I'm not a Marine Biologist, I'm not even a Marine, but I have a great and ever increasing interest in all the creatures of the sea. I've always taught myself whatever I've needed to so I'm not going to break any habits. Im going to do some blogs on various creatures and share what I've managed to learn. I'm a bit Dolphin obcessed at the moment so I'll start with the largest Dolphin of them all....The Killer Whale!!
Suborder: Toothed whales
Family: Delphinidae (Dolphins)
Species: Orcinus orca
Orca are warm-blooded mammals, breathing air and feeding young on their mother’s milk. Streamlined and powerful, the orca is perfectly adapted for marine life and one of the ocean’s fastest mammal (reaching 56 km/hr).
They're skilled hunters, but with the 2nd largest brain on the planet, they are highly intelligent and lead complex social lives. In their close-knit families they hunt, rest, play and travel together. Perhaps the most loyal creature on earth, only death or capture separates an orca from its family.
One of earth’s most wide-ranging animals, found all over the globe but especially in food-rich areas, they swim up to 150km a day and dive to great depths (what a contrast to captivity!). Two distinct types of orca are identified: ‘residents’ stay in one area; and ‘transients’ roam widely.
Wild orca spends their entire life in the ocean, resting and sleeping in the water. They can swim up to beaches to grab sea lions, and use ‘rubbing beaches’, swimming into shallows and running their bodies along smooth pebbles. This is obviously a pleasurable social activity.
They have a huge appetite, daily eating up to 5% of their body weight. ‘Opportunistic’, they prey on a wide variety of food: resident orcas catch fish, while transients hunt seals, sea lions, dolphins and even large whales. Orca can hunt co-operatively, top the marine ‘food chain’ and have no predators.
Orca bodies are modified for life as a sea predator. Huge kidneys get rid of excess salt; skin is tough and rubbery; blubber keeps them warm and stores food; massive jaws have sharp teeth; strong flippers steering and brake; and a muscular tail fluke propels them through the water.
Sound travels well in water and orcas communicate with calls, clicks and whistles. They use ‘echo-location’ clicks to navigate and find food. Orcas leap out of the water or ‘breach’; and ‘spy-hop’, resting vertically in the water looking around.
Permanent mother-led groups form extended families called ‘pods’. Though mothers are the primary care-givers, everyone plays a part in caring for the young. The social life is vital. Each pod has its own distinct dialect.
Orca live up to 80 years or more. They mature at about 14 years. Mating takes place between individuals from different pods and lengthy courtship is thought to occur. A female produces just one calf every 4-5 years. Gestation is 17 months and new-borns are around 200kg and 2.5m long. The calf suckles most of its first year and remains with its family for life.
I'd dearly love to spend time with them, but I'll happy settle for the Incredible Bottlenose Dolphins we have in Dundee!!
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Larick Beacon Update
Following our recent blog on the Larick Beacon (or 'The Pile' as many know it) we've been contacted by the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses. They've managed to find some records of the beacon and have been kind enough to send them over to us. The records paint a picture of the day to day running of what was an essential element in an Estuary with strong currents and dangerous tides. I'm sure we've all looked out over the Tay at low tide and wondered why more boats don't end up in trouble stranded on the huge sandbanks that appear twice daily. Nowadays its mainly down to GPS and other electronic trickery but 150 years ago the beacons and lighthouses were essential features. This came at a cost for some though.
The smalls lighthouse above is a very similar construction. It shows the octagonal living quarters below the beacon itself. The keepers shifts lasted roughly 14 days. Yes that's 14 days and nights at a time before being swapped out by the alternate shift. I work offshore and that seems ok but somehow being 500mtr from shore seems different. I assume that wood for the Beacon and provisions were brought over regularly. One of the first keepers were a Mr and Mrs Ireland who alternated with an N.Barron and co-worker of the same name. Presumably a father and son team or perhaps cousins.
The wind direction and weather was recorded in the above Journal as well as the time the light was extinguished. It shows a period of 4 days of fog which included 47 hours of bell ringing to worn seafarers. Task for the keepers included blacking the piles and painting the structure. The keepers seemed to vary their shift a little presumably to help each other out. The longest shift covered appears to be 8 months straight (although 2 separate days off when they went back to shore are included in this). Christmas day, as we know it now, wasn't observed in Scotland until well into the next century at that time so no mention is made. No mention of new year either which at the time was observed on the 6th of January when kids would hang up a stocking.
