Our marine creatures are plentiful, and we even have a few that you may not know about (harmless basking sharks, for instance). We’ll start with some general info on how to help, then meet resident marine creatures, plus meet a few further afield so you know how to help abroad. Also see the posts:
How to Help All Marine Creatures
- Live simply and as plastic-free as possible.
- Don’t litter the beach, take it with you. If you smoke, use a Boodi personal ashtray.
- Use a natural sunscreen, without nano-particles.
- Use biodegradable beauty & cleaning products (use the search box on this site to find good brands)
- Use a microplastic catch bag for synthetics
- Avoid home car washes (causes oil-spills)
- Wear biodegradable flip-flops.
- Don’t release balloons or fire lanterns. These explode and fall to sea or land.
- If you eat fish, eat sustainable seafood to avoid by-catch (creatures caught in nets – this kills hundreds of thousands of whales, sea turtles and other creatures).
- If you see a creature from a boat, stay far away. You can report any that are injured/stranded to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (coastguard and RSPCA can put you through) and The Wildlife Trusts.
- Report stranded birds to local wildlife rescue.
Seals Bobbing Around Our Coasts
Seals bobbing around our coast is something you may see, depending on where you live or visit. Seals are mostly seen in Eastern England and South West. These playful ‘water-dogs’ even let divers tickle their tummies! Although they partly live in the sea, they also spend a lot of time on land. But need to be near the sea. One lorry driver found a young seal on a motorway. It remains a mystery, but the seal was taken to a rescue centre, and was eventually released back to the sea.
Of the 30 seals in the world, we only have grey seals (half the world’s population) and smaller rounder-faced harbour seals. Pups live on their mother’s fatty milk for the first few weeks, before learning to swim in small pods, but only around half make it to adulthood. The life of a seal is hard: rough seas, fishing waste, pollution from oil and noise, then orcas and sharks trying to eat you.
Seals are mammals who can close their nostrils to dive and swim, then open them to breathe. Observers have found that arriving seals ‘sniff the beach’ to check it’s the correct one from before!
Stay far away from seals (the length of 2 London buses at least). Keep quiet, as pup frighten easily, and mothers could attack, if feeling threatened. Seals don’t swim well at first, so beaches are chosen by the parents, as good places to protect from the tides. Seals have a bite similar to a Rottweiler dog, and it will take a year to heal, if a seal bites you. Just a friendly dog approaching could terrify seals back into the sea, before they have enough blubber to stop them freezing to death. Don’t take photographs, and take care near sandy dunes, as often seals hide here with pups. Keep dogs on short leads, avoid seal-beaches during breeding season.
Don’t play ball or frisbee near seal colonies. One open-centred frisbee got stuck around a seal, who fortunately recovered, but the neck injuries almost took her head off.
British Divers Marine Life Rescue has tips if you find an injured seal. Note that seals regularly haul themselves out of the sea and spend more time on land, so don’t assume a seal is always injured (the parents are usually nearby for pups). Do not guide it back to the sea either, seals are mammals that need to breathe, and he or she may just be having a rest from swimming in a rough sea. Don’t let dogs or children nearby, they can be aggressive, with nasty bites.
You only need worry if a pup has visible ribs and baggy wrinkled skin, or is coughing, sneezing or has thick mucous, or shows little fear of being disturbed. The most common injuries are fishing lines, which often get caught around the body, neck and flippers, but are hard to see. Call the hotline with as much detail as possible, and try to stand so that the pup or seal cannot get back in the sea. Pups are poor swimmers, and could drown if you do not try to stop them, if injured.
While people the world over boycott Canadian seafood to try to stop the annual seal cull (also it happens in Namibia), did you know that thousands of seals are shot in Scotland, as they eat the farmed salmon sold for human consumption? As this is becoming more known, it’s affecting the tourism industry (nobody wants to come across a shot seal on the beach). And an upcoming US law that will ban salmon that shoots seals, means that companies are having to look for alternative options.
Seal Protection Action Group asks everyone to write to your MP demanding action. If you eat fish, contact your retailer to ensure that they do not sell salmon from companies that shoot seals. All the major supermarkets use farmed salmon from companies that shoot seals, even the ‘ethical ones’ like Co-op, Waitrose and M & S. Your best bet is to eat wild-caught salmon or try some plant-based alternatives to fish.
