The Cornish summers are anything but predictable. One day I’m sweltering in shorts and beach shoes and the next I’m shivering in waders and a thick jumper. Although the showers are back with a vengeance, there’s always something to be found if I can make it across the rocks without breaking an ankle.
My first outing is to the rocks beyond East Looe beach and I’m pleased to come across a new colony of St Piran’s hermit crabs on the mid-shore.
They’re becoming a familiar sight around Cornwall and I’m starting to recognise them from the tips of their red legs, before their chequerboard eyes and equal-sized claws emerge from their shells.
Dragging the family with me on my next expedition, I take a look at the other side of Looe.
At Hannafore, the rocks are hidden under a thick brown tangle of wracks, sargassum weed, and kelp making my feet slither with every step. It’s hard to make out where the pools are much of the time, let alone what’s in them.
Still, with some patience and careful sweeping aside of the long strands of weed, some treasures are revealed. This heart-shaped daisy anemone is the pinkest one I’ve ever seen.
As we wade in a long, deep pool a large fish passes between the fronds of sargassum near my feet. Moving slowly, I herd it towards a shallow corner, and, holding a bucket behind it take one more step. Nine times out of ten, I fail and the fish darts away never to be seen again. This time, the colourful fish takes me by surprise and swims straight into the bucket.
Here it is – is the first adult corkwing wrasse I’ve found in a rock pool.
Cornish Rock Pools junior comes over to admire the fish, talks to it and gives it a stroke. We look at its pouting lips and the iridescent blue stripes on its cheek, the typical colouring of the male corkwing wrasse. The female is much more dowdy.
After a few minutes, Junior lowers the bucket into the drizzle-spattered pool and we watch the wrasse swim free among the weeds.
I can see why most people see rockpooling as a fair-weather activity, but I’ve always liked the heavy calm of an empty beach on a foggy, damp day, and the animals are as colourful as ever.
“So is this a world record?” Cornish Rock Pools Junior has just found 26 stalked jellyfish and is feeling rightly proud of himself.
“It’s a record for Portwrinkle,” I tell him. “They’ve never been found here before.”
“But is it a world record?” he insists.
I take a moment to consider this. Only a moment, because my hands are frozen from holding my camera in the water and another snow flurry is starting.
“Yes,” I say. “You now have the world record for finding stalked jellyfish in Portwrinkle.”
From the leaping and cheering, I’d guess he’s satisfied with that.
If you follow this blog regularly, you may be starting to find the recent focus on stalked jellyfish a touch tedious. You wouldn’t be alone. Although I remember the excitement of finding my first one, the beauty of its markings and delicate tentacles, after seeing scores of the things and spending hours in freezing pools staring into the seaweed, they’re losing their edge.
Still, given that one species is a recognised feature of my local Marine Conservation Zone and two more species have potential to be added, any evidence that they’re here might help to protect them. So far, all of that evidence has come from beaches in walking distance of my home in Looe because I’m pretty much the only person recording them. When I took Natural England on a stalked jelly hunt at Hannafore, they asked if I could help them search beaches at the opposite end of the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone.
It seems such a great idea. Leaving home in a snow flurry though, I begin to question my sanity. I’m not sure, in such circumstances, whether it’s a good thing to have a wonderfully supportive partner and son, but neither of them bat an eyelid at the weather. Wearing boots, waterproofs, scarves, hats, gloves, and just about every item of clothing we possess, we head for Portwrinkle beach.
Junior becomes less supportive when I find the first stalked jelly. I hadn’t realised how badly he wanted to find it himself and wish I’d kept quiet about it, but after 45 minutes of fruitless searching it seemed like the sort of breakthrough worth announcing.
“I’m useless,” he sighs. “Now I won’t get the world record.”
I try to reassure him. Surely we are a team and finding them together? But nothing is working. A little further down the rocks, where the pools meet the sea, I notice an arc of rocks forming a shallow, rock strewn bay with plenty of weed.
“Come and try over here,” I suggest.
He kicks at the rocks and mopes over to where I’m standing.
“Just try,” I repeat.
It only takes a second.
“Here’s one,” he screams, his voice easily reaching his Dad, in the distance across the rocks.
Seconds later, while I’m crouching to photograph his find, he tugs at my shoulder. “I’ve found another one.”
And so it goes on; Junior’s voice becoming more excited with every find. I can’t keep up. There are so many stalked jellyfish that Junior is finding three in the time it takes me to take a photo of one. They’re everywhere. As I’m taking the photos I keep finding yet more.
Now, I don’t like the cold. I may have mentioned that before? My hands, in particular, don’t cope well with being plunged into icy water or drying in an easterly wind. By the time Junior has racked up 26 stalked jellies and I’ve found a further 15, the pain in my fingers is becoming all-consuming.
