Author: Dawn Thomas

A Washing up of Washballs

Recent strandline of whelk eggmasses



Those creamy coloured bubbly things that some people call Monkey brains (?) are being seen all over our strandlines at the moment. There’s a reason for that.





This rounded, squidgy when still wet and, by the time they wash up, mostly empty, mass is a grouping of eggs similar to frogspawn, but each egg is the temporary home to many mini marine molluscs all feeding on the yolk within. They will grow (depending on the story to follow) into the common whelk (Buccinum undatum).

Common whelk (Buccinum undatum)

The gruesome story we looove to tell families when they visit our stalls at events is that after about a month of growing and developing the baby snails are ready to hatch, but some are a bit readier than others and, once out first, go on to feed on their brothers and sisters. Although the stuff of nightmares, looked at from a survival point of view the mothers have just made sure that some of their very many offspring begin life with a good meal to stand them in good stead.


The empty masses then get washed ashore and with the stormy weather we might have this happening in a more condensed timeframe rather than stretched out over several months. The common whelk has a wide breeding season, which begins in October and youngsters (mini adult forms) are born around this time of year and don’t move far at all from their parents.

These are long-lived animals too and are slow to breed. This strategy, together with limited dispersal, means they are particularly vulnerable to the many threats facing our seas in general, such as over-fishing, development, mining and read more in a recent article describing how Climate Change may impact our largest marine snail.

Turtle strandings

Olive ridley turtle Picture: Nettie Glandfield
Olive ridley turtle found on Sussex beach. Picture: Nettie Glandfield


Following the sad reports that an Olive ridley turtle found live stranded on a beach in Sussex had died, we thought we’d point you towards what to do with a stranded animal, including turtles.

This Olive ridley is only the second ever recorded landing live in the UK. The first was a relatively lucky animal found on the shore, literally outside the Anglesey Sea Zoo in November 2016 and was a brief, restricted-visitor attraction as she recuperated. The funds raised from those restricted visits allowed her to be flown and treated closer to her likely origins, in the Canary Islands. Menai (named after where she washed up), sadly, also died soon after arriving in Tenerife.

The plight of rescued turtles found in the cold waters outside the UK summers (not suitable habitat for these warm water animals) is one thing. Turtles globally have a lot of difficulties to deal with and much of that is human-made. By-catch, entanglement and loss of breeding areas make a huge impact, but microplastics, Climate change and overfishing are also negatively affecting their lives.

As well as all the changes to our consumption we can make to reduce these effects (e.g. choosing sustainably caught seafood, choosing holiday destinations which are looking after their turtle breeding beaches if they’re close, choosing to reduce our own single-use plastic consumption), we can ready ourselves to know how to deal with finding a live stranding effectively. The majority of our turtle strandings are cold shocked animals. Do not return them to the water. Know who to contact and seek advice from those experts immediately. Keep people and dogs away and never pull on flippers to move the animal.

Celebrating the 160th Anniversary of “On the Origin of Species”

Barnacle ID at Aberdaron

We weren’t joined by a flood of people wanting to join us on November beaches in icy winds, but these are the conditions Darwin had to tolerate when he first began documenting the shores. His fascination with barnacles (going on to publish four books on them) helped him develop the evidence he felt he needed to publish his theory of Natural Selection.

We had quality in our participants, however. We believe all will go on to develop their ID skills of barnacles and indeed some already have, all have spread the word about how fascinating our barnacles are and some are keen to create events on their local beaches with Barnacles as a centre focus, just as they ought to be.

thank you so much for the great insight into barnacles. I have got rather excited about them. ……. They are amazing creatures. I had another look today and was showing them to [others] – J. Smith, Tywyn.

it was certainly worth coming too, we all enjoyed it so much. – R. McChesney and family, Talacre

thank you for our fabulous introduction to all things Barnacle! ……. I am now really curious to find out which species of barnacles are on the headland of Pen y Cil – K. Atkinson, Aberdaron

Wart Barnacle (Verruca Stroemia) – Picture Melanie Harding

We visited 6 beaches in all across the breadth and length of North Wales over a 9 day period, leading up to the 160th Anniversary of that famous book. We focussed on barnacle ID of common species seen, pointing out ID tips and heading to the rocks/groynes/lighthouses/wooden tidal.

Acorn barnacle ID

We followed up with sending everyone, ID tips and also the link to the Capturing our Coast Barnacle Citizen Science survey you can do from your settee. Why not have a go yourself and see just how fascinating our barnacles can be.

Barnacles catching a permanent ride on a known barnacle predator -the dog whelk