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For those that love the thrill of uncovering small and inquisitive species, rockpooling is a must-do activity. The rock pools are diverse habitats with a plethora of animals like crabs, fish, sea snails and starfish just waiting to be uncovered.
In this article, we’re going to cover some of the best tips to making the most of your day out.
Okay, so first thing’s first. Like all outdoor activities, to make the most of them, you need to choose a suitable time of year. Luckily, rockpooling is an activity that’s best done in favourable weather conditions. Late spring to early autumn is the best time of year. This is because the temperatures are at their warmest and weather isn’t too harsh.
It’s also important to consider the tide when planning a day out to visit the rock pools. To make the most of your rockpooling, you should be looking to visit during the low tide. This is because the rock pools with more to uncover will be found closer to the sea. At low tide, you will be able to reach these animal-rich pools with much greater ease. Just make sure to pay attention to the returning tide and allow yourself plenty of time to leave the area before it is able to reach you.
Like we said, the best areas to look are those closest to the sea. Think of it like this: we humans prefer to stay dry for as long as possible, except for marine creatures it’s the opposite. They like to be submerged for as long as possible. This means that the rockpools closest to the sea are the ones which stay submerged the longest.
So that’s tip #1: Make sure to look on the lowest stretches of the beach.
Just being close to the sea, however, is one factor. Many rocky shores (like the one pictured below) can be quite tall and therefore the taller parts of the rocks will not be submerged for as long as those at the lower portion.
That’s tip #2: Look mostly in the pools lowest to the ground. This doesn’t mean to say you can’t or shouldn’t look higher up. You may still be lucky and find some really cool stuff, which brings us to the next section.
Before we continue, make sure to remember that whilst it’s okay to handle some creatures, do so with caution. This is to make sure you’re not harming the animals or causing too much stress to any of them. Not to mention, it’s probably in your best interest so that you can avoid any injuries that may come from being stung, bitten or nipped.
With this in mind, you’ll find that your best discoveries will be the result of rummaging through thick patches of seaweed. But, don’t overlook the smelly-slimy stuff. Seaweed is fascinating okay. It may not seem it, but it is.
Seaweed is fascinating okay. It may not seem it, but it is.
For instance, did you know that seaweeds are not plants? Well you heard (or read) that right, seaweed is NOT a plant, it is in fact, a multi-cellular alga. They are hugely important to the planet and are responsible for producing 70% of the world’s oxygen. So when you’re next rummaging past them keep an eye out for these two common species.
This is a very common species easily found throughout the UK on the low shore. It’s also very easy to identify, notice how the edges are serrated like a bread knife. Use this to remember its name, serratus= serrated.
Pronounced: few-cuss seh-rah-tus
This is another common species, it’s found higher up on the shore than what Fucus serratus is. It has two key traits to look for when trying to identify it.
Pronounced: few-cuss vez-iku-low-sus
Okay, now that we’ve covered these two types of seaweed lets move on to the stuff that most people really care about. Actual moving creatures. These are just a handful of the most common animals that you can expect to find. For a more comprehensive list, check out this Wikipedia Page.
Creatures, that are always a big hit and are fairly common throughout most rockpools are crabs. Within most UK rockpools, chances are, if you find a crab it’ll be one these little guys or gals: a Common Shore Crab. They are fairly small and only grow up to about 10cm in width.
Just because this species is not as common as the above species, doesn’t mean to say it can’t be found. The Edible Crab (best not to eat straight from the sea) is a very recognisable species. They are a brown/orange colour and can grow quite large (up to 25cm in width). The also possess very strong claws, unlike the Shore Crab. So if you do plan to responsibly handle one, do so with caution.
Also known as gunnels, these fish are small eel-like creatures that like to hide in the small nooks and crannies in-between rocks. They get their name from the oily substance that covers their body. When passing through your fingers, it’s said to feel like butter.
Blennies are similar in size to the butterfishes, they are starkly different, however. You will see them resting on the bottom of the pools, supported by modified fins towards the front of their body. This makes the fish rest in an angled upwards position where you can see it pumping water through its gills.
Very common across nearly every rocky shore you can visit, the Limpet is exceptional at clinging onto the rocks. It uses suction to keep itself hanging on, they are able to withstand being pulled away by practically anything. Only with the help of tools can people hope to pull these animals off. Recently, it was discovered that their radula (a feeding structure used to scrape off algae from rocks) is the world’s strongest biological material. Even stronger than a spider’s silk.
More often than not, when you come across these small snails, they will be hidden within their protective shell. Unlike Limpets, Periwinkles are not able to cling to surfaces very well. Crashing waves are easily able to carry them away, which makes them easy to pick up and have a look at.
Like the name suggests, this starfish can be found throughout the rockpools. Unlike creatures such as crabs and snails, they are not happy out of the water. So if you decide to handle one, do so inside the pool or within a bucket of sea water. Pay attention to the tips of the starfishes arms. If they begin to curl upwards it means they are becoming stressed, at which point, you should put them down.
This little Anemone has a distinctive red colour which makes it stand out, leaving it easy to spot whilst rockpooling. They are anchored to rocky surfaces, where they let the flow of water brush over their tentacles, making them sway gently.
Now that we’ve outlined some of the most common creatures to be found whilst rockpooling, let’s end by talking about mermaid’s purses. Like the name suggests, they resemble something of a lady’s coin purse. Given their distribution in the marine environment, they were eventually referred to as belonging to mermaids. Hence the name.
What they actually are, however, is the egg cases of sharks and rays. See, sharks and rays are closely related, belonging to a group of fish called: Elasmobranchs. Here in the UK, we’re lucky that the majority of these species lay eggs. Oftentimes, these light egg cases are washed up by the sea and end up trapped in small rock pools.
If you’re lucky enough you might get to find the cases of a Lesser-Spotted Catshark or a Thornback Ray whilst rockpooling. If you’re even luckier there may be a shark or ray inside the egg case. To check, carefully lift the case in front of a light and try to see if there’s a silhouette from inside the case.