The keepers also seemed to have some responsibility for Tayport High and Low Lighthouses and spent there time ashore tending to these.
Thats about it for the records but I certainly won't look at The Pile the same way. Careers were served out there. On the right day, with the right weather, fishing off the top deck maybe wasn't all bad.
If anyone had further detail or anything I've written seems incorrect please comment below.
The Castle at Broughty Ferry attracts many visitors throughout the year. Gallons of ice-cream are eaten along its grassy banks and summer holidays are incomplete without gazing out from its ramparts in the hope a Dolphin is performing just for you. Who though, I wonder, knows more about it's chequered past?
“It standeth in such sort at the mouth of the river Tay, that being gotten, both Dundee and St. John's Town (Perth), and many other towns else shall become subject to this hold or be compelled to forego their use of the river” (William Patten)
Built in 1496 it was a mere 50 years later it was surrendered by ransom to the English by the owner Lord Gray of Foulis. The English garrison, fearing the feisty locals, further fortified the castle by building a ditch across the landward side and 100 men were left guarded by three ships. Commander of the garrison Andrew Dudley was clearly unimpressed with his forces writing in October 1547 that; "never had a man had so weak a company of soldiers given to drinking, eating and slothfulness," although, "the house stands well."
The town of Dundee agreed to support the garrison and resist the Governor of Scotland under the glare of the English gunships. The Earl of Argyle tried to capture the castle on 22 November 1547 and again in January 1548 with 150 men led by the soldier Duncan Dundas, without success. On Christmas Day 1549, Mary of Guise (mother of Mary Queen of Scots) held a conference at Stirling Castle with her guests, and they agreed that more French guns could be brought to besiege Broughty. Twelve English ships arrived to support the defenders and it was the 12th of February 1550 before the French and Scots managed to recapture Broughty. Mary of Guise watched the successful assault on Wednesday 6th February 1550 from a vantage point across the Tay. Paul de Thermes led the French troops, 240 were injured and 50 killed. The battered garrison surrendered six days later at midnight.
The castle was attacked again, in 1651, by General Monck and his Parliamentary army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. On this occasion the Royalist defenders fled without a fight. After 1666, when the Gray family sold the castle, it gradually fell into ruin.
In 1846 the castle was bought by the Edinburgh and Northern Railway Company in order to build an adjacent harbour for their railway ferry. Ten years later the castle was acquired by the War Office with the intention of using it to defend the harbour from the Russians and renewed fears of a French invasion led the War Office to rebuild and fortify the site. The castle remained in military use until 1932, and again between 1939 and 1949. The last defence-related alteration was made in the Second World War when a defence post was built within the top of the main tower.
In 1969 the castle opened as the current museum operated by Dundee city council. It now houses a fascinating display on the life and times of Broughty Ferry, its people, the environment and the wildlife that lives close by. Highly recommended for a day out.
The Larick Beacon
The Larick Beacon as its shown on admiralty charts (known locally at 'The Pile Lighthouse') makes for some stunning photography. Set 1/3 of a mile Northeast of Tayport waterfront on the South side of the Tay Estuary it is only accessible by boat. Most lighthouse sources have 1845 as its construction date but the British Listed Buildings index has it built in "1848 probably by James Leslie". James Leslie was a Civil engineer who started out with the Dundee water company and worked on many of the piers and harbours of the East coast. Although not an architect he also designed the now very sorry looking 'Dundee Customs House' next to City Quay. Seen looking a little grander here.
The Larick Beacon, inactive since about 1960 is a 16 m (52 ft) tower, with a lantern atop an octagonal wood keeper's quarters, mounted on wood pilings. The resident Gulls have the main claim on it now and have raised the floor level inside by about a foot with 50 years of droppings. Its known as the pile due to its unique construction method of driving screwed piles into sandy or muddy sea bottoms. Below is the Maplin Sands Lighthouse constructed on the Thames in 1938 but undermined and swept away in 1932. It It was the first built using the technique and was pioneered by blind Irish engineer Alexander Mitchell.
As it was 'only' 50 odd years ago this was in service does anyone have any memories of it as a child or heard stories about it? There's very little info on the internet and it would be great to get something on record. Post your Images.
We'd love to hear what you know about it!
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