Discover the wonderful sea creatures that inhabit the UK seas and shores
UK seas is a guide to the fauna and flora found around UK coasts.
While the majority of species are marine, some species are included
that are regularly encountered on land by the coast, so you’ll find
descriptions of non-marine species such as reptiles, amphibians,
insects and plants as well.
Small, tough animals, usually seen closed up inside the plates of its shell-like "house", but appearing feathery when feeding in seawater.
An unusual-looking shark, with a flattened body and thick tail that was once sold as "monkfish".
The angular roughshark is aptly named for its pointed head and fins, and the rough teeth-like scales which cover its body. It has a broad, flattened head, a short, blunt nose and two tall dorsal fins, which look a little like sails. The angular roughshark eats worms, crustaceans and molluscs, which it feeds on by using a suction technique.
Graceful, swallow-like seabird, with a bright red bill and black cap. It dives rapidly from the air to pluck small fish from near the surface.
A flat fish, usually a dappled pale colour, with both eyes on the right side of its head.
A tropical-looking fish with scrawly grey markings, a beak-like mouth, and a dorsal fin that can be triggered into defensive action, giving its name.
A large, chunky fish with a big mouth, flattened sides to the body, in a variety of spots and colours. Can be very inquisitive, and investigate snorkellers from a respectful distance.
A surprisingly substantial jelly, robust and spherical, with no tentacles but eight thick frilled arms. It is bulky and white with pretty purplish fringe.
A gentle giant, that basks at the sea's surface while it feeds on plankton.
Long and agile hunters of small fish that prowl amongst the shallows.
The familiar red, sometimes green, "blob" found on the shore which opens to a tentacled flower rimmed in blue in moving water.
Bib (or Pouting)
Cod Like, but with a subtle banding down the body.
A conspicuous olive green to brown weed, found on the middle of the shore as the tide goes out.
Henricia oculata and H. sanguinolenta
A vivid pink-purple colouration with bright orange tips to the arms.
Purplish blue lines radiate visibly through the bell-shaped body. Similar in shape to lion's mane, but much smaller, and with a relatively mild sting - though this can still be painful.
Beautifully proportioned, shiny silver-blue shark with a pointed snout.
A lively dolphin, with a distinctive "beak" and silvery-grey colour. Often seen in family groups.
A dark, mostly grey/brown goose with a distinctive white neck patch. Calls with a pleasant chattering sound.
A floating barnacle, with legs that stick out from an almost-transparent body case, and a stalk attached to its own float.
An evergreen shrub, with stiff, dark green spiked shoots and leaves. It has glossy red berries in summer and autumn.
Eel-like, yellow-brown with black spots on its back. It has a doleful facial expression.
By the wind sailor
A bright blue float with thread-like tentacles belonging to a colony of jellyfish-like animals.
Dark red, almost purple, with short fronds that quickly dry with an encrusting of salt when out of water. Plants growing high up the shore can be a pale green colour, like the one in the photograph.
This quiet bird resembles a yellowhammer - males are most conspicuous in the breeding season with chestnut wings and black-striped cheeks.
The common cockle is compact and slow growing, but found in huge numbers in their favoured habitats.
The cod is a handsome, predatory fish that is speckled brown along its golden back, with one barbel on its chin.
Coley (or saithe)
Brownish, cod-like fish. A single pale line which runs straight along the side of its body is distinctive.
Common blenny or shanny
A perky fish, mostly green or brown, with variable patches of other colours. Able to change its colour to coordinate with its surroundings. It has eyes near top of its head.
Brittlestars have five very thin arms, which break easily if handled. At each arm joint there are also small spines, giving it a decidedly spiky look.
Distinctive hourglass pattern of cream, with light and dark grey. Medium-sized dolphin, and really acrobatic - it will often "bow-ride" in front of a moving boat.
Common hermit crab
The most obvious feature is the home a hermit crab lives in: usually a snail shell. Its body is soft and shaped to fit inside spiral-shaped shells.
A ribbed, cone-shaped shell stuck to rocks and boulders is usually all you will see; the animal inside is a snail-like mollusc with a powerful "foot" to keep it clamped to the rock.
A small, busy lizard, brown with narrow stripes, usually well camouflaged in sandy and leafy backgrounds.
