Know your beach-this week from the beach

#5 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Leather Star

Did you make it out to the last series of minus tides on our local beaches? If not, don’t despair! We have another set of some of the lowest tides of the summer coming up July 21–25. I had the great pleasure of working during the past two low tides at several beaches: Lincoln, South Alki and Seahurst.

Each beach has its own flavor. If you want to spot an octopus, Lincoln is your best bet. If you want to see sea stars, crabs, moon snails and nudibranchs, South Alki won’t disappoint. If you want to see living sand dollars, huge clams and maybe an unusual find or two, Seahurst is your place.

All three beaches are marine preserves. This means the habitat is protected and collecting or harvesting of any kind is not allowed—what you see on the beach, stays on the beach (bring your camera to document what you find)! I love that we live in a city that values the conservation of our very special marine habitats.

Every visit to the beach is an adventure with new discoveries. At South Alki this past week, along with all of my favorite animals, I saw a couple of unexpected surprises. The first was a juvenile salmon that swam into the collapsible forest of eelgrass right next to me. It was the first time I had seen a salmon during low tide at my home beach. Our forests of eelgrass provide an important habitat for young fish like salmon and sand lance. It gives them shelter and a place to hide from predators. I would have loved to take a photo of that beautiful salmon but it was so fast and the eelgrass did its job of hiding it!

Beach etiquette tip of the week: Eelgrass is the “unwelcome mat” for us humans. Walk around it when you can to avoid trampling juvenile fish, eggs and other animals hiding there!

I do have some photos of the second surprise. At the north end of South Alki, my friend and fellow beach naturalist, Preston, showed me some ten-tentacled anemones. Super small, maybe an inch in diameter at the most, these beautiful anemones are worth seeking out. They burrow into the sand and quickly withdraw their tentacles and disappear if disturbed.

Burrowing Sea Cucumber

At Seahurst Beach, I was convinced I had found a crazy, tentacle-headed worm! A young visitor, exploring the many holes left behind by clams on the beach, had found a couple of these interesting-looking animals. After taking lots of photos and video and observing it for a while, I went home determined to find out what it was we’d been looking at. It turns out, it was a species of burrowing sea cucumber, Leptosynapta clarki. This beautiful, worm-like sea cucumber feeds on bits of organic material in the sand. You can see its feeding tentacles at work in the video above. It also lacks respiratory structures and instead, absorbs oxygen through its skin.

Striped Nudibranch

At Lincoln Beach, my favorite discovery was a striped nudibranch, Armina californica. One of the larger nudibranchs, this species can reach six inches in length. You’re likely to find it part buried in the sand, hunting for its favorite food: sea pens.

Basket Top Spaghetti Tube Worm

I admit to being a bit disappointed that my burrowing sea cucumber at Seahurst wasn’t a cool worm. We have so many beautiful and interesting marine worms here in the Salish Sea. Take, for example, the basket-top spaghetti tube worm, pictured above. You might overlook it, thinking it’s some algae or detritus, but it’s really a spectacular structure. The worm builds a tube-shaped home and then adorns the top of it with this intricate, fibrous basket. The basket may serve as protection, camouflage or even a filter for food.

Red Banded Commensal Scale Worm on a Striped Sun Star

The red-banded commensal scale worm is often found living on a host of another species, like this striped sun star. It is very territorial, and has been known to bite attackers of its host or other commensal worms hoping to join the party!

Bat Worm and Flat Worm

Although its common name is bat star worm because of its commensal relationship with bat stars, this striking polychaete worm is often found living on its own here in Puget Sound. Muddy sand, pilings and floats are good places to find one.

Northern Feather Duster Tube Worm

The northern feather duster worms are my favorites. They look like flowers in bloom when they are under the water. Their fringy tentacles are used for both feeding and respiration (and for wowing us land dwellers!). They build their tube homes out of mucus and sediment.

Calcareous Tube Worms on a Cockle Shell

Look on and under rocks and you’re sure to see evidence of calcareous tube worms. Their maze-like, calcium carbonate homes give their soft bodies protection from predators. Like the northern feather duster, the various species of calcareous tube worms use fringy tentacles to feed and breathe.

We look forward to seeing you out on the beach! Don’t forget to tag photos of all of your beach finds with #beachnaturalist #knowyourbeach #beachnaturalists #seattleaquarium. Happy tide pooling!

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Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I spent the first half of my 21 years here immersed in Seattle’s wonderful coffee culture. My husband and I owned and operated Victrola Coffee on Capitol Hill until 2008. We sold our business that year to spend more time with our newborn son and I have been a stay-at-home, homeschooling mama and budding photographer and naturalist ever since! It started with me taking my young son to the beach, gazing into tide pools and wanting to know more about what we were looking at. Soon, I was going to the beach by myself, every low tide I could, and following the Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists around asking questions. 🙂

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my second year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”

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King County voters: Increase access to the wonders of the marine environment-support Prop 1!

“As a parent of a kid with special needs, I cannot thank you enough for a night where we feel like we belong.”

Taken from a survey about the Aquarium’s recent DreamNight event, those words sum up the feelings of many parents who attend the event with children. Twice each year, the Aquarium opens its door to children and adults with disabilities or special health care needs for DreamNight—a chance to relax and explore our exhibits at their own pace and in their own way while enjoying an assortment of talks, activities and demonstrations. Admission is complimentary.

The comment we hear most frequently from DreamNight attendees? “Please do more of these.”

The passage of Prop 1, Access for All, could allow the Aquarium to do just that—expand our DreamNight programming so even more people can learn about our amazing one world ocean and all the fascinating animals that depend on its health to survive.

And that’s just one of the ways that Access for All could make a difference at the Seattle Aquarium. Currently, about 40,000 schoolchildren visit the Aquarium on field trips each year. The passage of Prop 1 could allow us to increase school participation by 10–15 percent, so even more kids could benefit from our conservation programming—via field trips as well as outreach, an area where we can’t currently keep up with demand.

In a statement supporting Prop 1, Aquarium President & CEO Robert W. Davidson wrote, “The Seattle Aquarium is the largest platform for marine conservation education in the state of Washington. We currently reach almost one million people each year—including over 60,000 students and others from underserved communities who we welcome free or at reduced rates. But even with this strong impact, there are large numbers of King County residents, especially families with young children, who we are unable to reach because neither our resources nor theirs are sufficient. Access for All will help us to much more fully bring our mission to citizens of all ages and geographic locations in King County.”

Increase access to the Seattle Aquarium and other important arts, science and heritage institutions—vote to approve King County Prop 1 on your August 1 ballot! Visit our website, or the Access for All website, for more information.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#4 in the 2017 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Alki Beach Park, South Alki, “the rocky side,” Constellation Park, Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint—it may have a lot of names but this stretch of beach is one of my favorites in Seattle. A diversity of habitats are what makes it great for low-tide beach walks. On the south end, there’s a large boulder wall with so much life in every nook and cranny. We often see very large painted and plumose anemones, and find ourselves at eye level with purple sea stars and snappy barnacles. If you bring a flashlight to light up the dark crevasses, you can discover even more creatures that call this wall home.

Exploring the boulder wall.

Exploring the boulder wall.

A painted anemone retracts its tentacles as the tide goes out.

An anemone sags without the water to float in.

Next we have eelgrass beds and sandy flats. We always try to walk around, not through, the eelgrass beds. Eelgrass is a delicate home to kelp crabs, young salmon and other small fish. In the sandy gaps, between the grass, we see kelp crabs running around, decorated with little bits of green algae stuck to their backs. In the sandy flats a big treat for us is to find a moon snail. These large gastropods are voracious predators, using their drill-like mouths to suck clams from their shells. And they make something that causes one of the most frequent questions we get on the beach: “What are these gray plasticity looking things, are they trash?” Moon snail egg collars! They may feel like plastic and look like a toilet plunger, but they are made by these snails. Combining mucus, sand and millions of eggs, their distinct shape is formed by the moon snail’s body and shell. I love how excited people get when they learn about these. Plus they are home to so many smaller creatures.

Low tide on Alki beach.

A barnacle-eating dorid and a tiny skeleton shrimp on an egg collar.

A spaghetti worm who lost its tube home.

On to the long row of rocks that goes out into the water. This is the sweet spot for all kinds of creatures. This time we found something amazing: a huge gumboot chiton. This one was about 8–9 inches long and really camouflaged between two rocks. These chitons can grow up to 13 inches long and live up to 20 years. They also have a unique worm and tiny crab that often live in their underside flaps. And they have a radula (kinda like their tongue) that is coated in a hard magnetic material. All and all, a pretty cool meatloaf-looking critter.

A gumboot chiton hides between rocks.

Sharing our gumboot find.

A small blood star.

If you keep going north on the beach, you’ll encounter big, sandy tide pools with thousands of small aggregating anemones, and small rock ledges with dozens of lined and mossy chitons. Larger rocks at the far north end of the beach are always a happy home for lots of bright orange sea cucumbers and more brilliant purple sea stars.

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If it’s an extra special day, you could see a humpback whale breaching, playful harbor seals popping up, or ospreys and bald eagles dive-bombing into the water for a fish. All with ice cream and pizza just a short walk away. Alki Beach is a pretty special place.

A stubby rose anemone in a shallow tide pool.

A beautiful summer day on Alki.

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Bobby:

This is Bobby’s second year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle four years ago from San Antonio, Texas.

Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him biking to work where he leads a creative team at a local marketing agency.


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Passionate about the Seattle Aquarium-from her home in California

“Puget Sound is such an incredible and unique treasure…people in Seattle are fortunate to see it every day. And the Seattle Aquarium is the embodiment of the treasure that is Puget Sound.” Listening to longtime Seattle Aquarium supporter Lesley Canfield talk about Puget Sound and the Aquarium, you’d never guess that she lives in California.

Lesley has had many years to develop her deep appreciation for the Sound. A California native, she was enticed to visit our area in 1986 by her soon-to-be-husband, Brad, who lived in Seattle. “He took me to Ivar’s, on a ferry ride, to visit the Aquarium…I was just dazzled by all of it,” she says.

It was just a few years later, after her marriage and subsequent relocation to Seattle, that a fortunate concurrence of events took place which created a new sense of purpose in Lesley’s life: she and Brad bought a house on Hood Canal, and she became involved with the Seattle Aquarium.

“We saw the crab population radically diminish along the Hood Canal shoreline,” says Lesley. “The environment was changing before my eyes…I had to do something, help make a change. I couldn’t just sit back.”

Lesley Canfield

Lesley joined the Seattle Aquarium board in 2004 and quickly became involved—chairing the annual Splash! fundraiser, among other key roles, and supporting the Aquarium’s transition to a true conservation organization. “When I first joined the board, there were just two staff members devoted to conservation,” she notes. “Now the team has grown and become the hub of the wheel for so many conservation and education organizations. Conservation is being approached extremely strategically at the Aquarium, and I think it will lead to great success.”

Lesley retired from the Seattle Aquarium board in 2014 and returned to her home state of California, where she remains an avid supporter of the Aquarium’s conservation mission. “Being part of the Aquarium for so long and then moving two states away—my passion is still there,” she says. “I believe it’s important to support the Aquarium and its conservation work no matter where you are. Because, as the Aquarium grows and expands, it becomes much more than a local resource…its impact and reach expand exponentially.”

What would Lesley say to potential Aquarium donors? “I would tell them that their money is very well spent, and that their support goes to work right away,” Lesley responds. “Also that direct gifts can create direct results.” She continues, “If your passion is sea otters, you can find programs that help further understanding of sea otters in the wild and under human care, or help care for animals at the Aquarium. And if you’re passionate about bringing underserved audiences to the Aquarium, every dollar you donate allows another child to experience amazing animals, and to learn about how to care for the marine environment.”

For Lesley, it’s all about ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy the same sense of wonder that she and her family feel every time they stroll a Puget Sound shoreline. “We raised our kids on the beach—that’s where they played,” she says. “And we need to preserve that for those who follow.”

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Sayonara, single-use plastics! Hello, healthier ocean!

Some sobering plastic facts:

  • Plastic packaging makes up 26 percent of the volume of all plastic produced worldwide—and nearly all of it is single-use.
  • Thirty-two percent of all plastic packaging ends up in the ocean.
  • Over 150 million tons of plastic are already in the ocean—with an additional eight million tons entering the ocean every single year.

Clearly, stemming the flow of single-use plastics into the ocean is vitally important. To do our part—and set an example for visitors—the Seattle Aquarium recently committed to a significant reduction of single-use plastics across our facility.

That resulted in some major changes in our café: no more plastic straws, no more soda cup lids, and no more plastic beverage bottles. Instead, we’re offering paper straws and a great variety of beverages packaged in aluminum, glass—and even cardboard! In the gift shop, we’ve moved away from selling water bottled in plastic; instead, customers can choose cardboard cartons of water or, even better, reusable water bottles that can be filled at stations located in the Aquarium.

This commitment is part of a bigger-picture initiative by aquariums around the country, teaming up through the Aquarium Conservation Partnership to combat the challenge of plastic pollution. What does it mean for us?

Spread the word

While recycling and beach cleanups are important, these actions don’t keep up with the amount of plastic entering the ocean—every single minute of every single day, a garbage-truck’s-worth of plastic goes into the ocean. We invite you to join us in avoiding single-use plastics, and encouraging friends and family to do the same. Together we can decrease the demand for plastics production and show that we’re serious about keeping our oceans clean.

Choose alternatives to single-use plastics

There are plenty of options: reusable straws, bags, cups and water bottles. By investing in these innovative solutions, you help foster a culture of less waste and protection of our marine areas.

Thank you for doing your part to protect Puget Sound and our one world ocean!

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