Brighton Dolphin Project

Many of us walk along Brighton seafront gazing out at the beautiful ocean, but what actually lives beneath the waves? 

From the surface, the answer may appear to be ‘not much’ but as this video shows, looks can be deceiving…

This  pod of bottlenose dolphins was seen just a mile off Shoreham Port by Brighton Fish Sales on 26/05/2020 (courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project), and it’s not only bottlenose dolphins that visit Sussex seas…

We are lucky enough to have six species of marine mammal living in Sussex!  They include: bottlenose, white-beaked and common dolphins, harbour porpoises, grey seals and harbour seals.

That’s where Brighton Dolphin Project come in.  The Sussex coastline is the most poorly researched area for marine mammals. Their mission is to tell the world about the dolphins of Sussex, research these wonderful cetaceans and find out just how many are Brighton residents.

White-Beaked dolphin illustration, copyright Brighton Dolphin Project

To find out where the dolphins are, and how they are behaving, Brighton Dolphin Project needs people to get involved and send in their sightings as part of a huge citizen science project.

“we ask people to report any sightings and tell us about their experience. To date we have over 200 sightings of marine mammals recorded and these are only the sightings that have been sent into us!”

The future for Brighton Dolphin Project

The future is looking bright for Brighton Dolphin Project. The project is growing larger and they are in the process of moving into exciting new premises at Shoreham Port. They are hoping to gather more data too – the more data they have, the more likely they are to be able to protect dolphins in Sussex.

Take action!

You can help Brighton Dolphin Project by…

  • Keeping your eyes peeled for any marine mammals in Sussex. Use their Research Leaflet  to help you collect data and aid your spotting
  • Following them on Instagram @brightondolphinproject
  • Making sure you take your litter with you when you visit beaches so our marine life doesn’t get tangled up
  • Entering their drawing competition (closing 28/08/2020)

No. 3 Cormorant

Photo of Cormorant, copyright Andy Hay. Courtesy of RSPB Brighton & District Local Group.

Want to see a prehistoric looking bird? I think you should look no further than the cormorant! Cormorants have an ancient dinosaur like look about them, as they sit on boats or rocky cliffs and stretch their wings. Look out for the young birds which have a cream coloured chest.

No. 1 Herring Gull

Herring Gull, photo by Lee Ismail

In the Number One spot it has to be – the Herring Gull! I always think they have a mean glint in their eye! But that is just my fancy.  Love them or loathe them they are a familiar sight around Brighton and Hove as they eye up the sandwiches you take to the beach. Herring gulls are the coastal birds most likely to come into conflict with humans. So let’s take a look at why that is the case and what it tells us about human behaviour too.

Herring gulls are big, bold and have a yellow beak with a red dot on it. The young birds are brown. They are seen all year round. The behaviour of Herring gulls has changed very radically since the 1920s. At this time the herring gulls nested on the chalk cliffs and fed out at sea or foraging on the beach. Gradually Herring Gulls learned that seaside towns like Brighton offered safe places to nest up on the rooftops and an easy source of food, as people dropped litter with some waste food and eat picnics out on the beach. The numbers of cliff nests dropped dramatically. Why bother foraging and using lots of energy flying out to fish at sea when there is a handy take away snack in a human’s hand or on a rubbish tip?

Grey seal

Grey seal, Illustration by A. Francis, courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project

The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the family Phocidae, which are commonly referred to as “true seals” or “earless seals”. In the UK average weights are 233 kg (514 lb) for males and 154.6 kg (341 lb) for females with Bulls reaching 1.95–2.3 m (6 ft 5 in–7 ft 7 in) and cows typically 1.6–1.95 m (5 ft 3 in–6 ft 5 in) long.

Did you know?

Grey seals can stay underwater for up to 16 minutes, diving as deep as 300 meters, but usually diving to around 70 meters

 

Common dolphin

Common dolphin, illustration by A. Francis, courtesy of Brighton Dolphin Project
The Common Dolphin is the most abundant cetacean in the world, with a global population of about six million. Adults range between 1.9 and 2.5 m (6.2 and 8.2 ft) long, and can weigh between 80–235 kg (176–518 lb).
Did you know?
Common Dolphins are one of the only tricolour dolphins – grey, white and yellow in a distinctive hourglass pattern.

Marine mammals

The Sussex Coastline is home to an abundance of marine wildlife including six species of marine mammals! The team at Brighton Dolphin Project gives us top tips on the mammals we should keep an eye out for.

Brighton dolphins

In Sussex, we are lucky enough to have not one not two, but three species of Dolphin that are regularly spotted in our waters!Bottlenose Dolphins that are here year round and regular visitors in the form of Common Dolphins and White-beaked Dolphins.

The world’s smallest marine mammal

Our coastline is also home to one of the smallest marine mammals, the Harbour Porpoise. We also have two seal species; the grey seal and the Harbour (or Common) Seal. Click on each species to find out more.

