Wildlife of the Clyde - Part 2
Our last post looked at the amazing diversity of birdlife in the Clyde. This time we are looking more widely at the mammals and fish. A marine survey in 2012 recorded around 250 marine plants and animals in the Firth, including a 50-hectare area of brightly coloured flame shells in upper Loch Fyne.
Cetaceans. The most common cetacean species seen in the Clyde is the Harbour Porpoise. Often seen from the local ferries, these shy creatures appear to be doing well at the moment. I often hear their horse like 'snort' before I see them when in my kayak. Common dolphins make an occasional foray in to the Clyde, with one poor lonely soul, 'Kylie' the lonely dolphin hanging out around a buoy off of Largs. There are also infrequent visitors which include both Minke and Humpback whales. Most recently, we were treated to a magnificent display by a pod of Orca (Killer Whales) teaching a youngster to hunt! The bull had an enormous dorsal fin, and hundreds of local folk turned out to watch them forage for seals and porpoise. Quite what the local seals and porpoise thought of this intrusion to their sedentary lives remains to be reported, but I did see a large pod of porpoises going around in circles in very shallow water off of Dunoon pier - almost certainly spooked by the presence of the Orca!
Fish. Between April to October, the worlds second largest fish on the planet, the Basking Shark regularly makes an appearance in the Clyde. In 2005 the Clyde had the second highest density of Basking Sharks after the Minch, and a sea kayaking friend counted 23 off the south end of Bute two years ago. Arran is a hotspot, although old timers tell me that they used to be sighted so regularly from the Clyde ferries that they were hardly noticed. Fished for the oil from the liver (the rest of the 30 tonne megafauna was discarded) the Clyde saw the last operating shark fishery operating until the 1980s. Basking Sharks are making a welcome return to the Clyde, and kayaking with these magnificent and benign creatures is a huge privilege.
Shellfish. Perhaps the principal fishery in the Clyde is now Nephrons (Langoustine/ Norwegian Lobster), with over 4000 tonnes landed each year. Whilst a commercial success, it comes with a great cost. It is estimated that there is approximately 80 tonnes of biomass by-catch discarded every day by prawn dredging in the Clyde. Langoustines are sustainable, but only when caught by traditional creel boats - we should all demand only creel caught langoustine.
Other commercial fisheries include crab, lobster and scallops, with shellfish accounting for 91% of fish landings in the Clyde. This is despite the Clyde once having been a major white fishery, sadly no longer viable after decades of over fishing. There are opportunities to catch cod, pollock and very occasional sea trout and salmon on the Clyde recreationally - if done by hand. The Mackerel make their annual appearance each summer and appear to be doing ok.
Scallops. I love scallops; scallops are delicious bites of pure sea water, combined with a sweet meaty texture. Bliss. And the Clyde is a haven for scallop fishing, with a near perfect habitat. But all is not well with all scallop fishing. The most common method relies on fishing boats dragging huge metal toothed gear over the sea bed. This is one of the most damaging of all fishing methods, destroying fragile Mearl beds, changing the rich ecosystems in to waste lands. Imagine a ploughed field, with all of the sea life destroyed. That is the price for the scallops we eat in many overpriced restaurants. Personally, I choose to only eat scallops that are hand dived, which may cost a little more - but I enjoy them knowing that they are truly sustainable and not caught at the cost of the entire ecosystem.
Mammals. Of all of the marine mammals in the Clyde, otters are perhaps the most sought after and hardest to see! They are certainly here though and appear to be doing well. John Williams of Bute captures many magical otter encounters and is well worth following on Twitter.
We also see a strong population of resident Common Seals and occasional Atlantic Grey Seals. Curious creatures, I have had seals follow me for over 10km, nuzzling the toggle on the rear of my kayak! They are quite shy, often diving as soon as you hold eye contact. My favourite trick is to fool them by kayaking backwards - they often then pop up for a look!
If you think that the Clyde is a dirty and industrial wasteland, I hope that this post has changed your mind. The Clyde is a fabulous ecosystem, but does need our protection and help. Projects such as Basking Shark Scotland, Lamlash No Take Zone and the Clyde Marine Mammal Project need our support.
Do let me know of your favourite wildlife encounters on the Clyde.