We are blessed at Shrewsbury School to have an abundance of rich material for any natural historian on our doorstep – and the Natural History Society take full advantage of this in their weekly sessions. But on Field Days they have the opportunity to travel further afield to explore new habitats. Earlier this term they headed to the Welsh Coast.
On arrival at New Quay in Cardigan Bay, our group of nine keen Natural Historians were met by Emma Lowe, the Living Seas Awareness Educational Officer. Emma began the day with a presentation on the work the Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre carry out in the Cardigan Bay ecosystem, a 1000km2 SAC (Special Area of Conservation). The Centre was established in 2005 and marine scientists have been monitoring the health of the ecosystem, and in particular monitoring populations of marine mammals, including Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), Harbour Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) and Atlantic Grey Seals (Halichoerus grypus), daily since then.
During the morning workshop we practised identifying sea shells and had a chance to handle several skulls of marine mammals. Once we had honed our identification skills we spent an hour strandline-combing, which revealed amongst other things a washed-up barrel jellyfish, (Rhizostoma pulmo). This led to searching questions such as ‘how do you know if a jellyfish is dead?’ - apparently not such a silly question - and ‘can a dead jellyfish still sting you?’.
The Centre has been collecting data on individuals, recognised by photographs taken of their sickle-shaped dorsal fins. Over 250 different individuals have been recorded so far, making this the largest semi-resident population in the UK. Several pods of dolphins, including ‘Whitecap’ and her calf, swam around the harbour wall all afternoon. The seas were too rough for us to join the scientists on a sea survey, but we all managed to enjoy a ‘swim’ with Common Dolphins using a top-of-the-range VR headset.
More than half the world’s population of Atlantic Grey Seals are found in the Cardigan Bay ecosystem. Other visiting mammals seen in the bay include Orca, Common Dolphin, Risso’s Dolphin, Minke Whale, Fin Whale (the second largest whale and possibly the fastest, travelling at 35 miles an hour). Other species seen here include the Ocean Sunfish, Basking Sharks and Leatherback Turtles.
We joined the scientists on the harbour wall in the afternoon and carried out a two-hour land-based survey, collecting data at 15-minute intervals.
A fish and chip lunch on the harbour wall was followed by a delicious ice-cream, rounding off a wonderful Field Day.