A spotter’s guide: five types of marine life you can look out for along the region’s coastline

PUBLISHED: 19:07 26 June 2020 | UPDATED: 19:22 26 June 2020

Thurstaston beach is a lovely walk with stunning views across the River Dee to North Wales. It's also a place you might be able to spot some marine life. Picture by Getty Images/iStockphoto

Thurstaston beach is a lovely walk with stunning views across the River Dee to North Wales. It's also a place you might be able to spot some marine life. Picture by Getty Images/iStockphoto

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Marine experts delve under the waters of the Irish Sea and along our region’s coastline to reveal what lies beneath

Bottlenose dolphins in the Irish Sea. Picture by John MacPherson/2020VISIONBottlenose dolphins in the Irish Sea. Picture by John MacPherson/2020VISION

Bottlenose dolphin

This marine mammal is perhaps the most familiar of all our dolphin species. It eats a variety of schooling fish including herring, mackerel, cod, bass, salmon, and sea trout and live up to 50 years.

Distinguishing features: these social animals often travel in pods of five to 15 animals using echolocation to hunt and communicate. Super swimmers, they are able to glide through the water at up to 30km per hour, dive up to 250m deep, and perform acrobatic displays leaping (or beaching) out of the water.

Did you know: Bottlenose dolphins are known to undertake infanticide where males kill young calves of rival males. They are also thought to practise this deadly behaviour with harbour porpoises.

Common starfish are often found in dense mussel beds. Picture by Paul NaylorCommon starfish are often found in dense mussel beds. Picture by Paul Naylor

Conservation status: Least concern – though susceptible to entanglement in fishing gear and damage from underwater noise due to construction, sonic exploration and testing.

Common starfish

This echinoderm, originating from the Greek ‘ekhinos’ meaning hedgehog and ‘derma’ meaning skin, starfish are relatives of urchins, sea cucumbers and brittlestars. They love to eat mussels and clams, small crustaceans, other echinoderms and dead animals. They live up to 35 years - impressive for an animal without a brain and can grow up to 50cm. They appear abundance around dense mussel beds, including in Liverpool Bay.

Pretty seaglass beds like these are in serious decline. Picture by Paul NaylorPretty seaglass beds like these are in serious decline. Picture by Paul Naylor

Distinguishing features: they vary in colour, from orange to pale brown, or violet. Five tapering arms that are broader at the base and often slightly turned up at the tip. Also covered in spines on their upper surface.

Did you know: They use their ‘tube feet’ like suckers to grasp their prey, pull open the shells, turning their stomach inside out and out of their body, before partially digesting their prey and sucking it all back in.

Conservation status: The most common and familiar starfish in the north-east Atlantic region.

Dwarf and common seagrass

These flowering plants are the one type able to live in the sea. They are highly productive and offer diverse nursery and refuge areas for fish as well as worms, molluscs, crabs and algae. It is found on expanses of muddy fine sand and sandy mud in shallow water and on the lower shore. Once widespread in estuaries across the North West, seagrass meadows are now only found north of the county, in North Morecambe Bay.

Distinguishing features: The long, narrow, ribbon shaped leaves grow from five to 50cm in length and you’ll find them in fairly shallow waters of between 0 and five metres.

Did you know: Seagrass meadows store carbon 35 time faster than forests, but unlike forests that store carbon for 60 years and then release it, seagrass meadows have been continually capturing and burying carbon since the last ice age.

Conservation status: At risk. Around 90% of seagrass beds were lost in the 1920-30s due to disease and since the 1980s we have continued to lose seagrass meadows at a rate of 1.5% per year, or two football pitches per hour. This rate of loss is equal to that of coral reefs and rainforests, yet seagrass receives little to no attention.

Ocean sunfish

So named as it likes basking at the surface like it is sunbathing, is also referred to as mola mola – mola meaning ‘millstone’ in Latin due to its grey colour, rough texture and large, round shape. This bony fish, this world’s largest, has a calcified skeleton and dines on jellyfish, squid, small fish and crustaceans.

Distinguishing features: its truncated body with underdeveloped tail fin makes it appear like a large head of a fish with no body. It has teeth fused into a small beak-like mouth that can’t fully close and are clumsy swimmers.

Did you know: sunfish are curious creatures that will often approach divers and kayakers.

Conservation status: Vulnerable – population declining.

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Curled octopus

This cephalopod, a type of mollusc taken from the Greek meaning ‘head feet’, like crabs, mussels, clams and fish and live up to two years. More commonly found in the Irish Sea, spending most of the day hiding between rocks and crevices, they come out to feed mainly at night. They are most often seen in the winter months and can sometimes be found on the beach after storm events.

Distinguishing features: Soft, smooth bag-like body with eight slender arms, curled when resting, with a single row of suckers on the underside. Red-brown on top and white underneath but able to change colour/pattern and camouflage into their surroundings. They use a cloud of black ink to escape from predators. Octopus ink even contains a substance that dulls a predator’s sense of smell, making them harder to trace.

Did you know: Octopuses are considered the most intelligent of all invertebrates. They also have blue (copper-based rather than iron based) blood and three hearts!

Conservation status: Common

Support your local Wildlife Trust. Help them to fight to protect the Irish Sea by becoming a member, making a donation, joining a campaign or signing up to volunteer. Visit the Cheshire Wildlife Trust website to find out more about their work at sea.

Visit the Cheshire Life Facebook page for more wildlife, walks and inspiration on how to enjoy the great outdoors.

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