>> Animals

The minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), while still being one of the largest animals you might be likely to see in British waters, is actually the smallest of the rorqual whales. Their dark-grey skin covering the top half of their body is contrasted with a much lighter underside, and a single white “arm band” is usually visible on each of their flippers. Adult males typically reach a length of 6.7 – 9.8m, female adults average out at around 7.3 – 10.7m; and their typical weight can be anything from 8 to 13 tonnes.

Conservation Status:
IUCN Least Concern

As they’re the most abundant rorqual whale species, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List has it  classified as Least Concern (LC), in terms of its conservation status. They are listed on Appendix I of CITIES throughout the world, with the only exception of Greenland, where it is instead listed under Appendix II.

Where to find them:
B. acturostrata have recently (summer, 2012) been spotted just out of the mouth of the river Mersey by Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust staff, and Sea Watch community sighting records list reports of them off the coast of Blackpool in recent years, prior to this.
They’re known to occupy both coastal and off-shore waters, preferring cooler areas at higher latitudes during the summer, and moving into warmer waters, at lower latitudes during the winter; on the whole – some areas are known to have year-round populations, however; we’d be interested to find out whether our own, local specimens behave in such as way, much as at least part of our Harbour Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) population does.

Diet:
Minkes are baleen whales, meaning that they filter water through their baleen plates, to sieve out invertebrates and small fish. Throughout the north Atlantic, their diet consists of largely sand lace, sand eel, salmon (a species that we’re currently seeing an exciting resurgence in, locally), capelin, mackerel (something that we have in great abundance, in this region in particular), cod, whiting, sprat, wolffish, dogfish, pollack, haddock, herring, euphasiids (krill and the like) and copepods (very small crustaceans and assorted planktonic species).
So far, in this region, minke whales have only been spotted individually, and they are largely a solitary species; but they are often seen feeding in pairs. They’ve been known to trap shoals of fish against the surface of the water, which they can take advantage of due to their surprising manoeuvrability.

Did you know Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust volunteers spotted a minke whale leaving the River Mersey in  summer 2012?

Found throughout the eastern Atlantic Ocean in sediment such as mud or sand and in shallow water no deeper than 60m. Found as far south as South Africa, the cosmopolitan thornback ray (Raja clavata) is common in the waters of Liverpool Bay. Growing up to a 1.3m in length, this ray earns its common name from the thorn like spines found down the centre of its body and its tail and further across their body as they age, even on the underside in females. They are commonly sandy brown in colour and have white spots across their backs. The oviparous thornback lays up to 160 eggs each year and these eggs, known as mermaids purses (similar to those of the small spotted and greater spotted catsharks, but are noticeably wider) are often found on beaches around Liverpool Bay suggesting the animals commonly breed in our local waters.

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Near Threatened.

The thornback is an important commercial species and in much of its range, it is also commonly caught as bycatch and in recent years has led to the decline of this species. Due the size of this ray, they are unable to escape nets when caught and are often killed when caught. With slow growth rates and low fecundity, fisheries have become a serious threat to this species.

Diet:
Thornback rays feed on a wide range of species from crustaceans to fish. Juveniles primarily feeding on small crustaceans such as amphipods and small shrimp. The adult diet widening to include large crustaceans and small fish species.

Where to find them:
Thornbacks rays are commonly found throughout the Irish sea and Liverpool Bay’s sandy seabed is ideal habitat for them. In the November they are known to be found in large numbers in the River Mersey, though the reason for this is as yet unknown. Mermaids purses are also commonly found on the beaches across Liverpool Bay.

Did you know that rays and sharks form a group called elasmobranchs and the major difference between the two is the location of their gills? In sharks gills are on the side of their body, in rays they are on the underside.

There are three types of ‘sea’ tern (Sterna spp) in Liverpool Bay, these are the Common Tern, the Sandwich Tern and the Arctic Tern.
All of these species are pale grey and white in colour, with a black capped head. They are slim, with pointed wings and long tail streamers. The common and arctic terns are extremely similar in appearance, both having reddish legs and red bills. The main difference between the two species is that common terns have a black tip to their bill, which arctic terns lack. Sandwich terns, on the other hand, have distinctive black legs and a black bill with a yellow tip.
Common terns are 110 – 145 g in weight, with a wingspan of 75 – 80cm. Arctic terns are slightly smaller, weighing between 95 – 120g, with a wingspan of 66 – 77cm. Sandwich terns are the largest of the terns found in Liverpool Bay, with a weight of 180 – 300g and a wingspan of 85 – 97cm.

