The wonders of the water

Country Sights and Sounds

“Oh, for another life, a timeless one; for the opportunity to surf with sea lions, swim with dolphins, to hitch a ride on the back of the world’s largest fish, the gentle whale shark”

John Shelley

THERE is something compelling about the ocean. Where else can one find such vast wilderness, where a similar multitude of living things, of hidden things, of lives lived beyond the reach of our minds, and creatures beyond the reach of even the most fevered imagination?
For in that other-world beneath the waves there dwell real life monsters, beasts both dark and savage, with small brains and enormous appetites, the like of which never fell from the hand of the illustrator.
In the few short years since man first found his way to the seabed a flooding tide of knowledge has been revealed. There are some who, having dedicated themselves to a life of discovery, are able to fascinate the rest of us with legends of the deep, telling tales of unlikely creatures and remarkable underwater landscapes. Yet even they must admit to the truth; for every one thing learned another dozen astonishing truths will glimpse enticingly, teasingly, just beyond ones reach.
Oh, for another life, a timeless one; for the opportunity to chase blue whale and grey whale, to meet, face to face, with cold eyed squid, to fall on carpet-sized manta ray, to follow in the wake of the laborious leather-backed turtle, to surf with sea lions, swim with dolphins, to hitch a ride on the back of the world’s largest fish, the gentle whale shark. The more we learn, the more clamours for our attention.
And so I must content myself, at least for the time being, with the comparative little that lives at the tide’s edge, and with the small bit of coastline that runs from Killary Harbour to Killala Bay. Even that short stretch would be enough to satisfy the hungriest of minds for many years. And supposing the potential of this was exhausted, there are another 700,000 or so further miles of coast to be explored around the world.
My last visit to the coast coincided with an ebbing tide. As if followed the retreating water I turned stones to see what had been left alive after the turmoil brought by our recent storms. Along the upper shore, just as I had expected, there was little to be found. Any living thing that hadn’t taken the opportunity to migrate into deeper water would have been ground out of existence by the churning of the waves.
Yet the middle shore was rich in life. Periwinkles filled the crevices between one rock and its neighbour. There were so many it would have been a simple matter to pick them up by the double-handful, and a sack could have been filled in a few short minutes. On a previous occasion I had taken home a large pocketful of winkles, fully intending to boil and eat them that night. Some other thing had taken my attention, and those small, dark sea snails had been forgotten. They came to light the following week, having melted out of their shells and into the lining of my coat.
Other shellfish were there in almost equal number. Thick strands of kelp were dotted with brilliantly coloured blue-rayed limpets. The purple topshell, delicate tellin, robust clam, and the occasional slender tower shell surrounded clusters of sedentary mussels. A strong inshore tidal flow must have shifted most of these animals from farther down the shore, for although I saw them there in number there I found fewer as I moved along.
The lower shore, with its larger, flatter rocks and deep-water rock pools, was more inhabited by fish. There I found Grimwald. As I lifted her stone home from its place she stared at me, rather obliquely, I thought, and only scuttled off when I reached down to pick her up.  For five minutes she swam from one hiding place to another, coldly determined that I should not catch her.
It took a while, but then she was in my hand. Grimwald is a shanny, a nasty piece of work if one happens to be a smaller fish living in the same environment. That large, down-turned mouth gives her a pitiful appearance, but don’t be fooled. There is only one thing on her mind, as I discovered when I put my thumb near to her nose. Her mouth opened slightly to reveal a double row of serrated teeth, and then she leaped forward and clamped her mouth shut on my thumb. When I got her off she had blood trickling down her chin, a mixture of mine and her own.
Yes, the sea has everything we want, and more.