Help scientists discover the secrets off our coast


03-08-2018

A biologist is calling on the British public to help improve our knowledge of the octopuses, squid and cuttlefish living off the coast of the British Isles.

Although these creatures, which are all cephalopods, have been the subject of extensive research around the world, surprisingly little is known about their behaviour closer to home.

In fact it was an unusual mass stranding of octopuses on a beach in Wales last autumn that prompted Anglia Ruskin University biologist Dr Gavan Cooke to set up a Facebook group – UK cephalopod reports – to record sightings.

Dr Cooke is asking anyone spending time by the sea this summer – whether diving, beachcombing or exploring rockpools – to submit their photos and help scientists expand their knowledge of where cephalopods live, and how they behave, off the British coast.

The citizen science project has already delivered some incredible reports, including a photograph taken by a diver off the coast of Dorset of a very large common octopus (Octopus vulgaris), which has rarely been recorded in UK waters since the cold winter of 1962-63.  Another remarkable image captures, for the first time, what is believed to be a group of sleeping cuttlefish.

Dr Cooke, Lecturer in Animal Behaviour at Anglia Ruskin University, said: “Considering how charismatic these creatures are, and how much scientific research has been carried out into them, we actually know very little about what our own cephalopods are up to here in Britain.

“Last autumn’s mass stranding of octopuses in Wales really did make us question what we thought we knew about them.  For example, they are thought to be solitary animals that are found at depths in rocky areas, rather than close together on a sandy beach.

“Of course one of the main reasons we know so little about their behaviour is because most of the time they are hidden from view, apart from those hardy souls who dive in UK waters.  And already the diving community have contributed some amazing photos, from south west England right up to the Orkney Islands in Scotland.

“But it doesn’t have to be underwater sightings.  Whether it’s cuttlefish bones found on beaches, squid eggs washed up on the shore or octopuses in rockpools, I’m hoping that members of the public can contribute photos and reports from across the UK this summer to help us learn more about the behaviour of these amazing, yet secretive, animals.”

Members of the public can contribute by visiting the UK cephalopod reports Facebook group.

Image: European common cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis) - credit Terry Griffiths

 

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