Scottish welfare charity OneKind believes the solution is in stopping the expansion of salmon farms. Supermarkets promote acoustic deterrents (which have been found to ‘torture’ seals and whales) and thick deterrent netting that is thicker than nylon, but whether it could harm is unsure. Food campaigner Joanna Blythman says farmed salmon is a result of greedy multinationals’ and Scottish governments.
If you’re Scottish (or know someone who is), do your bite to save the seals, and order a handmade vegan sporran (usually made from seal fur).
Delightful Dolphins on Our Coasts
Dolphins evolved from a land-based animal around 50 million years ago (Greek name for ‘fish with a womb’). Intelligent and playful, there are 38 species of dolphins globally, with 7 species seen around our coasts. They have eyesight 10 times better than us, but they can’t smell. Their threats are pollution, fishing waste and hunting.
There are quite a few places where you may see dolphins. However like all of the bigger marine creatures, you are more likely to see them circling the coasts in Scotland and Wales, than England (though they are pretty common in Northumberland and Southwest England). Bottlenose dolphins are the most common, as their thick blubber can insulate them well, although Risso’s dolphins (often with scars from playing and fighting) are also common. You may also see white-beaked and Atlantic white-sided dolphins, which come up more frequently for air, and striped dolphins, who like to leap out of the water. Harbour porpoises (they have triangular fins) are common in Scotland and North Wales.
The most common species is the bottlenose dolphin, which lives worldwide, porpoises are similar but with slight differences in body shape, face and fin. They eat fish, squid and crustaceans and swallow their food, using one stomach to store food and the other for digestion. Porpoises are found in mostly harbour areas and have super hearing to echo-locate their food. They are less social than dolphins.
Highly intelligent, dolphins have excellent memories and have hearing so good, that even when blind, they can still live fulfilling lives, in the pod. They spend most of their day swimming, coming up for air every 15 minutes or so, and sort of stay in a ‘semi-awake’ state most of the time, closing down one part of their brain, so the other can look out for predators. Dolphins can live for up to 50 years in the wild, and live in pods that look after each other when sick, and communicate through a flurry of different clicking and whistling sounds – they even have names for each other. Highly social, sometimes you may get up to 1000 dolphins in one pod, and apart from humans, sharks their only enemies.
The main risk to dolphins is from a few countries that hunt them for food (Japan, Peru, the Faroe Islands and Soloman Islands). In fact, many other countries do better than us and the US, having declared dolphins ‘non-human persons’, do not allow them to to live miserable lives in aquariums.
- If you eat fish, eat sustainable seafood to avoid by-catch (creatures caught up in nets – this kills hundreds of thousands of whales, dolphins, sea turtles and other creatures every year). Operation Dolphin Bycatch is a campaign to highlight the killing of 6000 dolphins yearly on France’s west coast by industrial trawlers and fishing vessels (more than the combined massacres by hunters on the Faroe Islands and Japan’s Taiji Cove). Dolphins are very friendly and tend to travel alongside the boats, then die in the nets or get wounds inflicted on them.
- Responsible Travel has info on how to responsibly watch dolphins. Because dolphins are so friendly, it’s important to only watch dolphins without touching, cuddling or kissing them. Boat skippers should not practice ‘leapfrogging’ where boats speed up to overtake dolphins, so they catch up. This involves revving engines, not supported dolphin welfare experts.
If you find an injured dolphin or porpoise:
- Support the animal in an upright position, dig trenches under the pectoral fins
- Cover with wet sheets, towels (or seaweed) and douse with water.
- Do NOT cover (or let water in) the blowhole. This is like our nostrils.
- Take ID features to give injury details, and count breaths from the blowhole, and keep away from the tail, which could injure. Also note where the creature is (sand, shade, sun) and the weather.
- Do NOT release the animal back, until the rescue team has arrived. You can support a smaller dolphin/porpoise in water, but keep the blowhole above water at all times (use a tarpaulin, don’t drag or lift by the fins or tail).
