‘World’s loneliest albatross’ named Albie and a rare multi-coloured sea slug are among the most incredible wildlife sightings off the UK coast in 2022

  • Royal Society of Wildlife Trusts has published its annual marine review for 2022
  • Top sightings include a colourful sea slug spotted in UK waters for the first time
  • Also included in the list is a swordfish that turned up off the Isle of Man in August

The world’s loneliest albatross and a rare multi-coloured sea slug are among the most incredible wildlife sightings off the UK coast this year.

A 100-year-old Greenland shark also washed up on these shores for only the second time ever.

But avian flu has killed tens of thousands of seabirds, they are feeding their chicks plastic, and marine life is being dangerously disturbed by tourists, according to the Wildlife Trusts’ annual marine review.

A highlight of this year is the return of Albie, who has been described as the world’s loneliest albatross, to Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire in the spring.

Babakina anadoni is a colourful species of sea slug. It was spotted in UK waters for the first time earlier this year

• A black-browed albatross returned to Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire. ‘Albie’ is believed to be the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere and the same bird that blew off course in 1967 

Among the most exciting marine sightings this year:

– Albie, thought to be the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere, after being blown here by the wind, turned up at Bempton cliffs in Yorkshire

– An Atlantic white-sided dolphin stranded off Cornwall was the first seen in the UK for more than a decade;

– An extremely rare swordfish was spotted near the Isle of Man, despite the species usually inhabiting tropical waters;

– A giant ‘sea dragon’ called an ichthyosaur, spotted at the bottom of the Rutland Water in the Midlands, was hailed as one of the greatest finds in British fossil history;

– Bottlenose dolphins seen in the winter showed they are now present off the coast of Yorkshire all year round;

– Atlantic puffin populations have almost tripled in a decade on Skomer and Skokholm islands, off the coast of Pembrokeshire, as they decline elsewhere;

– A rare population boom for the common octopus is believed to have been seen in Cornwall. 

Albie is believed to be the only albatross in the Northern Hemisphere, having blown off course in 1967, so cannot return to his species’ breeding grounds in the Falklands and South Georgia to find a mate, and has been reduced to hanging around with gannets instead.

Celebrity birdwatchers including Bill Oddie, Samuel West and Lee Evans are believed to have visited Yorkshire to see the giant seabird on his last visit in 2021.

Meanwhile, a swordfish, typically found in tropical waters of the mid-Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean, turned up off the Isle of Man in August.

The almost 10-foot fish, named for the sword-like snout which it uses to slash through schools of fish, was a sighting so rare there are thought to have been no more than five in the UK to date.

An extremely rare sea slug was spotted off the coast of the Isles of Scilly, marking the first confirmed record of the species in the UK.

The multi-coloured sea slug, called Babakina anadoni, measures less than an inch (two centimetres) and has only been recorded a handful of times along the west coast of Spain and further south in the Atlantic.

There was also an explosion in Cornish sightings of the common octopus, which Cornwall Wildlife Trust suggests could be evidence of an octopus population boom – an event last recorded along England’s south coast more than 70 years ago.

One fisherman in the village of Mevagissey reported catching 150 of the creatures in one day, compared to the usual one or two in a year.

The marine review describes the stranding of the century-old Greenland shark in Newlyn, Cornwall, and a new species of deep-sea coral, called Pseudumbellula scotiae, which was discovered more than a mile below the surface in the Rockall Trough, 240 miles off Scotland’s west coast.

In the summer, Cornwall Wildlife Trust reported huge numbers of octopus around the Lizard Peninsula. Experts believe it is the sign of a healthy population and possible octopus boom, an event last recorded over 70 years ago

Wildlife affected by extreme weather in 2022 

Butterflies, toads, bats, and lizards were among the creatures devastated by 2022’s extreme weather, according to the National Trust.

Extremes of weather can be expected to be the ‘new normal’ going forward the National Trust said in its review of the year.

The challenging conditions for wildlife included a warm January, tree-toppling storms in February, a bone-dry spring, record breaking temperatures in July and a prolonged summer heatwave causing severe drought, ending with December’s cold snap.

Avian flu also hit wild birds particularly hard, the charity said.

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However, the exciting discoveries come amidst the worst ever outbreak of avian flu in the UK, which devastated huge colonies of wild birds including gannets and skuas.

Research shows at least 13 per cent of the UK population of great skuas – eight per cent of the global population – have died.

Other threats to sea life include oil spills, with Alderney Wildlife Trust coming to the aid of seabirds found covered in oil after Storm Eunice, and the menace of plastic pollution.

A study of dead Manx shearwaters on Skomer Island found the majority had eaten plastic, with adults feeding pieces to chicks.

Scientists fear that 99 per cent of seabirds may have plastics in their stomachs by 2050.

There have also been multiple reports of people irresponsibly disturbing marine life.

At Puffin Island in North Wales, a group of jet skiers were filmed ploughing through colonies of seabirds, while a stranded dolphin died of catastrophic injuries off St Austell Bay in Cornwall after colliding with a boat propeller.

The Wildlife Trusts carry out work to help wildlife, with the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust building almost 50 nest boxes for Manx shearwaters ahead of this year’s nesting season.

Several Wildlife Trusts have started huge projects to restore seagrass – which can absorb and store carbon up to 35 times faster than tropical rainforests.

Essex Wildlife Trust was part of a project deploying stone and broken shells to provide habitat for oysters. 

A stranded dolphin died of catastrophic injuries off St Austell Bay in Cornwall after colliding with a boat propeller (pictured)

Avian flu in the UK, which devastated huge colonies of wild birds including gannets and skuas (pictured)

Dr Lissa Batey, head of marine conservation at The Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘From ancient sea creatures to new species for science, the discoveries in this year’s marine review show just how spectacular life is below the waves.

‘While full of surprises, our oceans are also busy places where wildlife is facing a huge range of pressures – including climate change, pollution and development.

‘The sea needs better protections to help nature recover and thrive as a matter of urgency.’ 

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Rare multi-coloured sea slug is spotted in UK waters: Diver finds 2cm-long specimen off the coast of the Scilly Isles 

A rare multi-coloured sea slug was spotted in UK waters for the first time in summer 2022. 

The slug, called Babakina anadoni, was found by a diver off the coast of the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago southwest of Cornwall on July 29. 

It’s just 0.8 of an inch (2cm) long, less than half the size of a little finger, and is covered with an array of jewel-like ‘cerata’.

These soft finger-like projections, coloured purple, yellow and orange, contain the animal’s gut and may also act as a warning to predators. 

B. anadoni is usually found in warm sea waters around the west coast of Spain, so climate change or recent high UK temperatures could account for its appearance further north. 

Allen Murray made the find while diving near Melledgan, an uninhabited rock island in the archipelago

The Babakina anadoni specimen was found by Allen Murray, a volunteer ‘seasearcher’ for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

He made the find while diving near Melledgan, an uninhabited rock island in the archipelago, as he was taking part in the trust’s National Marine Week.

Mr Murray told MailOnline that he didn’t recognise the species immediately. 

‘I just knew that it wasn’t something I’d seen before or recognised, and nor did anyone else on the boat when I surfaced,’ he said.

‘We then checked our ID guides for the UK when we got back to land but without success.

‘But one of the group had a vague recollection of having seen something similar on a Facebook discussion group and did some digging and tentatively ID’d it as Babakina.’

His photograph of the sea slug is the first confirmed record of the species in the UK, according to the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

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