Fortunately, by this time, the boys are more than ready to go to the pub for lunch.
“Have people actually looked for stalked jellyfish here before?” Junior asks as we head for the car.
“Yes, I think so,” I say.
“So it really is a proper world record?” he asks.
“Yes, I suppose so.”
Junior glances around him and narrows his eyes at a dog walker.
“What’s up?” I say.
“I don’t want lots of publicity. Do you think the newspapers and TV will find me? I’m not going to tell them where the stalked jellyfish are.”
I assure him that only people who care as much as we do about nature will ever read my blog.
He thinks about it for a moment and nods.
Tomorrow I’ll be off to the rock pools again, on the north coast this time, and I’ll be taking a day off from stalked jellyfish!
I doubt anyone in Looe can have missed it – the moment today when Cornish Rock Pools Junior found his first stalked jellyfish. His scream of, “I’ve actually found one!” rang across the beach and echoed off the hillside.
His first find was closely followed by his second, next to which was a third. A volunteer from Looe Marine Conservation Group found a fourth. The Natural England team found some more and by the time we were done we recorded a whopping 26 Stalked jellyfish.
As all our records today were of two species (Calvadosia cruxmelitensis and Calvadosia campanulata) I’m feeling hopeful that they may soon be added as recognised features of the Looe and Whitsand Bay Marine Conservation Zone.
In December, good tides, mild temperatures and low winds coincide about as often as it snows on the Cornish coast (i.e. about once every ten years). Amazingly, today was one of those rare occasions and the rockpools were in impressive festive colours. What could be more Christmassy than this Dahlia anemone?
We were doing so well with our stalked jellyfish survey that I didn’t feel too bad about getting distracted. When I spotted a wriggling piece of seaweed, I chased it across the rocks.
As I suspected, under the seaweed decorations was a small spider crab species. This one was a Macropodia deflexa, a long-legged spider crab.
Relying on their camouflage, scorpion fish were lying still among the seaweed, allowing us to come right up to them.
It was a huge relief that everything turned out so well for our Stalked jellyfish survey. Had the conditions been less favourable we’d have been more likely to find none at all. 26 was an amazing total.
I needed my hot chocolate afterwards, but it was an afternoon well spent with some fabulous people. And tomorrow the forecast is even better… I’ll let you know what I find!
My local area is special and it’s partly down to some fabulous little jellies we find here.
Looe and Whitsand Bay was one of the first to be designated a Marine Conservation Zone (MCZ) three years ago. Apparently Ocean quahog (a clam shell), pink sea fans, pink sea fan anemones and a stalked jellyfish species (Haliclystus sp.) can all be found here.
I’m hoping we can add more species to that list. There have been some local records of giant gobies, which are one of the MCZ ‘feature’ species and we’ve found three other species of stalked jellyfish on our beaches.
The problem with stalked jellyfish is that they’re tiny and seaweed coloured. In theory, the winter die-back of seaweed makes them easier to see, but Cornish winters don’t often provide the calm conditions you need to spot stalked jellies. Consequently not many people see them and even fewer people record their discoveries on ORKS – so please, please do share your finds!
In a quest to add more evidence that these species are present in significant numbers, I take Cornish Rock Pools Junior for a wander through the pools at a quiet local bay.
I find it’s best to focus on nothing else if I’m going to find stalked jellies. The problem is, as anyone who’s seen me in the vicinity of a chocolate hobnob will know, that I have no willpower. So, I spend the first half hour snapping this gorgeous strawberry anemone as it stretches its tentacles towards the last of the autumn sunshine. Continue reading On a stalked jellyfish mission…→
Things have been quiet on this page the last couple of months. Cornish Rock Pools Junior, Other Half and I took an extended holiday to visit the towns and beaches of Brittany. As always our travels had a bit of a marine theme…
“Est-ce que c’est un anémone?” the eager child in the dark-rimmed spectacles asks. We explain what a ‘stalked jellyfish’ is to the class of seven-year-olds. “Jellyfish!” they chant.
Between fascinating excursions to the fire station and the sardine factory, we are giving impromptu English lessons to a class of primary school students during our twinning visit to Quiberon in Brittany.
It’s funny how the summer days float by. The house has been practically bursting with people for weeks now and I haven’t found the space to write about our many beach trips, but August still feels like a lazy month.
It reminds me of my childhood summers; a jumble of paddling, swimming, rockpooling and finds. Only I’ve just turned 40 and now I’m the one remembering hats and towels, preparing picnics and being called on constantly to help build dams or identify creatures. Every few days I realise that I’ve failed to take many photos and still haven’t blogged anything I’ve found. It’s just the way August goes.
