Opinion: Time to explore Whitby’s seashore

Kelp forest at low tide.
Kelp forest at low tide.

Spring is sprung – the signs are all around us. Hedges and trees are dusted with green, daffodils are in full bloom and cowslips and primroses are out on the bank sides.

The signs of spring are obvious on land but there are stirrings on the seashore as well. As days lengthen and water temperatures rise (a bit!) spring is a great time to get out on the seashore and the Easter holidays are the perfect opportunity to go rock pooling and looking under boulders for all sorts of interesting animals and seaweeds. So get your wellies on and head down to the sea.

Be patient and stay quietly next to a rock pool and you may be rewarded with a glimpse of fish, crabs and snails. Look out for sea anemones with their rings of attractive tentacles waiting for unsuspecting prey to pass within reach of their poisonous barbs. Look for eggs – the eggs of the green leaf worm are green blobs of jelly attached to feathery red seaweeds (you may see a green leaf worm, too); snail eggs on bladderwrack – clear blobs of jelly with white dots inside; cream coloured capsules laid by dog whelks under boulders and in damp crevices; clear flattened flasks containing yellow eggs attached to feathery red seaweeds laid by the netted dog whelk. You might find hermit crabs changing their shell for a larger one – a fascinating process to watch and one which is pretty risky for the crab whose soft abdomen makes it an attractive meal for a passing predator.

Take a good seashore guide book along to identify what you’ve found. The RSPB Handbook of the Seashore, or the Field Studies Council’s are excellent publications. Take photographs of your finds and send them to iSpot and an expert will verify them.

Make this spring the one where you, too, spring in to action to brush up on your wildlife identification skills.

Remember the seashore code – check tide times and go out on a falling tide. Wear suitable clothing and footwear – seaweeds and wet rocks are slippery. Try not to cast a shadow or splash the water, the animals will freeze or flee if disturbed. Don’t lift objects bigger than a football – or your head! Always carefully replace rocks where you found them, and the same way up. Don’t use a net, which can damage claws and legs, and put animals in a tray or small bucket filled with seawater. Don’t leave animals and seaweeds in a bucket for too long, they will become stressed as oxygen is depleted and the temperature rises. Observe animals one at a time and then release them to the pool they came from. Don’t take animals away from the shore. Handle creatures carefully and put them back in the same pool afterwards. This is their home so treat it with respect. Take a camera. Have fun!