliclystus octoradiatus) clings on with its sucker foot or with its tentacles and the suckers between them (the little blobs between the arms). This one suckered onto my finger for a while.
This stalked jelly (Haliclystus octoradiatus) clings on with its sucker foot or with its tentacles and the suckers between them (the little blobs between the arms). This one suckered onto my finger for a while.

 When I came to the larger rocks it was hard to know where to start. A large tompot blenny flashed away before I could photograph it. This little shrimp (Philocheras fasciatus) was more obliging but still too fidgety to capture well. This was a new species for me and highly distinctive with its bold markings and flashes of blue on its back.

Philocheras fasciatus - a species of prawn I'd not seen before.
Philocheras fasciatus – a species of prawn I’ve never seen before.

At the back of a large hole I thought I saw a crab. Crawling half-in revealed I’d found my first ever lobster. It was dark and a very tight squeeze to get the camera through the overhang, but I at least managed one passable shot.

My first lobster - at the back of a dark, wet overhang. Lobsters mature slowly and are vulnerable to overfishing so it's great to see one this size.
My first lobster – at the back of a dark, wet overhang. Lobsters mature slowly and are vulnerable to overfishing so it’s great to see one this size.

 While I was still half-lying among the damp rock, working out how to get myself out without braining myself on the overhang, something else caught my eye. Yet another first that’s been on my wish-list for as long as I remember. What it lacks in size, this little squat lobster (Galathea strigosa) makes up in spectacular colour.

Another first for me - the colourful and unmistakeable Galathea strigosa squat lobster.
Another first for me – the colourful and unmistakeable Galathea strigosa squat lobster.

Of course, it was in an awkward position again, wedged in a narrow tunnel in the rock and pressed upwards against a stone, but it was well worth further contortions in the tight, dripping space to see it up close.

Galathea strigosa
Galathea strigosa

It was only when I started wriggling back out from under the rock that I realised this was my overhang. Above me, the rock was studded with turquoise and pale green jewel anemones.

Green jewel anemones on an overhang - they're even more impressive in the water, but I wasn't going to hang around here at high tide.
Green jewel anemones on an overhang – they’re even more impressive in the water, but I wasn’t going to stick around here at high tide.

When these anemones are underwater, they open up their tentacles, each of which has a beaded tip, making them look like miniature crowns.

 Moving on to the opposite shore, I found the tide so low that the sea grass bed, normally under a metre or so of water even at low tide, was completely beached. Among the nearby rocks and seaweed I found so many greater spotted catshark/ bull huss egg cases that I lost count. Some were developing, others empty and it didn’t take long to find a newborn shark.

Young greater spotted cat shark - showing its cat-like eyes and rough, sandpaper skin.
Young greater-spotted cat shark – showing its cat-like eyes and rough, sandpaper skin.

 There were several in the area. One was struggling in very shallow water that had warmed in the sun, so I took it to deeper water to recover.

Catsharks sometimes get stranded in very low tides. If they're overheating or struggling to breathe, it's worth moving them to deeper water to wait for the tide to come in.
Catsharks sometimes become stranded in very low tides. If they’re overheating or struggling to breathe, it’s worth moving them to deeper water to wait for the tide to come in.

These tides only come a few times a year and this month’s and April’s springs are especially low. It’s a fantastic time to check your local tide times and head out rock pooling. Check out the Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s events page for group rock-pooling events, which are always a brilliant way to see and learn loads.

More highlights…

Small clingfish species at Hannafore, Looe, Cornwall
Small clingfish species at Hannafore, Looe, Cornwall
Dab (A flat fish) hiding on the underside of a rock.
Topknot (A flat fish) hiding on the underside of a rock.
I found at least a dozen of these small spider crabs (Macropodia sp). In the water they look like walking seaweed as they're so decorated with the stuff.
I found at least a dozen of these small spider crabs (Macropodia sp). In the water they look like walking seaweed as they’re so decorated with the stuff.
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10 thoughts on “Rockpooling on a mega-tide”

  1. Congratulations for your good work. It’s amazing, the article and pics. Is excellent exercise for me because i can learn about rock pooling and practice my english. Thanks my lovely.

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  2. Great stuff as always. I did a bit of marine life photography the other day myself, though they were at a sea life centre lol.

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    1. Thanks Sean. I’ll look forward to seeing your photos if they’re on your blog? I’ll take a look once the tides go back to neaps … I’ll be on the beach a lot the next couple of days! Sea life centres are amazing – Cornish rock pools junior loves the Plymouth and Newquay aquaria… so much to see and he loves that he recognises creatures we’ve met on our rockpooling rambles as well as meeting new species.

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  3. Once again a stunning post. Squat lobsters are my favourites, but it really does take a good spring tide to see them. Some lucky finds, and I know exactly what you mean about knowing it is going to be a good day when you see some amazing creatures under the first stone you turn over.

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  4. Thanks – I had a lot of fun yesterday and couldn’t stop talking about the lobster! We see a lot of squat lobsters here, but always Galathea squamifera so it was great to finally find a Galathea strigosa.

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