Conservation Status:
IUCN Least Concern

Where to find them:
Regularly seen on the water around Liverpool Bay, they can often be seen feeding in the Mersey.

Diet:
All three species feed mainly on small fish, which they catch by plunge-diving into the water.

 
Did you know the arctic tern migrates yearly from the Arctic to Antarctica

Six kinds of gull (Larus spp) can be commonly seen in Liverpool Bay, these are; Common gull, Herring gull, Mediterranean gull, Black-headed gull and the Lesser and Great black-backed gulls.
The common and herring gull look very similar, but common gulls are somewhat smaller in size with a smaller beak. The lesser and great black-backed gulls also look extremely similar, but the latter can be identified by its larger size, darker back and paler, pinker legs. The black-headed gull is one of the smaller members of the gull family, identifiable by its reddish-coloured legs. Its dark-brown (as opposed to black) head becomes a white colour during winter, with a dark spot remaining near the eye. The Mediterranean gull is slightly larger than the black-headed gull, and has a completely black head, red legs and a reddish bill with dark markings near the tip in most individuals.
The gulls weight can range from 300g (common gull) through to a whopping 2.3kg (great black-backed gull), with a wing-span ranging from 86cm (black-headed gull) to 1.67m (great black-backed gull).

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Least Concern

Where to find them:
These gulls are all common species in Liverpool Bay, with no lack of abundance around the coastline.

Diet:
Gulls will eat a wide range of foods, but their diet mainly consists of small fish and invertebrates such as worms.

 
Did you know gulls have long, slim wings which are incredibly strong?

The tope shark (Galeorhinus galeus) is a long, slender shark, with large, almond-shaped eyes and a sizable mouth, containing sharp, triangular teeth; making it one of our more interesting, predatory marine species. Like most other marine vertebrates, tope shark have a much lighter underside than their bluish-to-dusky-grey top side – this patterning, known as countershading makes them difficult to see either from above or below, by both their predators (e.g. larger sharks, minke whales etc, in this region) and by their prey.
Adult males can reach a maximum length of 193cm, and females have been known to reach even greater lengths; as much as 195cm. Juveniles under 61cm differ from their larger counterparts in that they usually have black tips on their dorsal and caudal fins, and a white edge on the pectoral fins.

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Vulnerable
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognises the threatened nature of this species, struggling as it is to combat the various human-induced threats it suffers; and has categorised it as Vulnerable (V), accordingly. The most well-known threat to this species is that which faces so many other shark species: the shark fin trade. In addition to this, tope shark numbers are dwindling because of increased harvesting – of its skin for leather and oil from their liver – and because of sport fishing.

Where to find them:
Tope sharks can be found throughout temperate waters around the world, with two notable exceptions: the northwest Pacific and northwest Atlantic. They tend to prefer less coastal areas, though are still sometimes seen within visual range of the shore; and can be found anywhere from the sea bed, to the surface, depending on what type of prey animal they’re currently hunting.
Locally, the Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust has found tope sharks ~18 miles off the coast of Southport, Northwest England. Based on their typical range and habitat preference, and records from local fisherman, we expect them to occupy at least the majority of Liverpool Bay; and our on-going shark tagging programme is at least in part aimed at confirming this information.

Diet:
The tope shark is an opportunistic predator, hunting a wide range of species, based on what is available at the time, with a preference for bony fish such as mackerel (particularly in Liverpool Bay), cod, herring, sardines and whiting. When these species aren’t available, tope shark will happily switch to bottom-dwelling animals, like crustaceans and molluscs.

Did you know: A 1.67m tope shark currently holds the record as the largest shark tagged by the Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust!

The bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) is probably the most well-known dolphin species in the world. There appears to be a general trend of inshore specimens being smaller than the larger, more robust variety that live offshore; but in British waters, we’re known for having some of the longest and stockiest specimens in the world, throughout our coastal waters. They have a torpedo-shaped body, are coloured dark grey along the back, paler grey on the flanks and more white-pinkish underneath, and earn their common name with their long, protruding rostrum.
The most easily-recognisable features of the bottlenose dolphin as it breaks the surface of the water are its tendency to display acrobatic feats as it leaps from the water, but more so the more curved, sickle-shaped dorsal fin and overall body size, relative to the other most commonly-sighted cetacean in this region, – the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena); which is much smaller, and has a more triangular dorsal fin.
Adult males usually range between 2.4 – 3.8 meters in length. Female adults tend to be slightly smaller, typically anywhere from 2.3 – 3.7 meters.

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Least Concern
Common as they are, along almost all of the world’s temperate, tropical and subtropical coasts, we find them in high abundance in this region, too. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s Red List has classifies the Common Bottlenose Dolphin as Least Concern (LC), and are listed under Appendix II of CITIES. Protection, or at the very least, study of this species, is still vital due to the role it plays as an apex predator in each of the ecosystems that it occupies. The affects of human disturbance, hunting and being caught in fishing nets need to be continually monitored to ensure that our populations do not start to suffer at an increased rate.

Where to find them:
Bottlenose dolphins occupy both coasts and offshore habitats, often found in both open waters, and also rocky reefs and lagoons. The species are regularly seen throughout the region, occupying the entirety of Liverpool Bay (from the Dee estuary all the way as far north as the Cumbrian coast); with the mouths of the Mersey and Dee rivers, and off the coast of Blackpool being the main areas where they’re spotted by the public, in recent years.

Diet:
Famous for its intelligence and cognitive ability, the Common Bottlenose Dolphin engages in a wide array of feeding and hunting behaviours, many of which are unique to specific populations in isolated areas. The range of prey species that they hunt is just as wide, including numerous species of small fish, crustacean and squid.

Did you know the bottlenose dolphin engages in an interesting, but as yet largely under-studied interaction with the region’s other, most abundant cetacean, the harbour porpoise. The dolphins have been known to harass them, rake them with their teeth; potentially resulting in the death of the porpoise. Numerous such injured porpoise have been washed up on our coasts, dead. We don’t yet know the reasons for this behaviour.

Did you know that Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust aided in the first photo identification bottlenose dolphin off Merseyside.

Grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) are the larger of the two species of seal found commonly around Liverpool Bay, males (Bulls) can reach sizes of 2.3m by the age of 11, with females (Cows: as seen in the main image) reaching sizes of 1.5m by the age of 15. Coat colour can vary from silver through brown to a dark grey colour, though the sexes are distinguishable by their coat colour. In males, the darker colour forms the continuous background, with lighter tones forming patches. Whereas females have a lighter colour as the background with darker patches.

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Least Concern
In the UK, Grey Seals are protected under The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 during closed season (1st September to 31st December).

Where to find them:
Grey Seals are split into three reproductively-isolated populations; The West Atlantic, Baltic and East Atlantic populations, the latter is centred around the British Isles. They are known to breed in large colonies in several areas around the British coast. Grey seals are sighted commonly around Liverpool Bay, with Hilbre Island being a popular area for sightings. Outside of breeding season, Grey Seals can be seen covering large areas of the sandbanks near Hilbre Islands.

Diet:
Grey Seals have a diet comprising of a wide variety of fish. However, it is clear they will eat whatever is available.

Did you know Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust are starting a Grey Seal identification project by looking at the pelage of individuals?

Did you know West Hoyle is the largest haul-out site in the in the North West of England, with 600 individuals at any one time.

Also known as the harbour seal, the common seal (Phoca vitulina) is the smaller of the two seal species found in Britain and is distinguished by their distinctive “v-shaped” nostrils. Males can reach a size of 1.8m, with females reaching 1.5m, weighing up to 87.5-113kg. The colour varies from light tan to dark brown/grey with many small spots covering their coat. Also, males are often darker in colour than females. Common seals reach sexual maturity earlier than grey seals, with males reaching sexual maturity around the age of 6.

Conservation Status:
IUCN status Least Concern
In the UK, the Common Seal is protected under The Conservation of Seals Act 1970 during closed season (1st June to 31st August).

Where to find them:
Common seals spend a lot of their time at sea, coming ashore to breed and moult, with relatively large numbers being sighted around Liverpool Bay. They tend to prefer sheltered, rocky shores and are known to frequent areas which are familiar to them.