Beautiful blue (never pink!), with long red antennae and pale yellow markings.
Usually brownish in colour, with two rows of suckers lining each of its eight "arms".
It has an almost transparent body, with black stripes. Its legs are banded blue, yellow and black, colouring that is more visible on bigger specimens.
A small, dark seaduck that bobs around in the sea, and is often found in large flocks. It eats molluscs.
The Common seal has finely spotted grey/brown fur, a rounded head with no visible ears, and 'V' shaped nostrils help tell it apart from the grey seal. It Seems clumsy on land, but graceful under water.
Common shore crab
The Common shore crab is predominantly green, but varies through yellow, brown and black.
A very big flat-fish, with a pointed snout, and brown body with pale spots.
The Common squid has a long pale body with a frilly fringe, large eye and long tentacles.
The familiar five-armed shape, and usually orange colour are unmistakeable.
Striking orange or red, with pale stripes and a bulky appearance.
Very large shell, usually white. Its body is also pale, but flecked with dark colours. Also called "buckie".
Common whelk egg cases
The puffy balls of white eggcases come from the common whelk which are laid on the seabed by these large sea snails.
Colour variable, but usually has pale umbrella-shaped bell with brown V-shaped markings, a little like the divisions on a compass. Possibly the most typical-looking jellyfish, with round bell-shaped body and long tentacles. Also called "sea nettle", this jellyfish stings.
A very large eel, slate grey with a menacing appearance, but usually harmless unless on an angler's hook.
This small wrasse has stripy cheeks, a dark smudge behind the eyes and a distinguishing spot on the tail. Wrasse are chequered brown but breeding males are flecked with electric blue and red spots.
Large, long necked - usually with a white throat and iridescent black plumage elsewhere. It appears black from a distance, with its snake-like neck and it is often seen amongst the waves, before diving to catch fish.
A shimmering disc of clear jelly, fringed with some short, hair-like fronds.
The male is a beautiful array of colours: blue, orange, yellow and black, one of the brightest fishes in UK seas. Females are a golden colour, with black markings.
Surprisingly large wader, with a long downturned bill, long legs and dappled brown body.
Cushion stars are similar to other starfish but have shorter, stubbier arms.
Large eye, striped body shaped by the central "bone" and ten tentacles (the two longest ones are usually hidden).
This chalky white "bone" comes from an amazing squid-like mollusc which has large eyes, eight arms (plus two feeding tentacles) and a body that can change chameleon-like in colour and texture.
A stunning, substantial anemone with bulbed tentacles of concentric reds, whites and other colours - but it is usually hidden amongst sand and gravel when the tide is out.
Plain white or grey, but often banded yellow or brown.
A red seaweed, with flat, straight fronds that branch out 20-30cm or more. It is often found bunched together, as its spores ("seeds") do not travel far from the parent.
Hunched shoulders and slightly down-curved bill, along with white tail patches, which help to identify it, but actually rather similar to a number of other small waders in winter.
Pinky brown body with a pie-crust edge and chunky black claws. It is the familiar "brown crab" on the fishmongers slab.
Tough, round shell usually dark brown, black or grey.
A large sea urchin, usually orange-pink in colour and covered in pale prickles. It lives beneath the waves, grazing on rocks and seaweed, but its test (shell) is a familiar sight in trinket shops.
An olive brown necklace of egg-like beads. The "eggs" are capsules of air (to help the weed float towards sunlight when the tide is in) or filled with a gooey liquid containing reproductive spores.
The eider is a large seaduck. The males are very dapper as if in bright evening wear, and the female is a little dowdy in mottled brown, more practical for camouflage when sitting on eggs. Sociable and quite noisy together.
Distinctive shaped shell, with striped ridges. It is tiny, but as colourful as its larger tropical relatives.
An enormous shell, over a foot in length, which lives with the narrow end of its shell submerged in the seabed so that only the shell opening is visible.
Frilled sharks look really different to most of the sharks we are familiar with, and their long, snake-like appearance is thought to have inspired tales of huge sea serpents. It has a large blunt head and a very large mouth armed with lots of rows of sharp teeth. The shark uses these teeth to catch fish, squid and smaller sharks. Behind the head are 6 pairs of "frilly" gill slits, with the first pair going all the way around the neck to meet underneath. These gill slits have the appearance of ruffles or frills around its neck, and give the animal its name.
