February 2015 – News

Worrying news emerged this month when it was revealed that pulse trawling – a highly damaging method of commercial fishing which uses an electric pulse to shock fish out of the seabed – would be used in UK waters. A method of fishing promoted by the Dutch fishing industry, pulse trawling offers increased catches and lower fuel bills for trawler operators, but the potential environmental impact of pulse trawling has received very little research in the marine environment, although tests in freshwater have found that pulse trawling increases the mortality rates of non-target species and destroys fish eggs and embryos. This month it was announced that the number of vessels equipped with pulse trawls would increase, plus as some of these trawlers operate under a British flag they can operate within British territorial waters – even if they are owned and operated by Dutch fishermen. Furthermore, there will be no areas closed off to pulse trawls within the North Sea, effectively anywhere can be fished with this untested method of commercial fishing. Read our article on pulse trawling here, and the Guardian’s take on this issue here.

In better news it was announced that Britain could create some of the world’s largest marine reserves – in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Britain can create the reserves around territories such as the Pitcairn Islands, South Sandwich Islands and Ascension Island, as all of the islands, despite being self-governing, are under the sovereignty and jurisdiction of the United Kingdom. The UK government is coming under increasing pressure to designate at least one of the reserves before the General Election in May 2015, with prominent celebrities, academics and environmental campaign groups backing the creation of the reserves. It is believed that if the reserves go ahead it would almost double the area of the world’s existing marine protected areas, and provide a safe haven for a huge range of sharks, fish, marine mammals and coral. Read more on this topic in the Guardian here.

This month has seen a spate of large marine mammals washed up on the Scottish coastline. While a small number of these animals wash up every year the last month has seen a disproportionally high number of the animals found dead, with Cuvier’s beaked whales, common dolphins, pilot whales, minke whales and a sperm whale all amongst the casualties. The cause is thought to the linked to increased military activity in the area as the British armed forces, along with vessels from other navies, have been searching the seas around Scotland for a Russian submarine which was seen operating in the area. It is believed that the powerful sonar from military vessels is capable of disorienting marine mammals to such an extent they end up beaching themselves. Read more about this story here.

A mystery which has yet to be resolved emerged this month, when a species of crab usually found in icy arctic waters turned up on a North Yorkshire beach. The red king crab is at home almost five thousands miles away in the Bering Sea, but a single specimen was found by David McCreadie, 66 from Great Ayrton, while walking along a beach at Redcar. While the crab can have a legspan of 4-5ft, this crab was approximately 30 inches across and did not survive for long after it was discovered. It remains unexplained how or why the crab was found so far away from its natural habitat. See pictures and read more here.

The humble limpet gained a major claim to fame this month, as it may possess the strongest natural material in the world. Previously it was thought that spider silk was proportionally the strongest natural material in the world, but the tiny teeth which limpets use to cling to rocks may be even stronger. Researchers at the University of Portsmouth found that the super-strong fibrous strands in the teeth could be copied by humans and have applications in everything from Formula 1 racecars to the hulls of ships and the wings of super-sonic aircraft. Read more here.

A trawler working off the coast of Tyneside had an unexpected catch this month when a 500lb World War Two bomb was dragged up in its nets. The boat, Ticino which fishes out of North Shields was escorted back to port, while the Royal Navy took control of the situation and detonated the bomb out at sea the following day. Read more and see pictures in the local paper the South Shields Gazette by clicking here.

Finally, a video of a crab ending up as lunch for an octopus went viral this month. The footage was filmed in Yallingup, Western Australia and can be viewed by clicking here.