Marine wildlife to look for in December

Late afternoon across bay towards Portland © Chris Fryatt

Winter birds

Some birds migrate to the coast in winter as there is a reliable source of food available on the beach strandline. Resident populations of shore birds such as rock pipit and oystercatcher are swelled during the winter as birds migrate in. Snow buntings migrate to the British coast in winter from their arctic breeding grounds and are a treat to see on a sandy or shingle beach where they feed on seeds and insects. Some seabirds normally found far out at sea, such as the grey phalarope, can also sometimes be seen along the coast during very stormy weather. These small, delicate-looking birds spin round in circles as they sit on the water picking invertebrates from the surface.

Oystercatcher feeding by J Hatcher

Oystercatcher feeding © J Hatcher

Purple laver

Many types of algae die back or stop growing during the winter months as short days and turbid water reduce the amount of sunlight they receive. However the red seaweed purple laver is a winter specialist coating seashore rocks and turning them a deep maroon colour as it thrives during the coldest months. When the days lengthen and the spring sun grows stronger this seaweed usually disappears altogether as its delicate fronds are burnt by the heat. Purple laver can make the seashore treacherously slippery and walking on it is akin to walking on ice. So admire its delicate beauty but beware!

Purple laver © J Hatcher

Purple laver © J Hatcher


Winter is the time when stormy seas throw up all sorts of marine treasures, from exotic sea beans and oceanic voyagers to sea life that has been caught out by the cold or waves. Summer visitors such as triggerfish and ocean sunfish struggle when the sea temperature drops and often die, washing up onto the beach and offering an opportunity for a close look at some rarely seen animals. Native marine animals are also more likely to die at sea during this time of year when less food is available and rough seas make conditions more difficult. Although it makes a sad sight we can find seals, dolphins, porpoises and even whales washed up dead around our coastline. However it is advisable not to get too close as marine mammals can have diseases that are transferable to humans, so keep a safe distance. If you come across a live or dead marine mammal please report it immediately to the relevant organisation.

Live marine mammal or turtle strandings should be reported to BDMLR on 01825 765546.

Dead strandings can be reported to DWT on 01929 481044.

Ocean sunfish © DWT J Hatcher

Ocean sunfish © DWT J Hatcher

Let us know what you find

We would love to know what your find. Please send your sightings, with a photo if possible, to or via Facebook or Twitter.


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