For as long as divers have been plunging beneath the waves at St Abbs they have
been fascinated by the wolf-fish. This formidable fish is relatively easily found
here and has long been a "must-see" whilst diving in the clean clear waters of the
In 2004 we decided to use the wolf-fish as a pilot species to carry out a new type
of survey. Most divers who come to the reserve will be on the lookout for a fish
lurking in a cave or crevice and there is little mistaking whether or not you have
seen one! So it is a perfect species to use for a pilot survey into the distribution
of marine life around the reefs. Throughout August and September we handed out basic
survey forms to divers around the harbour at St Abbs and also left forms with the
local dive shops. Uptake of the survey was very encouraging with almost half of all
forms given out returned. This may not sound much but it was a far better return
than the diver exit forms which were reasonably successful, if a little vague.
Gradually the results trickled back. There were no great surprises from the
results but some hotspots did become apparent. Black Carrs appeared to be the
place to be with one dive yielding an astonishing 10 fish! Juvenile fish were seen,
as was one large adult that appeared to be dying on the seabed. Unfortunately good
old George, who used to lurk on Big Green Carr off the harbour wall and could
easily be enjoyed by shore divers, has shuffled off this mortal coil. Since he died
left in the winter of 2002 no other fish have moved into his territory, so sadly all
the sightings we received were only from those who had been out on a boat. However,
we may yet have a fish move in to a very accessible site and if we do George II will
no doubt take the mantle of "most photographed fish in the UK"!
You might be wondering why we are doing this? Well as mentioned earlier the wolf-fish
is a great place to start a species specific survey. You may also know that the North
Sea has warmed up by 2°C in the last 20 years. Great news you might think, but not
for the flora and fauna of the North Sea. The wolf-fish is a rare sight in shallow
coastal waters in the UK. Its distribution extends all the way from the Arctic, south
to the Bay of Biscay. Around the UK it is found at depths usually deeper than 100m, so
is well out of site of divers. However, here in Berwickshire we still find the wolf-fish
in depths as shallow as 10m, typical of their habits in far northern waters. All of which
is great for divers but what will happen if the North Sea continues to warm? Presumably
the wolf-fish will recede to deeper and deeper waters and face to face encounters will
become a thing of the past. We would also like to know whether they can be found all
year round. The literature suggests that they lurk in deep waters offshore in winter
and only move into coastal areas in the summer.
In 2005 we would like to build on the success of last year’s pilot survey by asking
divers to continue their sterling work in recording their sightings (and even lack
Also this year we would like to extend the survey to include other species as
alongside the sub-arctic wolf-fish and at St Abbs we are lucky enough to be home
to some warm water species too. For instance, the Devonshire cup-coral (yes, a
true coral!) which, as its name suggests, is a species more typical of
south-western waters. The Devonshire cup-coral graces our waters due to a finger
of the North Atlantic Drift which extends over the top of Scotland from the west.
If, as some have predicted, the North Sea continues to warm we should start to see
some major changes underwater. Will the wolf-fish will recede into the depths as
Devonshire cup corals and other warmer water species flourish? Well, you can help
us find this out! So keep your eyes peeled for further surveys too.
Many thanks to all those who have enthusiastically filled in forms for us in the
past, keep up the good work! Thanks must also go to Jon Mercer of the Scottish
Borders Biological Records Centre for all his work collating and presenting our data.
Happy hunting (in the strictly visual sense of course!).