Whitby Fossils

How to find Whitby Fossils.

Even away from the hectic town centre, there are several activities which you can enjoy. One of my favourites is searching for Whitby fossils. Whitby yields many ammonites, reptiles and shells, also famous for Jet which is similar to Amber. There are several places along the Whitby coast where you can find Whitby fossils. Place be careful with young children, as the rock face's around the coast can become unstable and attention should be paid at all times. Make sure you always go onto the beach at low tide and allow for plenty of time to get back to the beach should your venture around the cliff face.

Whitby Fossils
Whitby Fossils

Whitby Fossils

When you visit Whitby, you will see history in its streets. The Abbey has stood proudly for centuries while there is much to enjoy in museums relating to the past and the sea. However, Whitby offers something much older as well; fossils. If you enjoy roaming, there are places you can even find fossils for yourself.

The immediate coastline remains home to ammonites, reptiles, shells and Whitby Jet which is much the same as Amber. If you go in search of fossils as a family, take care that the kids don’t venture into places where the rock might crumble. The best time to go looking is at low tide to see the debris that the sea has deposited. If the winds have been blowing and the sea is rough, there is a good chance of a find. However, make sure you keep an eye on the tide because people have been known to get cut off by the advancing tide with no means of getting away.

Where can you find fossils in and around Whitby

Whitby is surrounded by beaches, to the north and south. You will enjoy each of them, and can there is a chance that you can find fossils during your time there. One of the region’s nicknames is the ‘’Dinosaur Coast’’ and palaeontologists and those interested in fossils in general head here from far and wide.

  • Staithes was Captain Cook’s home but it is also the northern end of the ‘’Dinosaur Coast.’’ There are organised tours centring on Staithes although you are more than welcome to search independently. Kids will be impressed if they find ‘’fools’ gold’’ which come in small pices; iron pyrite.
  • Port Mulgrave a little to the south and you must take care if you head down to the beach in search of fossils so it is not a place for kids. There are ammonites and reptile remains regularly found by those who do get down to the beach.
  • Runswick Bay is the next place heading south to Whitby, a beach of sand and rock with plenty of rockpools to explore. Ammonites are regularly found here when you search among the tidal debris and the rocks.
  • Kettleness Bay is to the west of Runswick Bay, a fairly remote cove whose appeal is largely fossils. It is not suitable for children because access is difficult. Ammonites and other fossils are regularly found on the foreshore and on the shale cliff face. Whitby Jet is also found here.
  • Sandsend Ness is another favourite with fossil collectors. The shale banks are filled with belemnites close to the surface. Sandsend Beach itself to the south is family-friendly but not so productive for fossils.
  • Upgang Whitby Beach, Whitby Sands and Tate Hill Beach are the closest to the Town but known more for families to enjoy the sands rather than for fossils.
  • Saltwick Bay is south of Whitby and at times access can be fairly difficult due to the erosion of the steps on the path. It is not a place for swimmers but fossil hunters may well find both ammonites and belemnites. Whitby Jet is also found amongst the rocks and shale.
Ammonites Fossil; Whitby Fossils
Ammonites Fossil; Whitby Fossils

What type of fossils might you find

Several different fossils can be found along this stretch of coastline:

  • Ammonites are now extinct marine animals. Their appearance is shell-like and they may be as much as 140 million years old. Certainly, it is thought they became extinct at the same time as the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago.
  • Belemnites were squid-like in appearance and are dated 135 million years ago. They get the nickname, ‘’bullet stone’’ because of their appearance.
  • Dinosaur/Reptiles Remains are most likely to be found just above the level of the beach in the cliff faces.
  • Shells
  • Jet is compressed wood from the Araucacia or Monkey Puzzle tree. This organic gemstone is thought to be about 180 million years old and is commonly used to make jewellery.
Ammocliff; Whitby Fossils
Ammocliff; Whitby Fossils

How to collect fossils

Fossils are regularly found on the foreshore among the debris left by the tides. You can expect to find more after rough weather, so in fact, wintertime is popular with fossil hunters. Ammonites are regularly found trapped under rocks so it is a fruitful exercise searching amongst the rocks and in the pools.

Otherwise, fossils can be found among the shales and also in cliff faces where the rock is fairly loose. That in itself is a warning that you should not take the family if you wish to explore the cliffs. You can take a small pick or hammer with you which may be a help on the cliffs.

Historic finds in Whitby

Whitby Museum is the best place to go to see the many ‘’treasures’’ found locally over the years. Its geology collection is quite stunning and is a match for anything in the UK. That should be no surprise because Whitby was at the forefront of the science of geology back in the 19th Century with the Museum opening in 1823.

The marine reptiles are especially impressive.  Your eyes will immediately be drawn to something looking much like a crocodile that hangs on the wall. Some of the early finds back in the 19th Century are on display and over the years, the collection has been expanding.

