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Here is the last in this series of blogs from the Falkland Islands, for now. An account of the trip by husband Brendan:

A non-biologist’s perspective on fieldwork and worm hunting

I remember having a conversation with my careers advisor when I was 16 about my A-Level choices, at the time I was really interested in Sharks and wanted to be a Marine Biologist. My ‘careers advisor’ then cheerfully informed me that to achieve this goal I would need to continue my Chemistry studies, at which point my heart sank and my visions of playing with Great Whites became distant fantasies.  

My interest in the underwater world never really left me but I also never really got to understand what being a Marine Biologist would actually entail.  This trip in many ways has been an eye opener as it has provided me with an insight into what it is actually like to pursue Marine Biology and the level of dedication required.

My first lesson in advanced rock pooling began at a place called Rincon Grande in the north of the Falkland Islands.  The excitement I felt as I started picking my way through the pools and looking under rocks and actually being more successful than Teresa in finding a range of worms, including my first scale worm quickly led to stoic perseverance as I then went on to find a succession of ragworms for what felt like hours.  There was at least one stage when I wished we were looking for starfish as these seemed to be everywhere but were apparently not of interest.

One of the key things that Teresa was trying to do was identify the diversity of worms in any location and that meant trying to find as much as possible and ideally a sample of more than one of each.  In many of the locations we went to, this meant spending 2 or 3 hours persistently combing the rocks and digging through what sediment there was to try and find as much as possible in the short window the tides provided us with (photo 1).  This tried both of our patience on several occasions as travel in the Falklands over what is considered roads, which we would consider simply a pot holed gravel drive, means that you arrive feeling battered and bruised before you then spend a couple of hours crouched on a beach in weather that seemed to vary from one extreme to another hunting an, at times, elusive prey.

Whilst collecting on a beach where you can stand on something solid whilst holding a piece of rock in one hand and using the forceps in your other hand to pick off a worm that might be only a few millimeters long is challenging. Trying to do this underwater, whilst you have one hand on the rock to try and steady yourself against the rolling ground swell that is trying to alternately tangle you in the kelp or pound you against the rock that you are trying to prize a sample off with the dive knife that you are holding in your other hand is a different matter altogether (photos 2 & 3)! The really challenging thing was that after you had managed to prize the sample off the rock you need to get it into a plastic sample bag (ziplock freezer bag) without losing everything – apparently I failed in this respect. Whilst I can’t hide the fact that the trowel and the all important brass snap lock (yes she has mentioned it more than once) did get left behind my argument is still that the sample was more important and that was recovered! I also never realised just how difficult it could be to open, put something into and then reseal a zip lock bag whilst wearing neoprene gloves that are 5mm thick!

Whilst the beach sampling and the diving both presented challenges the rewards do come when you get to view your catch down the microscope. What on the beach looks like a small orange blob is transformed into an elegant looking worm with a flowing mane of orange hair (a cirratulid – photo 4).  If you’re really lucky you get rewarded with a scale worm, resplendent in its glistening armour (photo 5), if you’re unlucky, well it’s just another ragworm…..

All in all whilst ‘rock pooling for adults’ may not be entirely accurate, I have to admire the persistence and knowledge required to do what I dreamed of doing as a young man in Leeds.

Teresa Darbyshire

Senior Curator: Invertebrate Biodiversity (Marine Invertebrates)
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