WILDLIFE experts are hoping to find an explanation as to why an unusual amount of stranded seahorses are being washed up on Dorset's beaches.

Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) said a number of seahorses were washed up within a couple of weeks of each other and had been reported by members of the public on social media.

The first sighting came at Studland on March 29, when Rene Smith picked up a small, dried spiny seahorse on the beach. This was followed by others at Worbarrow Bay, near Kimmeridge, Greenhill beach in Weymouth and Chesil Beach at Portland. The finds include examples of both spiny and short-snouted seahorses, the UK's two native species.

DWT’s marine awareness officer, Julie Hatcher, said: "To have so many seahorses washing up in Dorset in such a short time is unheard of and we are very grateful to the people who found them for publicising their finds.

"While there is no obvious reason for the deaths it certainly indicates that Dorset has a good population of seahorses along the coast."

The wildlife charity said all the seahorses were small individuals, born last year, that would have matured as adults this summer. Seahorses inhabit a number of different types of seabed, including shallow-water seagrass meadows close inshore.

Julie added: "It may be that they struggled to find enough food early in the year or were caught out by some rough sea conditions and accidentally washed up on the beach. We are keen to hear of other records that might give us a clue as to the cause."

Several sites in Dorset are known to have seahorses, including Studland Bay where both species have been found to breed. Both Studland Bay and Worbarrow Bay are currently being considered as possible Marine Conservation Zones, a type of wildlife reserve, which will enable those areas to be managed for the benefit of seahorses and the variety of other marine life that live there.

The decision on whether these sites will be designated is expected in the next few weeks.