If you take your children to Florida, boycott commercial orca & dolphin venues like SeaWorld. It may look fun to a child, but the truth is quite heart-breaking. There are still around 3000 dolphins in ‘marine zoos’ worldwide, so never visit to support this industry, purely done for profit. The tiny tanks at Seaworld are very traumatic for dolphins (often captured from the wild where they swim up to 40 miles a day). Dolphins navigate using echolocation, and in a pool the reverberations from their sonar, bounce off the walls, causing great distress.
World Animal Protection says we should never pay to swim with dolphins. This sounds lovely – an autistic child gets peace by swimming with these beautiful beings. But the reality is very different. Dolphins cannot move their facial muscles, so always appear to be smiling, even when they are upset or depressed. Just like orcas, they often get sunburn on their backs, as the water is too shallow, especially in hot countries like Florida. For people to suggest that children should swim with dolphins is not even safe: they are wild creatures and quite able to harm a child, just like a lion. They kill sharks in the wild, so why would you put your child in a lagoon to swim with one? The chemicals used to keep their skin safe for humans can harm them, even causing blindness.
Dolphins that can no longer live in the wild can live in big ‘sea pens’, which at least gives them the space and company of other dolphins. Wild dolphins also are able to eat live fish (they are fed dead fish in aquariums), often training for 12 hours without a break. Many dolphins have died early at SeaWorld and one was so stressed, it bit a little girl.
Dolphin Rescue is the true story of Tom and Misha, when they were caught from the wild in the Aegean Sea, at just 6 years old. After living for 5 years in a small dolphinarium on the Mediterranean Coast, they were taken to live in a small crumbling pool in Southern Turkey. Born Free decided to rescue them, and had to teach them how to avoid sharks and catch fish. After 2 years of careful preparation, the gate to their sea pen was opened, and the two dolphins swam to freedom. When done properly, it shows it can be done.
Rescues like this are always done with marine biologists and experts. In this case, the rehab took 20 months to ensure the dolphins were fit and healthy, had good echolocation and were trained in lost fishing skills. Satellite tags showed that within 6 hours of freedom, they were eating wild fish and swimming with another dolphin. Misha was spotted 2 years after his release. One thing to be proud of is that the UK does not have any ‘show dolphins’ due to campaigns. However, we still have oceanariums where dolphins live in tiny tanks, compared to wild habitats.
In New Zealand, four swimmers were enjoying the ocean, when some dolphins appeared out of nowhere. They began to ‘herd’ the swimmers in tight circles. They did not know why, until they suddenly spotted a 10ft great white shark heading towards them. Realising the dolphins were trying to protect them, the dolphins kept vigil for 40 minutes until the shark lost interest, so they could swim back to shore. One lifeguard observed that the dolphins were ‘slapping their tails’ on the water, to keep the humans in place.
In LA, a group of bottlenose dolphins were feeding in a circle near the shore. Being watched by marine biologist Maddalena Bearzi, one of the dolphins suddenly changed direction, and started swimming out to deeper waters. One minute later, all the others followed. Experience told them that this was very unusual, as they would never suddenly leave their usual foraging ground. The dolphins increased their speed, so the researchers safely followed behind in their boat, until 3 miles offshore, the group stopped, to form a ring around a ‘dark object’. It was a fully clothed hypothermic girl of around 18, who did not understand English. At the ER, it came about that she was a German who had left a suicide note. The dolphins had realised from 3 miles away, and swam to save her life.
How to Save the Sea Turtles
There are many species of turtle including loggerheads, green sea, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, flatback and Olive ridley. Many are ‘ocean lawnmowers’ that eat seagrass, but giant leatherback turtles love searching for jellyfish in colder waters. But a third of all sea turtles now have plastic in their stomach, which is affecting their swims back to the beaches where they were born (to give birth).
- Shane Gross’ photograph of a dead turtle trapped in fishing net, has brought the issue to worldwide attention. After taking the photo, he and his girlfriend tried to bury the sea turtle in the sand, to show respect. He hopes his award-winning photograph will raise awareness, as does Jordi Chias (his photographed turtle was freed from the net before it was too late, in order to swim away).
