Latest marine sightings - November 16
Skates and rays
The lack of strong south westerly winds this autumn meant an extended diving season for some underwater explorers in Dorset. A series of night dives from the shore around Dorset resulted in close encounters with aggregations of rays from a mixture of species. Blonde, spotted, undulate and thornback rays were seen on every dive during late September and early October and up to twenty individuals on a single dive was astonishing. While it is not unusual to see these animals during the day it was the number of them in a relatively small area that was surprising. Some were also spotted in very shallow water close to shore. Towards the middle of October they started to disperse with fewer being seen.
The John Dory is a strange and instantly recognisable fish with an exaggerated dorsal fin resembling a giant cock’s comb and a thin body like an after-eight mint when viewed head on. These are solitary fish so it is unusual to see up to ten in a small area, as has happened recently. On close inspection this striking fish is almost always covered in tiny parasites which hang onto its sides, moving around before your very eyes. It also has a huge mouth which shoots forward to engulf small fish and other prey before folding back into place. These animals, often nervous during the daytime, seem quite happy to let people approach and take photos at night.
The real stars of the show this autumn have been the octopuses – an extremely rare sighting in Dorset. These have been seen by divers on quite a few occasions including one seven-armed individual that had lost part of one arm. Octopuses are experts at camouflage and also prefer to hide away in tiny crevices and secret holes, squeezing into the tightest gaps thanks to a boneless body. Considered the most intelligent of invertebrates they can also change their colour to blend in with whatever background they find themselves in, so it is not surprising they are hard to spot in daylight. At night however, they are out and about hunting their crustacean prey, perhaps making an encounter more likely.
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