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The art of fish watching

By Julie Hatcher, Dorset Wildlife Trust

 

Lots of people go bird watching but have you ever tried fish watching?  Many fish make their home on the seashore, and summer is a good time to look for them in rockpools when the tide is out. Here are a few tips to help you fish watch.....

Unlike bird watching, you don’t need binoculars, but you do need a good seashore guide to help with identification.

 

Sit quietly beside a rockpool and wait for the animals to come out of hiding.  Many rockpool fish are well-camouflaged, so you’ll only spot them when they move.

 

Using a crab net bag

Use your fingers to explore – not a net.  Sweeping around with a fishing net will scare fish into hiding.  Instead, probe under the seaweed with fingers and gently lift small rocks to see who’s hiding beneath. Carefully replace them afterwards in the exact position.

 

Drop bait, inside a crab-line net bag (don’t use a hook!), into a rockpool and wait patiently to see which fish investigate it.  (Use our activity sheet to find out how to make your own crab-line.)

Clingfish eggs

Rockpool fish often stay to guard their clusters of eggs. If you notice eggs beneath a rock (like the Clingfish eggs pictured on the right) gently replace everything and leave them undisturbed.

 

Wear a snorkel and mask, lie down on the dry rock beside a rockpool and lower your face into the water. You may be lucky enough to come face-to-face with an inquisitive blenny!

 

 

The Seashore Code

 

Always follow the Seashore Code to make sure you don’t do any harm to wildlife:

 

1. Respect marine wildlife

  • Take only photos – don’t take any living things away with you.
  • Carefully replace seaweed and rocks exactly as you found them.
  • Observe wildlife where it lives - limpets, anemones and seaweeds will die if pulled off rocks.
  • Respect rockpools – they are a creature’s home.
  • Avoid trampling in rockpools or on plants and animals – keep to bare rock, it is less slippery.

 

2. Take your litter home

 

3. Keep safe - check tide times before venturing around the coast



Rockpool Fish ID

 

Blenny (Shanny)

 

Blenny (Shanny)
The most easily spotted rockpool fish – the ‘nosey neighbour’, always keen to investigate.  It may come right up to your snorkel mask and peer in at you, or nibble your fingers if you poke them in the water! Beware of its strong teeth though – blennies love to eat barnacles by crushing their tough shells to get the delicate animal within.

 

 

 

 

Goby

 

Common goby
Lots of different types of goby look very similar.  Where they are found can be a clue – sand gobies live on sandy shores and rock gobies are found in rockpools.  To make it even more difficult, gobies look very similar to blennies. However their behaviour is very different – blennies are bold and inquisitive and will swim up to the surface, gobies are shy and stay close to the bottom.

 

 

Worm pipefish

 

Worm pipefish
You need to search under rocks for this fish and then use your fingers to explore the seaweed.  If a sliver of seaweed wriggles then it’s probably a worm pipefish!  Pipefish are like stretched out seahorses and the worm pipefish is the smallest.  They have no scales but instead have a rigid armour of bony plates beneath their skin.

 

 

Sea scorpion

 

Sea scorpion
This master of disguise changes colour to blend in with its background and then sits motionless waiting for a tasty morsel to swim by.  It feeds on small fish and prawns almost as big as itself, swallowing them whole with its large mouth.  You need excellent observation skills to spot this one. Don’t worry – despite the name this fish does not sting!

 

 

 

Grey mullet

 

Grey mullet
Not all fish in rockpools live there permanently.  Some are temporarily trapped as the tide retreats, while others are seeking safety from predators only while they are small.  Shoals of young grey mullet are often seen in rockpools, their silvery scales betraying the fact that they are really open-water fish, only visiting the safety of the shallows.

 

 


Shore Clingfish


Clingfish
The shore clingfish or Cornish sucker has two bright blue spots on its head while the Connemara clingfish exhibits red cheeks and a nervously inquisitive nature.  It may be tempted out of hiding by a tasty morsel of bait but at the first sign of danger it will dart back beneath a rock, clinging tightly with its sucker-like fin to avoid being pulled off by predators or waves.

 

 

 

 

Do you want to do more to help marine wildlife?  Then why not take part in our Starfish Pledge.  All you need to do is print out the starfish template, colour it in and send it to the Prime Minister to ask him to help protect our seas. Find out more about the starfish pledge.

 

Photo credits: all photos (c) Julie Hatcher except: Grey Mullet (c) Kay Weeks, Shanny (c) Paul Naylor, Worm pipefish (c) Chris Fryatt