A series of 15 marine surveys in 2011, covering over 2,000 square miles, have uncovered rare species and furthered our knowledge of the biodiversity of Scotland’s seas.
Off the west coast, very rare Fan Mussels were found – at up to 48 cm long, this is Scotland’s largest sea shell.
Around the Small Isles more than 100 specimens were discovered, the largest aggregation in UK waters. With golden threads likened to human hair so fine they can attach to a single grain of sand, seamen once believed they fed on drowned sailors.
In the waters off Tankerness in Orkney, the prehistoric ‘faceless and brainless fish’ Amphioxus was uncovered. This elusive, rarely seen species is regarded as a modern representative of the first animals that evolved a backbone. With a nerve chord down its back, this strange fish has no specific brain or face.
The largest Horse Mussel bed in Scotland was revealed in waters near Noss Head, Caithness. Horse Mussels stabilise mobile seabeds and provide a critical ecosystem for other species. Known as ‘Clabbydhhu’ in Gaelic (translates as ‘enormous black mouth’) these slow-growing molluscs can live to nearly 50 years old.
Other finds included Flame Shell beds in Loch Linnhe, Argyll, a cryptic species only found in a very few west coast locations with bright orange feeding tentacles. Meanwhile new communities of Northern Feather Star – a brightly coloured species with ten feather-like arms fanning out from a central disc – were revealed off the Sound of Canna.