As part of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), we are often focused on the death of animal and can overlook the amazing lives of marine creatures before they sadly wash up along our coastlines. British waters are home to over 28 different species of whales, dolphins and porpoises, collectively known as cetaceans.
In the UK, the most numerous (and smallest) of these is the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Unsurprisingly, these porpoises therefore make up the majority of strandings in the UK.
Across the UK, many different creatures wash up on our shores. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) is responsible for documenting stranded animals in the UK and retrieves a portion of those that strand for post-mortem examination every year. The main bulk of the project is made up of cetaceans – a group of marine mammals comprised of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
However, many people don’t realise the project also responds to strandings of sharks. Since 2007, the CSIP has recorded the stranding of basking sharks (Cetorhinus maximus) across the UK and more recently secured funding to expand the research to other large-bodied sharks such as porbeagles (Lamna nasus), angel sharks (Squatina squatina) and blue sharks (Prionace glauca).
WARNING: This blog contains photographs of dead stranded sharks which you may find upsetting
A recent stranding gained media attention last week as a Risso’s dolphin (Grampus griseus) washed up on a beach in Norfolk. The Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) receives around 10 reports of Risso’s dolphins stranding every year, but most of these reports are concentrated in Scotland and the west coast of the UK. This unusual stranding in the southern North Sea meant it was crucial for the CSIP team to retrieve this animal for post-mortem. Post-mortems are essential for us to understand how the animal died, and the possible series of events which may have contributed or occurred leading up to its death.
WARNING: This blog contains photographs of dead stranded cetaceans and post-mortem findings which you may find upsetting
When a call comes in to the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) hotline, the details of a stranding can often be minimal and somewhat vague. An animal may be highly decomposed, inaccessible or lack features for it to be identified. As a research assistant for CSIP, my job is to investigate a stranding and try to gather as much information as possible so an accurate identification can be made. This blog post provides a simple guide for everyone to try and identify dolphins, whales and porpoises commonly washed up on British coastlines.
WARNING: This blog contains photographs of dead and injured stranded cetaceans which you may find upsetting
Seaweed scientist Professor Juliet Brodie tells us about the fantastic photos submitted through the Big Seaweed Search so far.
I’m fascinated by seaweeds and my research includes finding out about their diversity, and the impact of climate change and ocean acidification on their distribution. As part of this, I worked with my colleagues across the Museum to set up the Big Seaweed Search and I’m so pleased to see that lots of you have taken part and have sent your photos in for my research. I’ve just been exploring the first few months of data entered and I’m very excited by what I have seen so far.
In particular, the photographs people have uploaded are excellent as they enable me to tell very quickly whether a seaweed has been identified correctly or not – this is essential for me to be able to use the observations in my research.
Following the stranding of a number of sperm whales on the English coast last weekend, scientists from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and the Museum visited Lincolnshire from Monday 25 January to conduct autopsies on the dead leviathans.
I interviewed Rebecca Lyal, Cetacean Stranding Support Officer of the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP), to find out what the autopsies have revealed thus far about the cause of death.
Rebecca, how do you go about assessing the cause of death of whales?
That can be done by looking at the recent movement of the whales, where they have come from and what their behaviour has been and then, once we’d deduced that they didn’t strand because they had got caught in a net, or had any wounds that may have made them unable to swim, we can start looking a bit deeper. This is when we started to take samples of the skin, the blubber, reading the blubber thickness, and then muscles and blood.
[Warning: readers may find the images that follow in this post upsetting.]
This week HLF Identification Trainer of the Future, Anthony Roach, introduces us to the marvellous diversity of seaweeds on Britain’s shores and shows you how you can contribute to citizen science by recording them as part of the Big Seaweed Search.
Seaweeds are incredibly diverse and beautiful organisms. They are strong biological indicators of the health of our environment and play an important role in the marine and coastal environment, despite being perceived by some as drab, slimy, green and brown sludge hanging from the rocks or smelly dried husks that litter the high tide mark. The Museum’s seaweed researchers and staff at the Angela Marmont Centre for UK Biodiversity are therefore encouraging everyone to learn more about seaweeds, to map their diversity and assess how they are responding to climate change through the Big Seaweed Search.
I grew up near the coast in Devon and I certainly over-looked seaweeds when whiling away countless hours rock pooling. I would slip and slide my way over seaweed covered rocks in search of the jazzier or more colourful marine stars of the rock pool such as crabs, starfish, sea anemones and blennies. I have discovered however that there is so much more to seaweeds than at first meets the eye.