My old friend the Arabian Cowrie

Mauritia arabica shell
Credit: Source= |Author=Richard Parker (

Meet an old friend of mine, the Arabian cowrie known by its scientific name as Mauritia arabica (Linnaeus, 1758). When I started my first website as a teenager this was the first animal to feature and it’s still one of my favorites.  I have always loved the fine lines and curves on the shell that resemble Arabic script and give the shell its scientific name “arabica”.

They are pretty wide-spread ranging from South Africa all the way up East Africa , the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam all the way across the Indonesian and Philippine islands and southern coast of China, down to Papua Guinea and northern Australia. It lives in shallow water near corals at cavern entrances and overhanging boulders or even under rocks where it feeds on algae during the night.
In Hong Kong if you know where to look its fairly easy to find them, too. Last weekend I was walking along a small beach in Ha Mei Wan (western side Lamma Island) south of the power station and spotted several bunches of 10 or more of them. The tide was very low which  exposed many of them to the air and huddled together in shady and moist spots of overhanging boulders near the water line.

Arabic Writing image
The inspiration for the name Arabian cowrie: the markings on the shell look a bit like Arabic writing. Source= |Date=2008-2-9 |Author=Danieliness

Another good place I have found this species is snorkeling among coral covered boulders at Shum Wan on Lamma Island. These guys like to cling to the overhangs of boulders near the sandy bottom.

I have inserted a picture from WikiCommons for this post, but for some really excellent images have a look at this site where you can see all the varieties of this little beauty from multiple angles:

PLEASE, DO NOT COLLECT LIVE SPECIMENS OR BUY THEM FROM SHOPS OR ONLINE: There are many websites that sell seashells for profit and to get a perfect shell for selling, most collectors will take live specimens. They will put them in 100% alcohol to make them swell out of their shell and die so that the shell can be stored without smelling of rotting snails. But why kill such a beautiful animal  simply to keep in a box and show off? If we all do that there won’t be any left. Sometimes  empty shells  wash up on  beaches, especially after typhoons. They might not be in perfect shape, but you will be a better person for not killing these pretty little things.


About the HK Marine Life Blog

When I was a teenager growing up in Hong Kong I was fascinated with marine life and naturally went looking for it everywhere I could in Hong Kong. I went snorkeling, beach coming, volunteered as a dolphin-spotter and scoured bookshops and libraries for any information on HK’s marine life. The state of the coastal waters around HK at the time were terrible and I decided that one way to help would be to educate anyone interested in marine life in HK so that people would treasure it more and look after it more carefully. So in 1994 I started a web page called “the Hong Kong Marine Life” page to do just that. The page – all hand written HTML – has long since dissapeared, of course.

I actually went on to become a marine biologist and wrote my PhD thesis on microscopic Antarctic deep-sea creatures and then worked in the Natural History Museum in London for a couple of years. But as great as marine biology is, it is unfortunately hard to earn a living in that line of work. So in the end I had to take a normal job (which is still fun), but I still have a passion for marine biology and oceanography and I am still concerned about the impact we as human beings have on the ocean ecosystem.

Being back in Hong Kong though, I have noticed important changes – some for the better, some for the worse. So I have decided to offer my knowledge, my passion for HK marine life and an inexplicable thirst for finding and compiling information into more useable form, to restart the HK marine life page as a blog. That – by the way – also is all I have time for these days!

So what I am going to do with this blog is I am going to try to capture some thoughts, answer some questions and give some interesting facts and figures on all things do to with the wonderful world under the sea in Hong Kong.

I hope you enjoy this blog and that it teaches you something new or interesting. Feel free to request specific posts or ask any questions, I will be happy to help.

Four Sperm Whales Stranded at Yancheng City in Jiangsu Province

Although this incident happened not in Hong Kong but in Jiangsu north of Shanghai, in January of 2003 Hong Kong also had a sperm whale stranding. Sperm whales are large animals that roam large distances, so this stranding is relevant to Hong Kong marine life, too.

Four sperm whales that were stranded ashore on the 16th of March 2012 at Xintan Salt Field in the coastal city of Yancheng in Jiangsu province. The whales, including a female, were still struggling when they were spotted, residents said. Reports about the size of the whales varied widely, but the pictures speak for themselves:

Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
At first the whales were still found struggling to return to sea
Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu
Frontier defense soldier trying to keep the whale cool and moist
Sperm whale stranded at Yancheng in Jiangsu
A crowd gathered around one of the stranded sperm whales

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu

Sperm whale stranding in Jiangsu
A boy standing on the side of the head of one of the whales
A police cordon is established around one of the whales…
Sperm whale strandings in Jiangsu
One of the whales in its full length

After more than 24 hours of rescue attempts the four whales died. Five rescue plans were put forward, including using helicopters and large vessels to pull the whales back out to sea, digging water channels to re-float them and waiting for a huge rising tide. “But because of the size and physical condition of the whales, all plans failed,” said Xu Xinrong, an animal researcher from Nanjing Normal University who specializes in cetacean mammals. “Small-sized whales sometimes can be rescued when they are stranded on the beach, but mass strandings of big whales is fatal,” Xu said. It was China’s first mass beaching of whales since 1985, when six whales died in the Fujian province. New footage of the incident is available here.

It was later discovered that pieces of flesh had been cut from at least one of the whales’ bodies for food. On March 18, some pieces of the sperm whales’ flesh were found cut away for food, according to a report by China Radio International. The cutting was likely done at night and about 100 kilograms of flesh was removed. ChinaSmack has an article on the incident (please be aware, the article has some swear words) with translations of Chinese internet users discussions on the incident which show a great deal of respect for whales and their conservation. Here are some of the images of the mutilations from the ChinaSMACK website:

Sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu flesh cut off
Chunks of flesh were cut from the flukes
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu had teeth removed
Teeth were removed from the lower jaw of this male.
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with dorsal fin cut off
The small dorsal fin was cut off
sperm whale stranded in Jiangsu has fluke flesh cut off
Chunks cut off the flukes of a stranded sperm whale
stranded sperm whale in Jiangsu with flesh cut out from back
Chunks cut of the lower back leading to the flukes.

Sperm whales, though distributed in nearly all of the earth’s oceans, prefer deep waters and can dive to a depth of 2,200 meters, said Xu. Local authorities said that disposing of the whale carcasses was now a problem. “Generally there are three ways to dispose of a whale carcass: make a specimen of it, bury it on the beach or let the tides take it back into the ocean,” Xu said. In the end they buried the whales in deep pits on the beach.

Sperm whales have stranded in the region before. In January 2004 a sperm whale that stranded in Taiwan made headlines because while being transported on a trailer through a town, it exploded due to the build up of gas from decomposition, spraying surrounding pedestrians and buildings with offal and blood.

exploded whale carcass in Taiwan
Build of of decomposition gases in the carcass caused it to explode during transit through a town.