Mermaid's purse

Go hunting for mermaid’s purses, one of the ocean’s treasures

2 minute read

You may have gone hunting for chocolate eggs at Easter, but there’s another treasure you can hunt for year-round: mermaid’s purses.

Everyone loves a treasure hunt on the beach, but there might be an interesting find hidden right under your nose - mermaid's purses.

Finding these can help us learn more about the fascinating creatures living on our shores - including sharks! If you live in Sussex, you can even get your hands on some amazing prizes when you find one with Wild Coast Sussex's latest competition.

Before you hit the beach to begin your hunt, you should know what to look for. We chatted to Harriet Allen from the Sharks Trust to get the low-down on mermaid’s purses and how you can find them.

What are mermaid’s purses?

Mermaid's purse in ocean

A shark foetus in a mermaid's purse, found in Cornwall

Credit: Sam Mansfield

Some sharks, skates and rays lay eggs. Rather than hard shells, these eggs are a tough leathery capsule. Once the eggs have hatched and the shark, ray or skate has emerged into the sea, the empty eggcases (also called a mermaid’s purse) often wash up on the beach.

Each species’ eggs look different, but the size, shape and features can tell you which one laid it.

Where can I find them?

One of the best places to find mermaid’s purses is among the strandline, where seaweed washes up. They can also sometimes be found trapped in grasses at the bottom of sand dunes.

Mermaid's purse on beach

Credit: Richard Harrington

If you’re a diver or a snorkeller, you can sometimes spot egg cases on the seafloor where they’ve been laid by skates, or tangled around seaweed where catsharks laid them - but be sure not to touch or disturb any egg cases underwater.

Why do the Shark Trust want people to report them?

Recording your finds helps the Sharks Trust discover more about egg-laying species in our waters, as empty egg cases indicate which species are present in certain areas.

People taking part in this citizen science project gives us more data and wider coverage than could ever be achieved by the Shark Trust team alone – in the past twenty years, around 450,000 eggcases have been reported to the Great Eggcase Hunt!

What do I do if I find one?

If you find an eggcase, the first thing to do is to try and identify which species it comes from.

To do this you need to look at the size, shape and key features of the eggcase, such as a particular texture or pattern. There is an eggcase ID guide and a step-by-step ID Key to help you do this.

Mermaid's purse in hands

Credit: Richard Harrington

Then, submit your eggcase to the Great Eggcase Hunt. You can do this through a Recording Form, or the Shark Trust mobile app.

If you live in Sussex, you also have the chance to win some prizes when you report your finds.

To enter the competition, take a screenshot of your submission confirmation and email the image to the Wild Coast Sussex project. For an extra entry, share on Facebook, Twitter or an Instagram post and tag @WildCoastSussex.

Then, just wait to find out if you’ve won yourself some treasure!

Full competition terms and conditions can be found here