- Give up plastic straws. This video of a marine biologist removing a plastic straw from a turtle went viral a few years ago, and was the beginning of the end for plastic straws. The turtle was okay in the end – but distressed. And nobody knew if the turtle ever came across another straw, after release.
- Never release balloons as 70% land in the sea. Latex balloons explode way before biodegrading, and form a jellyfish’ shape that leatherback turtles eat, as it’s their favourite food. If you use balloons, then choose ones with biodegradable string, only use them indoors, pop securely and bin after use. Many councils now ban balloon releases.
- If you eat fish, only choose companies that guarantee no by-catch (LED nets that light up nets so fishermen can see them and turtle excluder devices help, but leatherbacks are too big to escape). ASDA admits some of best-selling fish items kill by-catch creatures including turtles. They have no yet joined Ocean Disclosure Project, which is helping to stop by-catch. Shrimp trawlers often dredge the ocean bottom, trapping sea turtles. Try some plant-based alternatives.
- LED nets (which light up nets so fishermen can see them) and turtle excluder devices help, but they don’t work for all turtles (leatherbacks are too big to escape).
- Shrimp trawlers often dredge the entire ocean bottom, trapping sea turtles. If you eat shrimp, look for sustainable brands or find plant-based alternatives.
Milman Island is a beautiful tropical island with no human inhabitants near Australia, in the Pacific Ocean. With white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, it should be a paradise for the only creatures that live there – sea turtles. But one campaigner visited to find a horrendous amount of plastic and other rubbish that had washed up on the shores. She detailed in her survey:
- A dishwashing machine cover
- Gas tanks
- Windshield wipers
- Toy cars
- Pieces of polystyrene foam (some had tiny bite marks, indicating that the sea turtles had tried to eat it)
- A bedpan
- Industrial rubber
- Large fishing nets
- Light bulbs
- Shards of plastic
- Cigarette lighters
How to Save the Whales
Only a few whales visit British waters (mostly minke whales and beluga whales – the ‘canaries of the sea’ due to their whistles and chirps). Whales are mammals, so breathe air like us, coming out of the water every 20 minutes or so. Their can expel air, to stop food reaching the lungs (they have no gag reflex). Blue whales are as long as the 100m run you did at school, with migrations of up to 10,000 miles.
Found an Injured or Stranded Whale?
- You can report any injured or stranded marine creature to British Divers Marine Life Rescue (coastguard and RSPCA can put you through) and The Wildlife Trusts.
- Support the animal in an upright position.
- Dig trenches under the pectoral fins.
- Cover with wet sheets, towels (or seaweed).
- Douse with water.
- Do NOT cover (or let water in) the blowhole (like our nostrils, doing so will cause harm).
- Take ID features to give injury details, and count breaths from the blowhole, and keep away from the tail, which could injure. Also note the weather (sand, shade, sun)
- Do NOT release the animal, until rescued team arrives.
Campaign to Stop Whaling
Despite the global ban, Norway continues to hunt minke whales under an ‘objection’, killing hundreds each year, subsidised by the government (most are pregnant females). Just like dairy is promoted in the west, whale meat is promoted to children as healthy, with ‘whale burgers’ offered at school festivals. Leftover pieces are tossed away, where they rot and pollute the sea. Many whales do not die instantly and bleed to death, or have to be shot.
The younger generation eat less whale meat, so it looks like this industry will naturally die out eventually, with less than 5% of Norwegians eating it (many hunters are now trying to sell whale meat to Japan). So the main target now is unassuming western tourists, so be careful if you are offered ‘a steak’ on a cruise.
Whale oil can also find its way into beauty creams and health supplements. Jojoba oil is exactly the same as human sebum, so there is no need (not that there ever was) to use it in beauty products. Ambergris (in some perfumes) is sometimes used (find sustainable vegan perfumes instead) and never support tour companies that carry out whaling tours.
How to Help Orcas (killer whales)
Did you know there is a community of orcas around our coasts? Orcas (their name is Latin for ‘shape of a barrel or cask’) are actually dolphins (not whales), but you may know them best as ‘killer whales’. Orcas are one of the world’s great predators, their only danger is man (hunting, pollution, kidnapping them and taking them to live in SeaWorld etc). They have very big brains (like dolphins) and have no sense of smell but big appetites (they will attack sharks).
