I recently spent another long weekend in lovely St Davids, west Wales, with a group of my more ‘outdoorsy’ type friends.
Despite my protests, I did get togged up in a wet suit for a bit of swimming and jumping off rocks (even though the weather was atrocious). I’m a crappy swimmer, so thrashing about in the cold water is not a very attractive past-time for me at all!
Though we didn’t manage to get out on a boat this time around, the last time I was in west Wales, we took a trip around Ramsey Island. After marvelling at the view and poking around with a few jellyfish, we managed to spot a load of fat, happy seals basking in the sun, and even a few porpoises breaking the calm waters! It was the most amazing experience, and not something I thought I would realistically see on home soil (or er, water). It served as a clear reminder about how important it is that we keep our own seas healthy and teeming with life.
As a reminder, the WWF have compiled this list of ten surprising species living in our Welsh and UK waters – and why they need our attention and support to keep them there…
1. Basking shark
The basking shark (pictured above) known by some as the gentle giants of the shark world, is the second largest fish in the world. They get their name from being slow swimmers, reaching an average of 2.5mph as they bask in the sun.
Threats: Globally basking sharks are hunted for their fins, which are seen as a delicacy in Asia. The species is still recovering from being historically hunted before it became a protected species in the UK
The sunfish is the world’s largest bony fish and can reach up to three metres long. Their most striking features are their dorsal and anal fins which are elongated and can measure over 3 metres from tip to tip.
Threats: The main threat to the sunfish is marine litter – especially from plastic bags which can look just like jelly fish, their main source of food. Accidental entanglement in fishing gear also poses a threat to the species
3. Blue shark
Blue sharks are excellent swimmers and reach their highest speeds when they’re in pursuit of prey. They use electroreceptors concentrated in their heads to find food, which can sense a heartbeat of another fish from several miles away.
Threats: Globally hunted for their fins, these are seen as a delicacy in Asia. Accidental entanglement in fishing gear and over fishing, reducing the food available is also a problem.
4. Pink sea fan
This soft coral is extremely slow growing but can live up to 50 years. They use their stinging tentacles to capture microscopic animals and grow at right angles to the prevailing water currents to enable them to catch as much food as possible.
One of the main threats to the pink sea fan is damage caused by human activity such as trawling and dredging for fish. Climate change affecting the water’s temperature also makes soft coral more vulnerable to disease.
5. Orca whale
Orca whales, also known as ‘killer whales’ are the largest member of the dolphin family. As their nickname suggests, the orca whale is one of the world’s most powerful predators.
Threats: Pollution and contaminants in the water as a result of human activity pose a threat to Orca whales. Noise disturbance from military exercises at sea, ship engines and seismic surveys
6. Harbour porpoise
The harbour porpoise is the shy relative of the dolphin as a member of the cetacean family. Their diet consists of over 20 different species of fish, squid, octopus and shellfish.
Threats:Unsustainable fishing poses the biggest threat to their survival, including accidental entanglement in fishing gear not meant for them, and over fishing, reducing the food available.
7. Fin whale
The fin whale is the second largest living mammal on earth and is also the fastest swimmer of all the large whales. Their distinctive ridge between the dorsal fin and tale gives the fin whale its nickname ‘razorblade’.
Threats: Whale populations still haven’t recovered from commercial whaling, which was banned in 1986 by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Scientific whaling is still legal and poses a threat to the species as it’s believed that science permits are sometimes used as a disguise for commercial whaling.
8. Jewel anemone
Jewel anemone range in bright colours including green, orange, red, pink or white.. The mouth of a single anemone can be surrounded by up to 100 tentacles. They reproduce by splitting in half, using a process called ‘longitudinal fission’.
Threats: Although not currently at threat, jewel anemones remain sensitive to the effects of pollution and damaged caused to their habitat by human activity.
The gannet is a large seabird which can dive deep into the ocean. The impressive bird can dive as deep as 22 metres and use their wings to swim even deeper in pursuit of prey.
Threats: Marine litter poses the biggest threat to gannets – both through mistakenly eating plastic and increasingly through their prey having small plastic particles inside them.
10. Cuckoo wrasse
This colourful fish is known for its confident and curious nature. They have a fascinating life cycle as every fish is born female but can change its sex to male when it reaches five to seven years.
Threats: although not currently threatened, the cuckoo wrasse remains sensitive to the effects of pollution and changes to the ocean caused by climate change.
WWF is one of the world’s largest independent conservation organisations, with more than five million supporters and a global network active in more than one hundred countries. Through their engagement with the public, businesses and government, they focus on safeguarding the natural world, creating solutions to the most serious environmental issues facing our planet, so that people and nature thrive. Find out more about their work, and donate at wwf.org.uk.