Whales and puffer fish among ‘incredible sea life’ to visit Britain in 2021 | Environment

Humpback whales are becoming more common off the British coast, according to a 2021 marine review, but derelict fishing gear is causing increasing numbers of stranded seals and dolphins.

walruses, puffer fish and Criss-crossed crabs were among sea creatures from distant places that visited the UK and Ireland this year due to the climate crisis, according to the Wildlife Trusts, while puffins returned to the Isle of Man to the first time in 30 years after a rat eradication program.

White-beaked dolphins have been seen off Essex for the first time in more than two decades and native oyster populations have been restored in Yorkshire, Essex and Northern Ireland after years of overfishing , pollution and disease. Sand lizards have been successfully reintroduced to the dunes of Lancashire.

Conservationists said 2021 has been a positive year for marine ecosystems around the British Isles, with projects launched to restore seagrass beds and huge kelp forests, which are home to wildlife including two species of seahorses. But a rise in cetacean strandings signals trouble at sea. In Cornwall, more than 170 whales, dolphins and porpoises have been stranded this year along with 247 seals, many injured due to fishing activity.

A number of programs have been initiated to restore seagrass beds and kelp forests, which provide shelter and food for seahorses. Photography: Andrew Pearson

Lissa Batey, marine conservation manager for the Wildlife Trusts, said: “It has been a fantastic year for sightings of marine megafauna, particularly in the South West, but it is clear that our oceans are under immense pressure from the fisheries, development, pollution, climate change and recreation. All of these issues have a huge impact on life at sea.”

In Cornwall, a humpback whale was found stranded off Looe Island after being caught in fishing lines, while seven gray seals washed up on Mousehole beach over two days tied to nets sea ​​spiders.

Despite the strandings, significant numbers of humpback whales have been spotted around the coast, a once extremely rare sight. More than 75 sightings have been recorded since 2019, a sign that populations are recovering after the ban on commercial whaling, say conservationists. The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust saw humpback whales feeding around the islands with one individual, named Pi, who stayed for over two months. Others have been seen in the Firth of Forth and off Shetland.

Matt Slater, marine conservation manager for Cornwall Wildlife Trusts, said: “Just a few years ago it would have been extremely rare to see a humpback whale in the UK. But it looks like they are hunting the large schools of sardines that are now present around our coasts. It’s wonderful to see these creatures up close.

In 2021, an arctic walrus nicknamed Wally was spotted on the coast of the UK, often seen lying on boats, possibly dragged down by melting sea ice in the polar north. A second walrus was sighted off Northumberland and around Shetland. In October, a puffer fish washed up in Cornwall for the first time in 20 years, a species rarely found this far north.

Wally the arctic walrus basks on a speedboat in Crookhaven in County Cork, Ireland. The walrus was first spotted in County Kerry in March and has also been sighted off Pembrokeshire in Wales, as well as Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly in England. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

The Wildlife Trusts have also warned that there has been an increase in human disturbance of marine animals, with three times the number of incidents since 2014. An increase in jet skis and motorboats is a major cause for concern. This year the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales saw a seal pup abandoned by its mother after people were seen taking selfies with the pup.

Dr Emily Baxter, senior marine conservation officer at the North West Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘We have incredible marine life in the UK and we’ve had some fantastic sightings this year, sort of dancing sea slugs in Cumbria to the returning puffins. . It’s important to remind people that in fact, they don’t necessarily need to travel to faraway places to see incredible marine life.

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