Diet:
Common seals eat a diet consisting fish. In British waters, their diet is known to consist of Flounder, Sole, Herring, Eel, Goby and Cod.

Did you know the UK boasts 45% of the European population of common seals?

Did you know that despite the name “Common Seal”, their global population is only 5-6 million.

Common Smooth-Hound Shark (Mustelus mustelus)
and
Starry Smooth-Hound Shark (Mustelus asterias)

The smooth-hound sharks are members of the Triakidae family (along with tope). Both species are found regularly throughout Liverpool Bay. The starry smooth-hound is distinguished from the common smooth-hound by the highly reflective spots upon its back, the lighter grey colouring and smaller size (up to 1.4m) rather than the sandy brown of the common smooth-hound and larger size (up to 2m). Both these species use different breeding methods, while the common smooth-hound is viviparous, the starry smooth-hound is aplacental viviparous (also known as ovoviparous).These two sharks are both target species of the Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trusts and the UK Shark Tagging Programme’s tagging project.

Triakidae are commonly known as hound sharks due to these animals aggregating in large numbers like a pack of dogs.

Conservation Status:

Starry Smooth-hound
IUCN status Least Concern

Common Smooth-hound
IUCN status Vulnerable

Diet:
Both of these sharks feed primarily on crustaceans such as crabs, lobsters, hermit crabs and slipper lobsters.

Where to find them:
Both species of smooth-hound are caught regularly throughout the summer in the rock channel off New Brighton and are also known in the Mersey. They are also widely distributed in the shallower areas of Liverpool Bay at depths under 100m. It is also believed that New Brighton is an important pupping ground for these sharks.

Did you know that the first shark tagged by Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust was a Common smooth-hound?

Did you know that we know very little about these species in general and we hope our research will change that.

Small-Spotted Catshark (Scyliorhinus canicula)
and
Large-Spotted Catshark (Scyliorhinus stellaris)
Both member of the family Scyliorhinidae, the small and large spotted catsharks have a plethora of alternative names. These include lesser-spotted dogfish, rock salmon, sandy dogfish or rough hound (small-spotted catshark) and nursehound, large-spotted dogfish, greater-spotted dogfish or bull huss (large-spotted catshark).
Small-spotted catsharks can reach sizes of 1m, whilst the large-spotted catsharks reach a larger size of 1.6m. The closely related species look extremely similar, however, the large-spotted catshark have larger spots and nasal flaps which, unlike the small-spotted catshark, do not reach the mouth.
Both species are found in the inter-tidal zone, up to 400m deep, though are much rarer below a depth of 100m. Small-spotted catsharks prefer sandy, muddy, and rocky bottoms, whereas the large-spotted catsharks prefer calm, quiet bottoms.
With regards to reproduction, both species are oviparous. They deposit egg-cases mostly in shallow coastal waters. These egg-cases are tough and offer protection, with large-spotted catsharks egg-cases being slightly larger (10-13cm, as opposed to the 6cm length of the small-spotted catsharks egg cases).
The small-spotted catshark has a much longer lifespan, at up to 75 years as opposed to up to 20 years for the large-spotted catshark.

Conservation Status:

Small-spotted catshark – IUCN status Least Concern

Large-spotted catshark – IUCN status Near Threatened

Where to find them:
Small-spotted catsharks are one of the most abundant elasmobranchs in the Northeast Atlantic, with many being found in British waters. Both species are frequently caught by Liverpool Bay Marine Life Trust on their tagging trips, however, they are not a species we currently tag.

Diet:
Both the small and large-spotted catsharks are considered opportunistic feeders, feeding on a wide range of species, including crustaceans and bony-fish (such as mackerel). Large-spotted catsharks will also eat smaller sharks, such as the small-spotted catshark.

Did you know that catsharks are distinguishable from dogfish by their anal fin, which dogfish do not have.
Did you know the large-spotted catshark has such rough skin that it was once used to polish wood.

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    Number Of Animals Spotted: 3
    Location: Blackpool
    Date Spotted: 06-06-2014
    Spotted By: David McGrath (via Twitter)

    Harbour Porpoise
    Number Of Animals Spotted: 1-2
    Location: Otterspool - River Mersey
    Date Spotted: 26-04-2014
    Spotted By: Garlen Saldanha

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