Stocky, gull-like, with grey wings and a white body. It has a distinctive bill, with large "nostrils". The Fulmar barely beats its wings as it flies low over the sea, picking floating food from the surface. It defends its nest by spitting a foul-smelling oil at any intruder!
Magnificent, athletic seabirds, mostly white with pale orange head, steely blue bill and black wing tips. Young birds are mostly brown.
An unusual-looking animal, enclosed by bony plates which open up to allow it to sway its legs out to catch food!
A resilient shrub that holds its yellow flowers for months on end, even through winter. Pretty, but very thorny, and can take over large areas if left unchecked.
Great crested newt
A breeding male is stunning, almost dragon-like, with a jagged crest and bright orange and black belly. Otherwise a dark brown yet still-impressive creature.
An animal with two familiar-shaped hinged shells, with one shell much flatter than the other. Also called king scallop.
Bulky, brown pirate of northern seas, with a broad chest and powerful flight.
A tall, long-legged fish-eating bird, that stands motionless for long periods, before darting with its sharp bill for fish prey.
Grey mullet (thick lipped)
A sleek, silvery fish with a torpedo shape. Fast swimming, but may shelter amongst pier leg.
Distinctly dog-like face, with a roman nose, visible ears and mottled grey in colour. It is bulkier than the common seal.
A thick-shelled snail, mostly mottled grey and brown, but often with a pearly looking surface towards the apex of the shell in older specimens.
Penguin-like. It has a very dark brown back and wings, with white underparts and a sharp bill.
A long slender, light greyish-brown dogfish with a long snout and large, green eyes. Both dorsal fins have long grooved spines. There are no obvious patterns or markings on adults, juveniles may be lighter and have dusky white tips on the dorsal and caudal (tail) fins.
With three dorsal fins, haddock are typically cod-like. Their dark grey back fades to cream on the belly. There is a distinct black spot above and behind the pectoral fin known as the "thumb print".
Small but relatively common, regularly seen around the UK, often close inshore. Dark grey, almost black upper body, and pale below. It has a blunt head shape.
Small fish with silver sides and belly. Upper sections can have a blue-green tinge. Dark head, gills and its scales are quite large and easily detached from the body.
A common coastal gull, with grey wings. It has a distinctive red spot on its yellow bill, and has pink legs.
Honeycomb-like homes made by these worms on the shore give it its name. The worms themselves are discreetly tucked away inside!
Looks like a dried seaweed, but actually a colony of hundreds of tiny animals called bryozoans, or "moss animals".
Enormous size, knobbly head, ling fins, with a subtle but distinctive hump near the dorsal fin.
Isle of Man cabbage
Coincya monensis subsp. monensis
A tall and narrow plant, with a yellow flower that looks rather like a wild mustard and other brassicas.
Pretty, vibrantly coloured, with translucent tentacles. Found in a range of greens, pinks, purples, yellows and browns.
Face on, John dory looks like a narrow apparition. From the side, however, its craggy features, spiky fins and a big black spot on its side are unmistakable.
Curious oddments that can look like skeletal sections, but each is simply the holdfast, or "roots" of large seaweeds known as kelp.
The animal's shell is very limpet like, ridged and with a slotted hole at the apex of the shell.
The king scallop has a large, fan-shaped pair of pale shells, rather like the familiar petroleum company's logo.
A treat of a bird to see, in azure blue and flaming orange. Usually zips around quickly and low over water, but you may be lucky to see one perched on a branch or post.
Rather flat and decidedly purplish in colour, this forms a slippery sheet on rocks when exposed to air by the tide.
Enormous, unmistakeable turtle, dark in colour, and described as resembling a floating leather sofa!
A marbled-orange colour, and just one row of suckers on each arm.
A low growing plant, with fleshy succulent leaves, which flowers all summer long, still going strong in september.
Lesser spotted dogfish (or Small-spotted catshark)
Sleek and slender with large, black eyes and many small spots. It eats worms and small fish.
The sooty black appearance above the high tide mark can look a little like oil: in fact, it's a slow-growing lichen that does well in low-pollution areas.