Most time in an orca’s life is spent hunting. They live in friendly pods (males never leave their mums, isn’t that sweet?) And along with humans and small-finned pilot whales, orcas are just one of just 3 species to go through menopause.
You are most likely to see orcas in northern waters and Scotland, and on the west coast facing Ireland. They swim very long distances while communicating to each other, you will easily recognise them by their black and white markings. But no calf has been sighted for 20 years, suggesting breeding is not as easy as before.
Orca Web says the main risks are pollution, fishing, noise pollution and ship strikes. Some countries (like Greenland) hunt them. Lulu the killer whale was found dead in the Hebrides, tangled in fishing line. An autopsy found that her body was full of manmade chemicals and pollution. It’s estimated that 50% of the world’s orcas could be wiped out, due to ocean pollution.
Recently in Spain and Portugal, pods of killer whales have been intentionally ramming boats, attacking them repeatedly for over an hour, and whistling to each other. Marine biologists are mystified, but believe it could be that the fishermen are taking too much bluefish tuna, which is their primary food source, leaving them not enough to feed their calves. Orcas (like dolphins) are highly intelligent, so will be well aware when they see boats carrying fish.
Others believe that the return of noisy fishing boats after months of peace during the COVID pandemic, has made them agitated. Biologist Alfredo López noticed two of the orcas had boat injuries, and wonders if this is a defence mechanism, to prevent others in the pod getting hurt.
If you take your children to Florida, bypass the marine spectacles at places like SeaWorld and boycott commercial orca & dolphin venues. It may look fun to a child, but the truth is quite heart-breaking. As mentioned above, the bond between a calf and his/her mother is immense (one mother was seen pushing her dead calf on a ‘tour of grief for over 1500km for over 2 weeks, before she finally let go). Orcas at SeaWorld have often been captured from the wild, can you imagine the grief of the mother and calf? They naturally stay together for life, in the wild.
Most orcas in captivity live in areas the size of a bathtub by ratio to us, and often get sunburn, as their backs poke out of shallow waters. Most breeding is done by humans masturbating the males, to artificially extract semen. What lack of dignity for this magnificent creature. One orca in a European aquarium recently tried to beach itself out of the water. Welfare campaigners wondered if it was trying to commit suicide, as it was so miserable). Some have been photographed with humans using them as ‘living surfboards’. There are videos online of captive orcas filmed ‘the rest of the time’. When not performing, most are just displaying ‘gone mad’ stereotypical behaviour going round and round a small tank, which is how they spend their lives for decades, when not performing tricks for tourists.
Tilikum was captured from his ocean home in 1983, in Iceland. He and two others were caught in a net and sent to live in SeaWorld, where his story became a real cause to end orcas in captivity. This large bull orca tragically drowned 3 people, presumably due to stress. There has never been a recorded fatal attack on a human, from a wild orca.
The Spirit of Springer is the true story of the remarkable rescue of an orphaned orca calf, who was found swimming alone in Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest. After identifying her as a member of a family of Northern Resident orcas off the coast of British Columbia, a team of scientists worked together against all odds, to save her from starvation and reunite her with her family. After being held in a pen for monitoring, the keepers opened the gate as other orcas went by, and she went ‘charging off’, swimming straight towards the others. Apparently the family bunched together in confusion at first, then swam off, expecting her to follow them. At first she could not keep up but soon did, and formed a bond with a new ‘surrogate mother’, and has since given birth to two calves of her own.
- Orcas of the Salish Sea. Now this is more like it. A photographic summary of orcas, enjoying life in the wild. It also tells the story of Moby Doll (harpooned and shot on orders of Vancouver Aquarium in 1964 to display, who survived, circled in a pen for 2 months without eating, then died of shock a month later).
- Keiko was the captive whale in the film Free Willy, about people releasing a captive whale. Due to the outcry over him being captive, he was released, but never adapted to living in the wild. He apparently was found trying to find children to ride on his back, and died in Norway of pneumonia, a year after his release.
- The Whale Sanctuary Project wants Lolita released from a Miami aquarium, where she was taken after being captured from the wild over 50 years ago. Since the death of her friend Hugo (who slammed his head against a wall 10 years ago), she now lives alone. Yet when people played calls from her wild family, she appeared to recognise them. It gives hope she could safely be returned to them.
