Wildlife of the Solway Firth – The King Scallop
This ‘seashell’ icon is widely recognised by the public as it has long been in use by the oil company Shell as it’s logo. The image is fact based on a King Scallop (Pecten maximus) shell, a shellfish species found in numerous localities in the Eastern Atlantic from Norway to Spain.
They are filter feeders, found on sand or gravel seabed from the low tide mark down to 100m or more. Adult scallops are not fixed to the seabed and have the ability to swim by rapidly opening and closing their hinged shells, a most extraordinary sight to behold! They use this technique to escape from slow moving predators like starfish.
Close inspection of this animal feeding with shells slightly gaping allows us to see an emerging fringe of up to 36 small tentacles each with a simple eye at the base. These eyes and tentacles are probably good enough to give them warning of approaching danger.
Eggs and sperm are liberated in millions to mingle and then develop into free swimming larvae that drift with the currents for long enough for some of them to establish on distant seabed, where with good fortune they may grow up to 21 cm wide and live for 20 years.
For the UK it is a very valuable commercial fishery with landings of about 20,000 tons a year. The dredging technique required to bring them up off the seabed is very disruptive so where and when and in what quantities they can be fished is strictly controlled. A small quantity ( 5% of total catch) are hand picked by divers, and related scallop species are cultured or farmed in huge quantities in China And Japan ( more than a million tons a year).
If you missed it, check out our article on the Red Mullet, a fascinating fish found along our coast. Or why not visit the King Scallop in person at The Lake District Coast Aquarium, plus so many more! They’re open 7 days a week 10:00 to 17:00 with children under 3 getting in free!