Storms strip shipwrecks

A Blyth fisherman has donated a colony of dead man’s fingers to Tynemouth’s Blue Reef Aquarium.

The grisly-looking soft corals with their chilling common name have gone on display in one of the aquarium native marine displays, just in time for Halloween.

It’s believed that recent stormy weather may have stripped the soft corals from shipwrecks out at sea and brought them closer to shore where they were picked up by the fisherman.

Blue Reef’s Anna Pellegrino said: “As well as having one of the most notorious names in the marine world, these corals also look pretty disgusting and – I’m reliably informed – feel even worse.

“However they’re amazing creatures which are made up of thousands upon thousands of tiny organism small working together and they do look spectacular in their new display.

dead-man-fingers“Once they became dislodged from their original home in the depths of the sea they would have floated helplessly. Here at the aquarium they can enjoy near-perfect conditions, a steady food supply and will be unaffected by even the strongest storms.

“They’re also a gruesome addition to our displays in the run up to Halloween,” she added.

Found around the British coast, dead man’s fingers live in clusters of groups to form giant colonies.

The colonies form fleshy-looking masses which resemble blunt fingers. When they feed the corals extend feathery tentacles in to the water giving the impression that the fingers are decaying – hence their nightmarish-sounding name.

In addition to shipwrecks the corals attach themselves on to many hard surfaces including rocks, shells, stones and even crab shells.

The dead man’s fingers is made up of tiny organisms called ‘polyps’. Each polyp has a mouth surrounded by featherlike tentacles.

The bodies of the corals can be grey, pink, white, orange or yellow and they protect the polyps and the sensitive tentacles.

The tentacles have stinging cells called ‘nematocysts’ which are used to stun and immobilise passing prey items.