- Due to public outcry, Russia recently released orcas and beluga whales from a ‘whale jail’. And while ‘progressive countries’ like the US won’t release miserable orcas due to the tourist income (often from UK visitors), these burly Russians risked life and limb to free orcas from trapped ice (the 4th final one was rescued after filming).
How to Save the Sharks
Get to know the world’s sharks, because they are not nearly as scary as you think. We do more harm to them. Great white sharks kill very few people each year, and basking sharks are so harmless, they will swim right past you (with their mouths wide open)!
Harmless basking sharks swim around many waters (including the coast of Britain) during the warmer months. But the abuse to sharks worldwide is immense. So let’s start with how to help our own basking sharks, then move on to what we can do to help all sharks worldwide. All sharks are classed as endangered species.
Basking sharks are the world’s second largest fish (the largest are whale sharks). Both are harmless, they are filter feeders that swallow huge amounts of water then extract through their gills, so are greatly affected by plastic waste (they have teeth but hardly use them). The only danger is if they leap out of the water, and crash down (this caused 3 men to drown in the 1930s, when their boat capsized).
Mostly found in the Hebrides of Scotland and Isle of Man, you do sometimes see them in Cornwall in summer months, but they are very shy. No need to run screaming from the beach, they won’t harm you. One diver said a 10ft basking shark with a 1-metre wide mouth came up to her, ignored her and then just swam away. When a basking shark dies, the carcass rots to reveal a small head and long neck, which is why the term ‘sea monster’ was created. And if you are thinking ‘Nessie the Loch Ness Monster’, DNA tests show there are no basking sharks in this area, the latest idea is a giant eel.
British Divers Marine Life Rescue recently had to assist a stranded basking shark in Yorkshire, but it was decided to put it to sleep, due to brain damage from lack of oxygen. It’s nice that the whole community tried to rescue a ‘shark’, showing that most people are aware they are harmless. Tips from British Divers Marine Life Rescue:
- Support the animal in an upright position, dig trenches under the pectoral fins
- Cover with wet sheets, towels (or seaweed) and douse with water.
- Take ID features to give injury details, and note where the creature is (sand, shade, sun) and the weather and state of the sea.
- Do NOT release, until the rescue team has arrived.
Great White Sharks
Yes, great white sharks look scary. That’s because they have 7 rows of 300 teeth and can indeed tear off limbs and kill people, and it does happen. But if you cross the road, you could get hit by a bus. 100 million sharks are killed yearly, and they are an endangered species, that helps to regulate the planet. You are more likely to be killed by a hot dog.
Nature is sad, and it would be nice if all sharks and tigers were vegetarian, but they aren’t. Sharks eat elephant seals, small whales and sea turtles. This keeps nature in balance, and also keeps seagrass on the ocean floor at proper levels. It’s believed that sharks usually only attack as they mistake the ‘white of a surfboard’ for a fish. They rarely eat a whole human, they are almost just biting out of curiosity.
White sharks get undeservedly bad press. How many people do you think get killed by sharks each year? 100s? 1000s? Around 10. Compare that to mosquitoes that kill 750,000 people a year, and humans that kill almost half a million people per year. You are more likely to get killed by a vending machine, selfie (not paying attention near a cliff), a champagne cork hitting you at a wedding, a falling coconut, a faulty toaster, or even not understanding your doctor’s messy handwritten prescription, than getting killed by a shark. Apparently around 25 people get buried alive each year in the world, and that’s still a lot more likely than being killed by a shark. The man who wrote the book ‘Jaws’ says he now regrets it, due to the bad press it gave sharks.
It’s a myth that swimming on your period could attract sharks. They can smell 1 drop of blood in 100 litres of water. But they are not interested in your menstruation, they would know this was not the blood of a prey animal.
How to Avoid Shark Attacks
These tips are from Florida expert Gavin Naylor and his colleagues, who says ‘If you are frightened, you can always stay out of the water’.
- Swim in groups, but not at dawn or dusk.