Whitby Jet; Whitby Fossils
Whitby Jet; Whitby Fossils

Whitby Jet

Whitby Jet is a black organic gemstone that is fashioned into an impressive range of jewellery. There are several shops in Whitby that specialise in Jet products.

Jet is fossilised wood from the Monkey Puzzle or Araucacia Tree and dates back 180 million years.  It was originally mined but today’s Jet is purely collected as the result of coastal erosion so there is a chance you can find it yourself.

Jet is easy to clean; just a wipe with warm water is quite sufficient and if you want to create a shine, a little baby oil will do the trick. In order to avoid getting any of your jet scratched, you should keep it separate from other pieces of jewellery you may have.

Most of the fossils can be found on the foreshore at Whitby, especially after storms or scouring conditions within nodules or loose within the areas of shingle and shale, but fossils are also commonly found in the cliff on the scree slopes either in nodules or loose.

*Very important*

Common sense when collecting at all locations should be taken and knowledge of tide times should always be noted. It is very easy to get cut off at Whitby, the sea always hits the cliff. You should ensure you return before the tide turns. Also be aware of sticky areas at Whitby, on the slippages as it is easy to get stuck especially after rain.

Whitby Fossils
Whitby Fossils

2 thoughts on “Whitby Fossils”

  1. It is with a heavy heart that I write to tell you that there is a shop in Berwick-upon-Tweed called Vintage upon Tweed, where Whitby ammonite pebbles are for sale. I believe it is wrong (possibly illegal) to take these pebbles from Whitby beach and I would like to know that the gentleman who is trading them is stopped from doing this.

    Reply
    • Hello David,

      I’m not affiliated with this website or its authors in any way, however I was just reading this article when I spotted your comment at the bottom.

      Don’t worry about the shop selling ammonite pebbles!

      I’m know the areas around Whitby fairly well and I’d like to reassure you that ammonite pebbles are commonly traded in Whitby itself, as well as elsewhere. People have been collecting ammonite fossils, jet, and other materials from the surrounding beaches and also regularly trading them in the Whitby area for hundreds of years. There are many local shops throughout the town selling ammonites to tourists, and some shops even specialize in selling rarer fossils to collectors. The speed of coastal erosion of the shales and mudstones containing these fossils is incredibly fast and so the pebbles are constantly replenished and the fossils do not run out!

      It does take a keen eye and a lot of patience to find fossils amongst the scattered debris below the cliffs. Often the ones for sale in shops are surplus commonly found fossils which have been found by collectors while looking for rarer ammonite species for their collections. As found they are virtually worthless and often quite a lot of labour also goes into preparing them for display before they can be sold. The people trading these normally don’t make huge sums of money out of it! The price of the fossils being sold in shops generally reflects the the amount of labour that has been put into sourcing the fossils and preparing the final product as well as the costs of keeping them on display for people to buy them.

      That said, there are some things which it is generally not okay to do when collecting, and which could get you into trouble. I’d like to point some of these out for the benefit of anybody else reading:

      Hammering at the cliff faces as this article suggests is not only very foolhardly as it can be incredibly dangerous, but it also risks damaging important scientific discoveries if not carried out with the right level of care and unless detailed records are kept. While it may be tolerated in some places, this kind of activity is not generally suitable for the public to carry out and is best left to experts and people who know what they are doing! Many fossils are quite common, and these are best picked up off the beach anyway as it is both safer and easier. Records of where you found these should still be kept, particularly if they are unusual. However, if you do happen to find an important fossil exposed in the cliff face and you are not an expert, rather than trying to extract it yourself, you should take a photograph and report it to a museum as soon as possible.

      Also, care should always be taken to avoid damaging or disturbing wildlife, whether you are fossil collecting or simply out for a walk with your dog!

      If you adhere to these guidelines, and other relevant fossil collecting guidelines which you can find elsewhere online or in books and leaflets, then you won’t get into any trouble in the Whitby area. If you don’t, then you *could* be damaging the scientific value of the exposures. Even if you don’t bring down the cliff on top of you by hammering at it, you are still at risk of litigation against you, particularly if you are found to have damaged the scientific interest, as most of the exposures are protected under SSSI laws which are designed to prevent reckless or large scale damage to these areas. Wildlife is also protected in many areas by SSSI status, and often has other legal protections as well.

      Also, please be aware that every area is different, and my comments are made specifically about the areas surrounding Whitby, where fossil collecting activities are generally allowed and even some contraversial activities are widely tolerated. Your local area may not be the same, and you should research any area before collecting from it, even if it falls under similar legislation. Often, there may be different local guidelines that should be followed or special permission that should be obtained first, and collecting is not allowed at all in some areas which are especially sensitive, for better or for worse!

      Disclaimer: Please be aware that I am not a lawyer. My comments above do not constitute legal advice and shall not be used as such.

      -Tom

      Reply

Leave a Comment