The warm waters are drawing in all sorts of creatures at the moment. The north coast especially is teeming with jellyfish. Harmless Moon jellyfish have washed up in their thousands. These transparent little jellies have four mauve circles in their centre in a pattern that reminds me of cucumber slices (OK, that’s probably just me).
Other jellyfish that have mild stings, like the compass jellyfish are also washing in and I think my thigh met with one of the many blue jellies in the water at Mawgan Porth a couple of weeks ago from the unattractive rash I developed! On the plus side, some friends found a spiny starfish in a pool at the top of the mid-shore pools, which looked like it might be feeding on the stranded jellies.Continue reading Summer Lazing in Cornwall’s Rock Pools→
As you might imagine, we’re fans of nature documentaries in this house and we’re all looking forward to watching Steve Backshall’s new series, Fierce. It’s got me and Cornish Rockpools Junior thinking about opportunities to meet ‘fierce’ wild creatures closer to home.
Of course, these animals aren’t exactly fierce, they’re just equipped to survive the evolutionary arms race with attitudes, weapons and chemicals that aren’t very human-friendly.
You don’t need a plane, a film crew and a ton of equipment to seek out an encounter with a well-armed rockpool ninja. This weekend’s massive low tides are the perfect opportunity to head out onto the shore and check out our top 5 fierce(ish) rockpool creatures.
So, check the tide times, grab a bucket, put on your wellies and take a look…
5. Small spotted catshark
These small sharks, often known as dogfish, sometimes become stranded in pools during the very lowest of tides. They’re not at all aggressive, but it’ll sound impressive that you’ve met one. They have incredibly rough skin that used to be used as sandpaper. In some places you can also find their egg cases and those of their larger cousin, the nursehound, attached to seaweed. They take around 7-9 months to hatch out so never detach the egg case from the weed.
4. Snakelocks anemone
This anemone is common in rockpools all around Cornwall. It’s easy to see how it gets its name from its long snake-like tentacles, which are usually green with purple tips, but sometimes a dull-brown. They’re from the same family as jellyfish and have stinging cells which shoot poisonous harpoons into anything that touches their tentacles. It’s best not to touch this anemone as some people have a reaction to the sting. If you do touch one be sure not to rub your eyes because stinging cells can attach to your skin – wash your hands as soon as you can.
Cornish Rock Pools Junior is convinced snakelocks anemones can eat your foot. That’s unlikely, but watch what they do to this fly…
An unlikely contender, but there are several species of worm on the shore that can be pretty fearsome, especially the larger ragworms. These animals have an extendible jaw that can shoot out and deliver a painful bite. Others, like the bootlace worm secrete a toxic mucus. Handle with care!
2. Compass jellyfish
Like the anemone, this jellyfish is armed with lots of nematocysts (stinging cells), but far more powerful. These jellies with their distinctive V-shape compass markings can give you a painful sting. Jellyfish don’t live in the rockpools but are often washed in by the winds and tides, especially in the summer and autumn months. They’re beautiful creatures and well worth a look, but remember not to get close or to put your hands in the water – their tentacles can be hard to see, very long and can become detatched from the main jellyfish, so it’s not worth the risk (yes, that’s talking from experience… I’m a slow learner). There are lots of different species of jellyfish and some, including the massive barrel jellyfish, are harmless, but if you’re not sure, stay clear!
1. Devil crab (Velvet Swimming Crab)
The top fierce creature award, as voted by Cornish Rock Pools Junior who will not go near them, is [insert fanfare of your choice here]… the velvet swimming crab. This crab, known by Junior and many others who’ve met it as the ‘devil crab’, is afraid of nothing and is always quick to use its pincers. Their dark shells and gleaming red eyes give these crabs a sinister look to match their temperament. They’re brilliantly suited to hunting in the rockpools and shallow seas. If you dare to look closely at one (see ‘How to pick up a crab’), you’ll see that their stripy back legs are flattened into paddles, making them excellent swimmers. Watch out for them lurking buried in the sand, with only those red eyes showing.
There are plenty more dangerous creatures, such as the weever fish and the Portuguese man o’ war, that didn’t make our list because we so rarely see them in the rock pools.
It almost goes without saying that by far the most dangerous creature on the shore is us humans. Marine litter, warming seas, pollutants, overfishing and habitat destruction all threaten our amazing marine life. Please do your bit every time you visit the shore:
If you turn any rocks replace them gently, the right way up.
Avoid using nets that can harm creatures and tread carefully.
If you catch any creatures, keep them in plenty of sea water and return them quickly to where you found them.
Don’t leave any litter behind and be aware that sun cream isn’t good for wildlife.
Every time you visit a beach take 2 minutes to pick up any rubbish you see.
Have fun and please do let me know what creatures you meet (fierce or otherwise) in the Cornish rock pools.
For everyone who loves Cornwall's rock pools. Information about great beaches, marine wildlife and conservation.