- Don’t swim near leaping schools of fish (prey to a shark)
- Don’t wear light-reflecting jewellery (it will look like a darting fish to a shark)
- Don’t splash around, (sharks this is an injured animal)
- Wear dark clothing (a black wetsuit is best)
Bite Back is a UK charity concerned with 3 areas of shark welfare. It is at the forefront of many of the welfare issues listed below. Its campaign director writes ‘If you want to come face-to-face with the ocean’s most deadly predator, you only have to look in the mirror’. You can use their site to report restaurants selling shark fin soup, and send public tweets to supermarkets, to ask them to stop selling shark and other endangered fish.
- Shark Fin Soup. Half of all sharks killed each year, is due to this awful trade, where sharks have their fins removed, and are thrown back in the sea to die. Considered a delicacy in China and Vietnam, it has no taste, and is used for decoration: you can make vegan shark fin soup easily. When abroad, never eat anything dodgy, as you may not know what you are eating. FedEx apparently ships shark fin soup, so boycott them, until they stop.
- Don’t buy or wear shark’s teeth. These are sometimes fossils, but often from killed sharks. Often sold as mementos or jewellery in Florida.
- Stop imported ‘legal’ shark. Although illegal to sell here, the law says anyone can bring a limited amount (makes over 700 bowls) of dried shark fin for personal use. Of course this gets sold on the black market. Write to your MP to ask what the government is doing about it.
Did you know there is a website called ‘Boris Johnson Lies’? One is that he promised to ban shark fin soup, once we came out of the EU. He told Channel 4 news political editor Gary Gibbon that the government could not ban shark fin soup due to EU law, but could when we left. But an expert from University of Sussex said that shark finning has been banned in the EU for ages, and banning imports would not violate World Trade Organisation rules. Verdict: false. He could ban it tomorrow if he wished, and could before we left the EU.
This post has everything to know about eels. Eels are fascinating fish (they are not snakes) and we only have 2 species, who are born in the Sargasso Sea, and take 3 years to reach our waters. Unfortunately many don’t live that long, as they are fished out to become jellied eels (usually bound together with beef gelatine), often sold in London’s east end.
European eels (Anguilla anguilla) are classed as critically endangered by the IUCN Red List. International trade is banned without a CITES permit, but is legal (with restrictions) in the EU, which is why jellied eels are still sold. The species of eel is not always specified on products, so make sure you contact suppliers for specific sourcing information, or avoid. For further information on finding a solution for the sustainable recovery of eels and certified fisheries, please visit Sustainable Eel Group.
Eels look like snakes, because they have large mouths, but no fins. Don’t be surprised if you see one in the wet grass, as they can crawl over it, to reach water. They have no scales but very sharp teeth and sometimes spring out from caves! Moray eels abroad can grow up to 5 feet (one species is 13 feet long). And we know that electric eels shock their prey.
So you may ask, if they are endangered, what are jellied eels? There are limits on how many are caught, although ‘glass eels’ is now an illegal wildlife trade in the Far East. You can make mock eel and buy vegan jellied eels (with mushrooms, so keep away from pets). Unami is a new food product created by a top chef in the US, who started his business making tuna made from tomatoes. By adding various ingredients like soy sauce and Konjac powder, he has replicated the exact taste and mouthfeel.
Extraordinary Books about Eels
- The Superpower Field Guide to Eels is a fun illustrated guide from Olenka. She may be slimy, wiggly and the colour of mud, but she is here to teach you all about eels. Let her amaze you with her double invisibility, shape-shifting and deep-sea hideouts. In fact, she’s so smart that she has baffled the smartest scientists in the world, for thousands of years.
- The Gospel of the Eels weaves natural history with philosophy, a book about one of nature’s strangest creatures. Born as a tiny larva that travels 4000 miles over 2 years around European coasts, it then arrives in freshwater to live a solitary life, before migrating back to the sea, where it breeds and dies. Yet eels are now disappearing, but no-one knows why. Did you know that if you put a drop of rosewater at the foot of the Alps, an eel could smell it?
- Great Adaptations shows how creatures adapt to life. Learn how electric eels paralyse prey, star-nosed moles have super-sensing snouts, tentacle spiders lead prey straight into their mouths and emerald jewel wasps make zombies out of cockroaches.