Lions mane jellyfish
Large, reddish brown, umbrella-shaped bell with a mass of long, thin hair-like tentacles. A striking animal, beautiful but dangerous, with a potentially severe sting.
A mini version of the cuttlefish. It grows no more than a few centimetres long, and buries itself in sand.
A white heron-like bird, with black bill and legs and yellow feet.
Long-spined Sea scorpion
Tough customer with spines, and an amazing array of skin colour variations to suit its habitat.
Male is striking blue and pink, plain brown females are much larger.
Mackerel have streamlined bodies with two well separated dorsal fins, they are bright blue-green and they have stripy upper bodies.
A little like a "great white" in shape, with large eyes and prominent teeth. A predator of fish and other sharks, but an undeservedly fierce reputation.
A slender bird, dark black/brown above and pale below. May follow hunting dolphin pods, picking up fish flushed to the surface.
A small, attractively marked jelly, but possesses a surprisingly powerful sting. Has a deep bell with pink or mauve warts.
The long back is often raised above the water's surface, while distinctive markings on the lower body are difficult to see.
Transparent, umbrella-shaped bell edged with short hair-like tentacles, and four rings towards centre. Mostly harmless, though may sting sensitive skin. Very common, can bloom in large numbers when our chilly seas begin to warm up, or cool down.
Very familiar two-shelled mollusc, dark blue to black in colour. Often found attached to rocks on the shore, tending to grow bigger below the tideline.
Shells rather scaly in appearance, chalky in colour. The two "halves" of the shells are quite different in shape.
A plain, greenish toad, except for a bright yellow stripe all the way down its back. Very cute - for a toad!
Northern bottlenose whale
Prominent beak and high forehead, occasionally seen breaching (leaping) out of the water.
Northern stone crab
A very big crab, with spidery legs that stretch to two feet across, and a prickly carapace (shell). Usually red in colour.
The nursehound, also known as the large-spotted dogfish, greater spotted dogfish, or bull huss, is a species of catshark. It has a robust body with a broad, rounded head and two dorsal fins placed far back. It has small black dots covering its back and sides, interspersed with brown spots of varying shapes. The underside is plain white.
Mostly black, with white markings when seen from surface - mostly white below. Adult male has a very tall dorsal fin.
A fish-catching bird of prey, with long-wings, appearing white from below but with much black and brown patterning when seen up close.
An attractive plant, with fleshy, succulent leaves and bell-shaped flowers that are usually purple or blue.
Unmistakable, almost as recognisable as a puffin or magpie, with a bright red sausage of a bill, and black and white plumage.
A familiar oyster, with two knobbly grey shells.
A tall shell with stripes of purple and white, in a striking conical shape.
The long-finned pilot whale is dark in colour, long bodied but with a blunt, bulbous head shape.
Pink sea fan
Pink sea fans are formed from a colony of tiny anemone-like polyps and may be deep pink to white in colour.
Ivory-white, tall anemone with feathery tentacles when underwater - but a contracted, floppy blob if exposed by the tide.
Rather a great-white lookalike! A patch of white beneath its large dorsal fin helps with identification.
So amusing and entertaining, a small bird with a large, brightly coloured bill and squat black and white body.
A rather drab, and decidedly purplish, small bird. This is the small, shy wader you are more likely to find behind you at the base of rocky cliffs, rather than amongst all the other waders at the shoreline of a sandy beach.
Lives buried in sand. Its two long shells look like a cutthroat razor, and they can be quite sharp.
Rather penguin-like, strikingly monochrome, and with a distinctive dagger-like beak.
Similar to dulse, but with more numerous, smaller spoon-shaped fronds that can look torn and ragged.
Well named, as the red legs are clear from a distance, even if knee deep in mud!
A lovely small wading bird, with a striking black and white head. It has brown wings, and a white body.
This is a big, rather slow-swimming dolphin. The adults are usually heavily scarred. They have a pale body, and a rounded head.
A starfish with five tapering arms, and a pink-orange colour. Its skin is covered in smooth bumps.
Boldly patterned with spots, usually brown and cream. Males are often bright green in early summer.
Thin, pale tentacles which can be see when this worm is feeding, but you will see just its narrow, fragile-looking tubes sticking out of the sand at low tide.
Grey above, pale below - can be tricky to separate from other small waders, but a black mark on its "shoulder" helps identify it. It patters quickly along the sand and it has a short beak for catching tiny prey.
