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Field work with Nature Live

3 Posts tagged with the clingfish tag
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I am very happy to reveal that I have now finally had success with obtaining some decent specimens. Over the past three days myself and various assistants have used a variety of methods (seine nets, fishing rods, hands) on three different islands (St Mary's, St Agnes and Bryher) and have collected at least 16 different species of fish. It's hard to say for for sure exactly how many until I can get back to the Museum and look at some of them under a microscope.

 

Most of them are on the list of fishes I made before I left but there are a few which will be new records for our collection from this locality. It's been a great pleasure to meet naturalist and local legend Rosemary Parslow, who collected most of our Scillonian fish specimens back in the 1970s and compare notes and get some advice about where to get certain species.

 

On Friday, despite grim weather conditions, we headed down to Porth Hellick on the southern side of St Mary's. At this point all I had to show was one baby sandeel so my joy was unconfined when our first drag of the seine net through a large rock pool produced tens of little bodies flopping about.  Most of these were sand gobies - some of the fattest I've ever seen - but there were also some juvenile flatfish.

 

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Fat sand gobies (Pomatoschistus minutus)

 

A few more drags produced some other species of goby and a very dark looking shanny.

 

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Shanny (Lipophrys pholis)

 

The best find of the day for me was a worm pipefish which I found underneath a rock. These are not very fast swimmers but are hard to spot as they look just like a bit of seaweed. A closer look at the specimen revealed something interesting, a cluster of orange eggs stuck to the belly of the fish indicating that this was a male specimen.

 

Pipefishes are in the same family as seahorses (syngnathidae), and like them, the male takes care of the eggs after they have been laid by the female.  I felt a bit guilty taking this specimen but I had never seen one like this before. I should point out that all the fish I collect are anaesthetised using clove oil before preservation so the process is as painless as possible (this also makes for nicer looking specimens).

 

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Male worm pipefish (Nerophis lumbriciformis) with eggs

 

The following day the weather had improved vastly and we boarded a boat for St Agnes, the island to the south of St Mary's. Rosemary had recommended a particular bay called Porth Killier so we headed there full of optimism. Upon looking at it my heart fell slightly as the whole area was thickly blanketed in various kinds of seaweed - lots of places for fish to escape and tricky to use the seine. Nevertheless, Tom and I carefully ventured forth and after about half an hour of rummaging about in the kelp I found my first ever clingfish!

 

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Porth Killier, St Agnes

 

Sadly this escaped a bit later due to an incident with the bucket and I did my best to be philosophical about this. We got some more pipefish and some rock gobies so all was not lost but then Tom developed some kind of clingfish sixth sense and within half an hour or so we had seven specimens of two different species (shore clingfish and small-headed clingfish).

 

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Shore clingfish (Lepadogaster lepadogaster)

 

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Two rock gobies (Gobius paganellus) and a small-headed clingfish (Apletodon dentatus)

 

If there's one thing I have really got out of this trip it's a greater appreciation of other people's specialities. Suddenly I find myself looking at flies and plants and shellfish in a whole new way (one of the other nice results from our trip to St Agnes were the discoveries of blue-rayed limpets and spotted cowries in the kelp). But in particular crabs.

 

Previously I thought there were shore crabs (the browny-green ones) and edible crabs (the pinky-purple ones) and that was probably about it, but my crab universe has now expanded exponentially. On St Agnes I found what I think were five or six different species, some of which were relatively benign when disturbed, some of which were furious. Every rock we turned over also revealed a wealth of fascinating creatures, and at times I almost forgot about fish.

 

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A strange crab

 

Returning home triumphant we decided to round off the day with a spot of fishing at Penninis Head. This was initially extremely successful and I caught a nice big ballan wrasse on a fishing rod that telescopes into something the size of a pen and Tom got a fine pollock. Although both of these are edible (although opinions vary about the wrasse) the national collection trumps our stomachs and they were placed in the freezer when we got back. I have never before seen the attractive blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse, another first for our trip.

 

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Ballan wrasse (Labrus bergylta)

 

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The blue inner lips of the ballan wrasse

 

I'm afraid I have now run out of time and I think the limpet risotto is just about ready. More soon and I will leave you with this, one of the black rabbits - descended from escaped pets - that live just outside our bunker.

 

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Black rabbit of St Mary's

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On day 6 of our trip I followed James Maclaine, Curator of fish at the Museum. James has a variety of tools he uses to make his collections including a 25m seine net. A few nights ago we went out to test the net and made a short video. Please note the temperature of the water is not as tropical as it looks! James has had some good success with the seine net in the past and you can read about what he found on this trip in his own post to the blog.

 

 

 

Seine net fishing

 

This morning we went to the nearby island of St Agnes. This is one of the most remote of the inhabited islands in Scilly and faces out bravely into the Atlantic. When the wind is blowing it can be a very extreme environment but today there was only a slight breeze, the sea was a flat as a pancake and the island felt very balmy. This was a good thing as spent most of the morning wading through the falling tide, turning over rocks and trying to find some very elusive fish.

 

PIC 1 (Custom).JPGSt Agnes in the sun

 

 

 

 

Looking for elusive fish in rock pools on the shore of St Agnes

 

In the Museum collection there are two species of clingfish that had already been collected from the Isles of Scilly, Lepadogaster lepadogaster (shore clingfish) and Apleton dentatus (small-headed clingfish). However, these were obtained in the 1970s and James was keen to find out if both species were still here. The two fish seemed to have very specific and quite distinct habitats and it took a few hours to crack the code of where to find them. We found the small-headed variety in the hold fasts of kelp.

 

PIC 2 (Custom).JPGJames finds a likely home for the small-headed clingfish

 

 

PIC 3 (Custom).JPGApleton dentatus (small-headed clingfish)

 

The shore clingfish seemed to live under particularly large rocks that were sitting in water.

 

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PIC 5 (Custom).jpgThe underside 'sucker' of the clingfish

 

It was great to find both species of fish still living in the bay where they were also found about 40 years ago, and also to be able to add a couple of modern specimens to our collection that can be used to extract samples of their DNA.

 

PIC 6 (Custom).JPGThe flora of one of the rock pools on St Agnes

 

It was great fun working in the rock pools and we found some fascinating things.

 

PIC 7 (Custom).JPGOne of our finds, a starfish ...

 

This starfish was a particular menace to the other specimens in our bucket so had to be separated - here you can see it working it's way through a tiny squat lobster.

 

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... mostly harmless to us but not so nice if you are a squat lobster

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And so dear reader, here it is, my first ever blog post. Until last week I thought there was more chance of me giving birth than ever blogging but when I was asked I thought well why not, it might be educational, for me and for you. As one of two fish curators here at the Museum it’s one of my jobs to enhance our already massive collection of fish specimens, and when the opportunity arose to do some collecting on the Isles of Scilly I leapt at the chance like a randy salmon. I hope, if you bear with me, I can give you an idea of what it's like to carry out field work for the Museum and also with any luck tell you a little bit about some of the fishes found on and around the islands.

 

James-maclaine-pufferfish-copyright-natural-history-museum.jpgMe with one of the Museum's fish specimens in storage.

 

If (like me until recently) you are not familiar with the location of the Isles of Scilly, then I can now enlighten you. They are, I think, the most south-westerly part of the UK and lie about 30 miles to the west of Land's End, out in the Atlantic where relatively warm oceanic currents ensure that the climate is generally very mild compared to the rest of the country. This also means that they are potentially very interesting in terms of marine life. The last big collections of Scilly fishes that the Museum acquired were made in the 1970s and it's possible that things may have changed since then. The islands are likely to be one of the first ports of call for any species migrating north as oceanic temperatures rise.

 

I have compiled a list of all the fish species the Museum currently has from that locality (26 in total) and the aim of the trip will be to collect anything not already on that list, especially anything that has never been recorded before in any literature as being found on Scilly. However, it would still nice to get fresh specimens of those already listed as these can now be used for DNA analysis or for exchange with other museums. I particularly want to see clingfish, which are found, as the name suggests, clinging to boulders in rock-pools. What would be really exciting is to see a seahorse but as these are very special and protected I'm not permitted to interfere with them in any way so don't expect any pictures. We (me and my various assistants) are highly motivated and have small handnets, a 25m seine net and five fishing rods so nothing will escape us.

 

The main way of getting to the islands is on a boat called the Scillonian. I have to confess to being slightly nervous about this as I had a bad experience on a boat a few years ago from which I still bear the mental scars. On a really good day the trip takes about two and half hours and the passengers can expect to see whales, dolphins, ocean sunfish and basking sharks frolicking alongside the boat. On a bad day things aren't so jolly. I just Googled "scillonian vomit" and got 6,110 results, the first of which is titled "Scillonian Pukefest" and apparently the boat is also known as the "Vomit Rocket". Ah, how bad can it be? It'll be fine I'm sure when we sail on Tuesday.

 

Ok, that's it for now. Hopefully next time there will be some nice pictures of dolphins from the boat and fishes from the islands. Until the next time ...