Solent Wildlife Series: Part 2, Sealife

By Hannah Cooper, Campaign Assistant

In our previous blog post, we explored some of the fantastic habitats that we’re lucky to have in the Solent. From mudflats to sand dunes, we really have it all. But what creatures can we find in these amazing places? Join us as we investigate some of the marvellous sea life of the Solent!

Harbour Seals

Harbour seals are some of the most widely recognised species that we have here in the Solent as they can often be seen basking on the mudflats in Chichester Harbour (there are around 23 seals currently living in the harbour). These magnificent and adorable marine mammals are rare in this corner of the planet, with the group in Chichester Harbour being the only known rookery in the Eastern English Channel. It’s extremely important to look after our harbour seals as they play a really important part in the food chain, preying on and therefore controlling the populations of fish, shellfish, and crustaceans. Have a look at the Solent Seal Code of Conduct to find out how you should behave if you come across these amazing creatures.

Cuttlefish

You may have seen the bones of Cuttlefish (called cuttlebones) washed up on local beaches – they once belonged to one of the most interesting species of the Solent. Cuttlefish are cephalopods, the same family as octopus and squid. They are prevalent in the Solent and come to shallower waters closer to shore to breed in spring and summer. They, like octopi, can change colour to either hide from predators or attract a mate. If you find a cuttlebone on the beach you might notice that it is light and porous. This is so the cuttlefish can fill it with water when it wants to sink to the seabed to hide from predators.

Common Cuttlefish, photo by David Nicholson (c) Marine Biological Association of the UK (MBA)

Dolphins

Although not an all-year-round Solent staple, it is still possible to spot dolphins in the Solent, with pods of short-beaked common dolphins being spotted off the coasts of Southsea and Gosport in June 2022. It’s not just the short-beaked common dolphin that likes to pay us a visit in the summer months – bottlenose dolphins and harbour porpoises can both be found in our waters when the temperature rises. They feed on a variety of Solent wildlife such as fish octopus and squid. If you spot a dolphin in the Solent it’s important to remember which species is which. Bottlenose dolphins have no markings and can grow up to 4m in length; short-beaked common dolphins have markings on their side in the shape of an hourglass and grow to 2.5m; harbour porpoises are unmarked and are smaller, growing up to 1.5m in length.

Watch this video to find out more about the dolphins you may spot in the Solent!

Oysters

Oysters are bivalve molluscs that are native to the Solent. They are filter feeders which allow them to remove carbon and nitrogen from the water. This means that oyster beds are very effective at cleaning our oceans, something that we find incredibly important in this day and age. The oyster fishing industry has historically been important in the Solent, with towns such as Emsworth being built off the back of this incredible species. Unfortunately, 85% of oyster beds and oyster reefs have been lost worldwide. The Solent Oyster Restoration Project is currently doing some really important and amazing work to restore our oyster population in the Solent. You can find out more about the project here.

Image (c) Blue Marine Faoundation

What are some of your favourite Solent sea species and why? Let us know in the comments of this post or share with your friends! Don’t forget to check back soon for the last instalment of our Solent marine life series where you can find out about some of the incredible marine birds that make their home here.

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