A red seaweed with flattened fronds that usually grows on rocky seabeds, but is also very commonly attached to other, larger seaweeds such as kelp.
Just occasionally jet-black, rubbery grapes, in bunches, may be encountered amongst the tideline. The cuttlefish is again involved: these are their eggs, laid amongst seagrasses and seaweeds but dislodged by storms or predators. They can sometimes be found stuck to washed-up weeds.
A large seaslug, usually yellow or orange, covered in small warty bumps. Lays a bright ribbon of eggs in the spring.
Has a cheery bright green, leaf-like form that looks a little like it could grow into a cos lettuce!
A strange looking animal that has a felt-like skin on its back, and brushy bristles on its side.
A type of sea urchin, with a fragile test (shell) normally buried beneath the sandy or muddy seabed.
Although they sound unprepossessing, most are bright, exquisitely beautiful, and quite unlike their garden relatives.
Salmo trutta morpha trutta
A striking trout, with a strong thick tail, and black or brown spots along its shiny flanks.
Tiny, but bright blue so easily spotted.
A large and handsome duck, mostly white with bright red nobbed bill. It has a green head and a chestnut breastband.
Shore clingfish also called Cornish sucker
Appealing fish, with two beautiful blue spots behind each eye.
A rare visitor from Scandinavia that forages amongst sand and shingle. Sparrow sized, with a black and yellow face.
Short-spined sea scorpion
A dweller of rockpools with large eyes, spiny gill covers, and dappled, camouflaged colours which it can change chameleon-like. Resembles a mini "angler fish".
Smooth, oval shaped shell, with a distinctive "shelf" halfway across the opening.
A slender, mottled grey/brown snake. The top of the head is darker than the rest of the body.
A mass of bright green tentacles with purple tips, which are permanently exposed.
A really beautiful little bird, mostly white but with some splashes of chestnut and black. It tends to stand out against dark cliffs and foliage.
A huge head with toothed mouth often agape, and crinkly skin.
The spiny dogfish gets its name from the two large ungrooved spines on each dorsal fin, which have venom glands at their base and are used primarily for defence. Female spiny dogfish mature at 12 years old, while males mature at 6 years old. Gestation is thought to be between 18 and 22 months, one of the longest recorded pregnancies for any vertebrate. Spiny dogfish give birth to a litter of live 'pups' numbering between 1 and 20, and measuring between 18 and 30cm.
A cute, unmistakable fish. Yellow to green in colour, with prominent soft spines.
Spiny spider crab
A knobbly, large but slender crab with long jointed legs. It is often covered with sponges and seaweed and so is difficult to spot.
Spiny squat lobster
Looking a little like a mini-lobster or crab, with red and blue stripes, and long, narrow claws.
One of the biggest of our starfish, it is ivory-white with large blunt spines.
Small bird, hardly bigger than a sparrow, almost black in colour, with a prominent white rump. It looks rather like a house martin in both colouration and size.
Very similar to the beadlet anemone, with pale greenish spots, but often much larger.
Striped sea snail
Small, slimy fish with small eyes, a smooth head and a tapered body - surprisingly cute!
An unremarkable looking shark - except for its enormously extended top part of the tail!
Appealing fish, with definite "eyebrows" above each eye and an endearing facial expression.
An olive-brown seaweed with flattened fronds, that have serrated edges all over.
A steel grey shark with pointed nose and a large dorsal fin, which feeds on fish and crustaceans near the seabed.
Stocky, shortlegged character that turns over seaweeds, other debris, and sometimes stones, looking for small crustacean and insect food. They need to turn a lot to get food through the winter!
Velvet swimming crab
A blue and black crab, with ultra-vivid red eyes and a serious attitude that earns its nickname of "devil crab".
Brown, sometimes yellowish, with variable darker patterns. Eel-like, also called eelpout.
A pretty bird, blue-grey or brown above with black wings and cheeks, orangey breast, and a characteristic white rump and underbelly.
White beaked dolphin
A large, attractive character, may bow-ride with ships and lift entirely out of the water when swimming at speed. White-tipped beak, softly marked white and grey sides.
White rock rose
Delicate white-petalled flowers show at the top of slender stems. Rather fragile looking.