If Herring gulls have a mean glint in their eye, I think that the little kittiwake looks sweet and gentle. Why is it called a Kittiwake? That is the sound it makes. It has a black beady eye and is smaller than the herring gull. Unlike the herring gull, the kittiwake will not steal your chips or sandwiches. It catches fish out at sea for food instead. You will only see them locally between about March and August, when they nest at Seaford Head.
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.
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 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.
Found all around the UK coast.
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.
Greater Pipefish, Syngnathus acus
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
Commonly seen around the southwest coast and welsh coastlines.
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
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
Has been recorded along the south and southwest coasts of the UK.
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.
View more Monster Jaws from the Booth Museum’s in our Monster Jaw gallery
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.
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.
“Plastic is not an intrinsically bad material, it is an invention that has changed the world. The plastic became bad due to the way that industries and governments use it and the way society has converted it into a disposable and single-use convenience…’
These are the opening words of the WWF Report 2019 (World Wildlife Fund) on plastic waste pollution on our planet.
Where does plastic waste come from?
Many of us have heard about the problem of plastic in our oceans, but where does it come from?
Globally, over 80% of the yearly input comes from land-based sources, such as plastic packaging and bottles. Over 90% of the plastic waste that gets into the ocean is carried there by ten rivers in Asia and Africa. These rivers flow through areas of high population where people don’t have access to good waste disposal.
In contrast, in the UK, plastic which goes in our bins is either recycled, burned for energy or buried in a landfill. This shouldn’t end up in the ocean if managed properly. Instead, the larger pieces of plastic that enter the sea come from plastic pellets produced by industry, littering and plastic from fishing nets and ropes.
Another important source are microplastics…
Microplastics are less than half a centimetre in size. They come from the wear and tear on car types, the breakdown of plastic litter, cosmetic microbeads and from washing clothes containing man-made fibres. Information on the effects of microplastics is limited. However, we know they don’t biodegrade and so build up in the marine environment, where they can be ingested by animals. These microplastics can contain plastics that are toxic to animals.
Around the world
Worldwide, the United Nations says that the equivalent of a garbage truck’s worth of plastic reaches the ocean every minute causing a range of problems for wildlife here are just some of the effects:
Plastic waste kills up to 1 million sea-birds, 100,000 other marine animals and countless fish each year.
Birds and animals eat pieces of plastic which may choke them. Or they may get caught up in rubbish and be injured or die. Even if they don’t die, the animals may be weaker and less successful at reproducing.
Some plastics contain chemicals that last for a very long-time and are toxic to wildlife.
Many people and organisations across the globe are coming up with innovative solutions and campaigns trying to tackle the plastic problem. From scientists to artists and litter heroes, in the coming months, we will be highlighting just some of these projects.
Around the world, governments are committed to taking action and the World Economic Forum has proposed 8 Steps to solve the oceans plastic problem. In the UK, the Environment Bill allows for deposit schemes, charges for single-use plastics and charges for carrier bags.
Plastic science in Sussex
Marine Bioplastics – Sussex student wins award for developing a biodegradable plastic from fish waste
Discover the Our Plastic Oceans by Mandy Barker temporary exhibition or find out how you can take action in the fight against plastic at Brighton & Hove’s recycling page Brighton & Hove or discover more ways you can get involved via the links below.
Plants form part of the immense natural history collections at the Booth Museum of Natural History, included in these are *seaweeds – some of which are over 100 years old!
These specimens were carefully dried, identified and mounted by the Victorian women who collected them – often forming beautiful delicate displays or arranged in beautiful bound books.
But why keep 100 year old seaweed? It can’t just be because they are beautiful, can it?…Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History reveals all…
Learn from the past to protect our future
One important value of such collections is to be able to see what was found in the past compared with what is found now. What has been lost and what has been gained. The collections like those of Mary Merrifield, Mrs Leopold Grey and Dr Omerod in the Booth collections contain incredibly detailed notes showing exactly where they were found and the date they were collected.