Ghost fishing waste is estimated to kill at least 1000 whales, seals, dolphins, seabirds sea turtles and other creatures each day. One single net in the North Pacific had 99 dead seabirds, 200 dead fish and 2 dead sharks inside. Nets and fishing line used to be made from biodegradable hemp, but today are made from nylon, which does not break down. Other wildlife choke on fishing hooks, or get tangled in rope. Photographer Francis Perez did untangle this lovely creature, who then freely swam away. But until things change, it could happen again.
- Fishing for Litter gives hard-wearing bags to fishermen, who collect marine litter, which is recycled at the harbour. All costs are covered.
- GhostFishing UK and Neptune’s Army are organisations run by volunteer divers, who collect discarded fishing gear and other items (the latter did indeed once find a kitchen sink).
- Try plant-based alternatives to fish. If you eat fish, choose brands free from by-catch.
- Stow It Don’t Throw It is a fishing line recycling bin designed by scientists, made from old tennis ball cans. Fishing line can later be disposed of in proper recycling bins. Monomaster is a little gadget to fit in your pocket to store fishing line, until you can safely dispose of it. Do not use recycling bins that resemble birds’ nests.
- Seabin Project is used in marinas worldwide, to catch marine trash. As long as you immediately release water, caught creatures can escape. It doesn’t catch microplastics because the inventors left the design, so small creatures like roe can pass.
Products Made from Recycled Fishing Waste
This is a great idea for the following items, but only use sunglasses and flops etc, if you are not by the sea (if they fell in, they won’t biodegrade unlike bamboo or rubber). If you wear clothing made from recycled plastic, launder in a microfiber catch bag to stop fibres breaking off in the machine, and go into the sea. Avoid towels on beaches made with recycled plastic – they release tiny particles onto the sand, which will wash into the sea, when the tide goes in.
- Popsicase is made from fishing waste. These phone cases made from recycled materials are an alternative to biodegradable phone cases (better if you use phone cases near water, in case they dropped in the sea. Whichever one you choose, know that you are doing your bit to help the planet.
- All Earth Mineral Cosmetics are sold in posts made with recycled fishing nets as liners.
- Popsicase (Mediterranean) recycles fishing waste into a ‘plastic’ to make colourful iPhone cases.
- Nona makes clothes pegs made from recycled fishing waste, which are strong and sent in cardboard (free worldwide shipping). The simple design has no moving parts, and won’t rust or mould.
- Sedna Carpet makes carpets and tiles.
- Dura Ocean Chair is a chair made from marine material, mostly ropes from the fishing industry.
- Bureo Skateboards are built to last for life.
Island Sun Studio for Etsy
On the west coast of England (and Wales), it’s common to see lots of moon jellyfish wash up on the beach. It’s upsetting to see a dead jellyfish on the beach. But if it’s not completely dead, what should you do? Beach Stuff says that really, there’s nothing you can do, because as soon as the tide throws a jellyfish to shore, it begins to die. Jellyfish can sense their environment due to neurons, but don’t have a brain, heart or respiratory system, so the kindest though saddest thing to do is likely to leave them. If not dead, they will likely already be dying, and you could make any suffering worse if you keep returning them to sea, for them to wash up again.
Jellyfish can still sting you (or a nosey dog) even when dead. Don’t let dogs go near jellyfish on the beach. If your dog does get stung, pull off any tentacles with a towel (don’t rub or touch them), clean area with sea water, and take dogs straight to the vet.
About the size of a plate, the moon jellyfish has four circles (gonads) through a translucent shell, they are 95% water, and will literally leave a watery footprint in the sand when they have dehydrated out of water. They catch prey using mucus and are one of the favourite food of sea turtles (which is why you should never release balloons, as turtles think they are jellyfish when they land in the sea, then eat them).
If you travel abroad, jellyfish stings can kill. Their long tentacles get wrapped around divers and swimmers, and can inject venom with stingers. Most people just get pain and red marks, but some people get very ill and a few people even die. Try not to swim near large numbers of jellyfish and wear protective clothing, like wetsuits and flippers. Serious divers can buy ‘stinger suits’ and should talk to local lifeguards about areas to avoid.