Tuesday, 7 March 2017

March 7th Great Yarmouth

Ava seeing her first fish
My sister-in-law, Laura, and my little niece, Ava, are in Norwich this week to see me and the rest of the family. As she and my brother live in Wiltshire, I have not seen them or baby Ava since Christmas. Ava is now eight months old and has grown a lot since I last saw her, so today we decided to spend some time together by taking her to the Sea-Life Centre in Great Yarmouth for the very first time. She was absolutely mesmerized by the movement of the strange creatures moving in front of her behind the glass of the tanks, though some of the more odd-looking ones did freak her out a bit. It was a great introduction to the world of nature for her and I hope she will get hooked to it when she grows older.
Thornback Ray
Conger Eel
Green Turtle
As well as being there for a family bonding session and to show Ava what fish look like, I wanted to explore the world of marine invertebrates. Unless I become a diver, this is the next best thing to see some of these creatures alive. Of course, rock pooling is an option, but don't worry, its on the to-do list.

Common Starfish
The most common family of marine invertebrates at this particular Sea-Life Centre are the starfish. As well as the common starfish (one of my invertebrate targets that I want to find in the wild this year), there were also a wide variety of other species. The largest in the collection is the spiny starfish, which is the UK's largest starfish with adults growing to lengths of about 80cm! Another British species is the Bloody Henry, a lovely reddish starfish that is one of the scavengers of the sea floor. Starfish are from the Echinoderm family and this family also includes sea urchins. The only species in the collection is this black spiky one found around coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean.

Spiny Starfish
Underside of a Spiny Starfish
Bloody Henry
Spiny Sea Urchin

Moon Jellyfish
Perhaps the most enchanting of marine invertebrates are jellyfish. One of the most common species found in British waters and washed up on British beaches are moon jellyfish. They are easily identifiable with those four circles inside its bell (the main body of a jellyfish), which are the reproductive organs. Many species of jellyfish feed on tiny zoo plankton that drift into their tentacles as they pulse around the ocean. Others, such as the Pacific sea nettle, have much longer tentacles that trail behind it and can catch larger prey, injecting them with venom as soon as brush into them. Deadly but still beautiful!

Pacific Sea Nettle
Jellyfish have a fascinating life cycle. They start life as microscopic larvae, which drift around the ocean until it eventually settles on the seabed and develop into small polyps (sea anemone-like things) with long tentacles. These polyps grow and begin to look like a stack of saucer-shaped structures. These 'saucers' then separate off and become miniature jellyfish. Eventually, these small jellyfish grow larger and become adults, which are known as a medusa. The medusas mate and the cycle begins all over again.


Another tentacled creature is the octopus. Octopuses are perhaps one of the most intelligent invertebrate in the world. It is amazing to think that they belong to the mollusc family, the same as slugs and snails.

Zebra Mantis Shrimp
Also in the aquarium's collection are the classic group of marine creatures are the crustaceans, the crabs and lobsters. We all know what they look like. A pair of mighty claws, four pairs of other limbs and a tough armour of a body. Classic, right? However, there is one crustacean in the collection that takes this classic design to the next level. It is the zebra mantis shrimp, which comes from the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Mantis shrimps are one of the most deadliest predators armed with a pair of deadly claws. Some species have claws that act like spears, others like clubs used to bludgeon its prey, either way these claws are fired at a phenomenal speed at almost the same rate as a bullet from a gun. In larger species, they have been known to punch so hard that they can crack the glass of an aquarium's tank!
Shore Crab

Dead Men's Fingers (a species of sponge)
Finally, there are the sponges, sea anemones and coral. Sponges are some of the most simplest of organisms you can find in our seas. They are not much to look at, just a blob or finger of one colour or another, but look closely and you can see many tentacles all over it used for filtering the water food. A sponge is actually not a single creature but a colony and it is known that if you stick one into a blender, over time, it will reform to its original state. Sea anemones are like the flowers of the sea, beautiful but deadly with sticky or stinging tentacles to catch their prey. Coral, on the other hand, are the most varied of structures in sea, resembling many things from fans to brains. They are without doubt the most beautiful and important of marine invertebrates. They may be as mobile as rocks by day, but by night, they are more active with tentacles out to filter for food. If you thought corals are beautiful as they are, this is what they look like in ultraviolet light. As colourful as neon lights on a city street at night!
Snakelocks Anemones
Beadlet Anemone
Corals in ultraviolet light!

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