Bottlenose dolphin

Bottlenose dolphin
Bottlenose dolphins inhabit warm and temperate seas worldwide, being found everywhere except for the Arctic and Antarctic Circle regions. Their ...
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Common dolphin

Common dolphin
The Common Dolphin is the most abundant cetacean in the world, with a global population of about six million. Adults ...
Read More

White-beaked dolphin

White-beaked dolphin
The White-Beaked Dolphin is a robust species of dolphin with a short beak. Adults can reach 2.3 to 3.1 m ...
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Harbour porpoise

Harbour porpoise
The Harbour porpoise is one of seven species of porpoise. As its name implies, it stays close to coastal areas ...
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Harbour seal

Harbour seal
The harbour seal, also known as the common seal, is a true seal found along temperate and Arctic marine coastlines ...
Read More

Grey seal

Grey seal
The grey seal is found on both shores of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is a large seal of the ...
Read More

Dolphin spotting 

Brighton Dolphin Project research and study these Marine mammals. Part of our work is based on recording sightings, where we ask people to report any sightings and tell us about their experience. Here are a few of the most recent and exciting sightings!  Find out how far we come with our project and how you can get involved here.

Written by the team at Brighton Dolphin Project  

 

Monster jaws

Who did these unusual teeth belong to?

With the help of Sussex Wildlife Trust we compared some of our fossil animal teeth from 85 million years ago to jaws of animals that live in UK seas today.

Shark fossil teeth,  Ptychodus sp.

Originally this  ray-like shark would have used a battery of such teeth for crushing molluscs and crustaceans.

Ray Lamna appendiculata sp., teeth fossil. Photo by Bob Foreman.

These teeth look quite similar to a tropical species of ray’s teeth – the Cow nosed ray, however these live in tropical shallow seas. The UK species of ray that we have chosen as an equivalent is the Thornback ray.

Thornback Ray, Raja clavate

thornback ray©Paul NaylorSussex Wildlife Trust.JPG

About:

Thornback rays are regularly seen by divers. They have flattened bodies covered in blotches of colour to help them camouflage into the sand or mud or gravel. They have a long thorned tail. The males are smaller than the females.

How to identify:

Flat bodies with yellow and brown patches on their backs. Long thorny tail and protruding eye sockets.

Where:

Found all around the UK coast.

Fantastic facts:

Females can lay up to 150 egg cases every year. When the babies hatch, these cases are often washed up onto the beach.

Pipe fish jaw

These teeth would have belonged to a long-snouted slender fish, one of many similar bony fish that lived in the Chalk Seas of NW Europe.

Pipe fish jaw. Photo by Bob Foreman

Greater Pipefish, Syngnathus acus

Greater pipefish©Paul NaylorSussex Wildlife Trust.jpg

About:

The pipefish has a long, segmented body, about 45 cm long. It lives in seaweed and seagrass and feeds on small prawns and mysid shrimp.

How to identify:

Thin segmented body with a long snout and a hump just behind the eyes

Where:

Commonly seen around the southwest coast and welsh coastlines.

Fantastic facts:

Just like seahorses, the males (not the females) look after the eggs in a brood pouch until they are ready to hatch.

…and finally we couldn’t resist adding our favourite sea creature which is protected in our Sussex Marine Conservation Zones…

Short-snouted seahorse, Hippocampus hippocampus

short-snouted seahorse©Paul NaylorSussex Wildlife Trust.jpg

About:

Seahorses prefer to live in seagrass and shallow estuaries.

How to identify:

Distinctive horse like head with snout and a curling tail which is uses for holding onto things

Where:

Has been recorded along the south and southwest coasts of the UK.

Fantastic facts:

Seahorses usually mate for life and perform a courtship dance with their partner every morning. The male seahorses get pregnant and give birth to the young.

Gallery 

View more Monster Jaws from the Booth Museum’s in our Monster Jaw gallery

Ray-finned fish

Ray-finned fish (Actinopterygii) evolved over 400 million years ago and are so-called because their fins have a web of skin between several spines. Today, they are the most diverse group of vertebrates with more than 30,000 species which is around half of all living vertebrates on Earth.

The specimens in this gallery are around 85 million years old. By this time, evolution had produced many sorts of fish, types like these being similar in many ways to modern fish.  Many specimens of these species have been  found which tell us that they probably swam in large schools.

Lobsters

Lobsters swam in our ancient warm Sussex seas around 100-85 million years ago. Lobsters are grouped within the Crustaceans which include crabs, shrimps, prawns and barnacles. They first evolved in the Cambrian period around 509 to 497 million years ago.  Click the images to discover more.

Sea stars, lilies and urchins

Middle Chalk, Lewes. These strange animals probably lived in large groups, almost resembling beds of seaweed. Living examples, although confined to the deeper seafloors, are very similar.

Sea stars, sea lilies and sea urchins are all Echinoderms. The name Echinoderm comes from the Greek word meaning ‘spiny skin’. They first appeared in the fossil record in the early Cambrian period around 542-488 million years ago. The fossils in this gallery are between 100 – 85 million years old.