Life in the sea is not always easy to see and appreciate. One way to get close to some fascinating creatures in their natural habitat is by exploring the rock pools that can be found around coastlines at low tide.
Firstly, remember that the sea is very powerful and unpredictable. Make sure the tide is low, and never stay out too long – the tide can come in quicker than you realise!
Find some shallow pools close to the sea and start exploring. Try looking under rocks, moving seaweed around, or simply sitting still and watching the pool to see whether anything moves. With enough patience and attention, you’ll be rewarded with some surprising finds.
Notice something moving? Try to catch it with your bucket or net to get a closer look. Very gently, manoeuvre your bucket or the net around the rock pool until you can scoop the animal up. Don’t be too forceful – you don’t want to hurt it! Remember, these animals live in seawater, so make sure there is some in your bucket ready for your finds.
There are lots of different types of crab to be found in our waters, including hermit crabs (in a large conical shell), shore crabs (small and dusky orange), velvet crabs (dark shells covered in spiny hair) and even spider crabs (large, orange, spiny crabs with very long legs).
To tell whether a crab is male or female, hold it very gently by the sides of its shell, and look at its belly – there is a triangle shape underneath. The sides of the triangle on the female bulge out, so it looks more like a semi-circle, but the male’s curve in, more like a pyramid.
Starfish eat shellfish, such as mussels, by slowly prising open their shells. Can you see a starfish that looks as though it’s standing on tiptoes, in the shape of a wigwam?
That is how they look when they eat!
Sea anemones attach themselves to the rocks to avoid getting washed away by currents and waves. Beadlet anemones have tiny blue blobs around the bottom of their tentacles!
If you find one with its tentacles out, you can try to touch them. Can you feel them stick to you? They are trying to sting you, but their stings are too weak.
Beware of shrimps’ tricks – they move very quickly, and often swim backwards when you least expect it.
Most of the little fish you find in rock pools are gobies or blennies. If you’re lucky, you can spot a pipefish – it looks like a swimming shoelace and is related to the seahorse.
Although they may seem to be fixed to the rock, limpets actually move around to graze on algae. They return to the same spot by following the mucus trail that they leave behind.
Barnacles are tiny crustaceans that attach to the rocks and feed with a tiny leg that pokes out of the top of the shell. If you see some under the water, look very closely – you may be able to see this leg fanning through the water. This is the barnacle feeding on microscopic plankton.
These are rays’ eggs! They may have a baby ray inside – hold it up to the light and you will be able to see it wriggling.
Make sure you put the animals back after a short time, in the same place you found them. Be careful when handling things, and ask an adult to help you.
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