Data, data, data!
Collecting data of seaweeds over the last century and in more recent decades has helped to provide key information for conservation. In Sussex, data collection like this is helping towards the restoration of a vital marine habitat that was hidden to most people beneath the waves…
In the not distant past **kelps were common along the shore and off the coast of Sussex. Kelp forests can provide important nurseries for fish, can help combat climate change and are a crucial habitat for a host of species.
However, with trawling, dredging and the storm of 1986 much of the dense ‘forests’ have been lost. You no longer get masses of seaweeds washed up on Worthing beach causing a stink and making a useful fertiliser to be collected by farmers and the like…
Sussex Kelp Forest cover 1980
Sussex Kelp Forest cover 2019
What it’s like now
But not all is lost…
Find out how local conservationists and activists are working together to bring the kelp back and allow the forests to regenerate in our Take Action section.
I’d like to finish this blog with a wonderful poem on Kelp by Jeffery Yang
Kelp by Jeffrey Yang
How easy it is to lose oneself
in a kelp forest. Between
canopy leaves, sunlight filters thru
the water surface; nutrients
bring life where there’d other-
wise be barren sea; a vast eco-
system breathes. Each
Dr Gerald Legg, former Curator of the Booth Museum of Natural History
*Kelps include: Oar Weed Laminaria digitata, forest Kelp Laminaria hypoborea, Golden Kelp Laminaria ochroleuca, Sugar Kelp Saccharina latissimi, Furbellows Sacchorhiza polyschides and the alien Wakame Undaria pinnatifida.
Edward Thomas Booth notes in his catalogue from June, 1867 that kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are common. They are currently the most numerous gull species in the UK; however, they are now in serious decline. Since 2000 black-legged kittiwake numbers have declined by more than half.
Booth’s entry about the summer kittiwake diorama discusses the Sea-Bird Preservation Act that protected the birds. In Booth’s opinion:
‘the senseless slaughter that took place round their breeding-stations every summer having been allowed to continue too long without interference.’
The Sea Bird Preservation Act of 1869 was the first in the country to protect birds. It prevented people from killing seabirds and collecting their eggs from April to August so that they could breed. The main motivation for this was not for the protection of the birds themselves, but to aid sailors who relied on healthy seabird populations to find land in foggy conditions.
As a collector of birds, Booth’s following sentence contains no sense of irony at his killing of these birds: ‘The specimens in this case were obtained at the Bass Rock in June, 1867.’ The winter kittiwake diorama contains adults in winter plumage and juveniles that were ‘shot a few miles off Brighton, in the winter of 1870.’
The black-legged kittiwakes joined the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species in 2018. Current threats to kittiwakes are associated with their prey, sand-eels and herring which are in decline, due to the effects of climate change. This impacts the prey the sand-eels feed on and the breeding season of the herring, which no longer coincides with the kittiwake breeding season. This results in lower breeding success for the kittiwakes.
Despite the downward trend of many populations of kittiwakes, the colony at Seaford Head in Sussex continues to thrive. Seaford Head to Beachy Head is designated as an area of Special Scientific Interest and Seaford Head Nature Reserve is part managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust and the National Trust. There are over 1000 nests in the kittiwake colony. No one knows exactly why they are doing better than other colonies around the UK. A possible explanation is that prey species are also faring better in the South East. However, this may change as sea temperatures are expected to rise faster along the south coast bringing more unpredictable changes for the kittiwakes and their associated marine ecosystem.
Written by Kerrie Curzon, Collections Assistant, The Booth Museum of Natural History
Sussex covered by an ancient sea
Did you know that 100 million years ago the whole of the UK was covered by a warm ocean? Only the tops of the Scottish mountains would have poked above sea-level.
How do we know this? What lived in this warm shallow sea covering Sussex? How does it compare to now? We can use the Booth Museum’s important collection of fossils from the Cretaceous period to find out more.