Shark on Northumberland beach baffles North East naturalists

A Greenland shark found on a Northumberland beach has baffled North East naturalists

The Greenland shark which was found on Embleton Bay
The Greenland shark which was found on Embleton Bay

A Greenland shark found on a Northumberland beach has proved to be one of the most intriguing puzzles of 2013 for North East naturalists.

The creature, the most northerly shark species in the world, was discovered on Embleton Bay.

“I have never heard of one turning up here and it is nationally quite significant,” said Dan Gordon, keeper of biology at Tyne Wear Archives and Museums. “It is very far south of where you would expect to find the species.

“It is a deep water species, while the North Sea is shallow and the fact that it has ended up so far south is doubly puzzling. We don’t know if climate change is having an effect on them.”

The shark was found by Ann Suter and her husband while on holiday on the Northumberland coast.

She said: “We saw a large object on the beach. When we approached closer it proved to be a shark.

“It was really strange to see such a large animal on the beach. It showed no sign of injury.

“I had no idea that such a large shark could be found in British waters.”

The Greenland shark can grow to seven metres in length and is on the near-threatened list because of its falling population and inability to cope with sustained fishing pressure.

One of the factors that has threatened its survival is the fact that female Greenland sharks do not breed until around 100 years old and individuals are thought to live for more than 150 years.

Dan was involved in transferring the shark to freezer facilities at Newcastle University’s Dove Marine laboratory in Cullercoats.

It is likely that the shark will end up at the Natural History Museum in London, which has the facilities to preserve it and carry out a post mortem examination.

It is hoped that material from the shark will be retained for the collections of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

The shark is just one of the finds which the North East coast can throw up.

A recent bioblitz at Druridge Bay in Northumberland saw volunteers record as many species as possible in 24 hours.

The operation was organised by Northumberland Wildlife Trust and the Environmental Records Information Centre at the Great North Museum in Newcastle.

A total of 514 species were recorded, using methods ranging from bat detecting and rock pooling to mammal live trapping and moth traps.

One of the highlights was a sub alpine warbler which usually winters on the southern edge of the Sahara and was well off limits in Northumberland.

An otter was also spotted and youngsters witnessed a scrap between a rat, magpie and pheasant at a bird feeding station.

But the main discovery was of orange-tipped sea squirts, which are in the top 10 invasive marine species in the country.

It attaches itself to almost anything covered by sea water, including ships’ hulls, piers and ropes and can grow on other organisms.

The sea squirt, from South America, was found at Cresswell.

The clear, jelly-like creature, around two centimetres in length, is identified by its visible U-shaped gut.

It is likely to have reached Northumberland via shipping.

“It is a very vigorous coloniser and can take up space used by other creatures. It can smother other species and if it becomes established it could cause problems,” said trust conservation manager Steve Lowe.

The sea squirt was also found at Lynemouth last year in sweeps carried out by Newcastle University’s Big Sea Survey.

The survey, launched in 2010 and backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, has trained 350 coastal survey volunteers who have logged 135,000 species records.

Project officer Dr Helen Sugden said: “The sea squirt can be an aggressive invasive species and it is important to trace where it is going.

“Native species can lose out in competition to it and it can also weigh down fishing gear.”

Journalists

David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer