Know your beach-this week from the beach

#6 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Bobby:

My latest shift on the beach was a bit of a slow one. It was not a very low tide and the overcast and drizzle kept families from heading down. The folks that did come down were really great and knowledgable. I am continually amazed how well the kids and teens know their local sea creatures. One of the questions we get asked the most is have we seen any sea stars and how are they doing. People have heard about sea star wasting syndrome and they are concerned. They recall times years back where sea stars would be everywhere. For a quick recap: Starting in 2013, a mysterious syndrome began effecting sea star populations up and down the Pacific coastline. Within a few months sea stars were “melting” in record numbers. The hardest hit were the ochre star—the purple and orange stars that are common on our beaches. Marine researches still do not know the cause, though most signs point towards a viral pathogen. The good news is that we have seen a drop in the number of stars with the syndrome. Signs are looking up and populations of ochre stars are slowly starting to recover.

I went back into the archives and pulled some of my favorite sea star photos from the past few years.

Ochre Stars, purple sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus)

These stars can be purple, yellow/orange, or brown. They have a web-like array of white spines and generally have 5 arms. Ochre stars can live for more than 20 years. They feed on barnacles, limpets, snails, and mussels.

Leather star (Dermasterias imbricata)

The leather star has a mottled, leathery. slick upper surface and are generally red with patches of grey or brown. If you give a leather star a big sniff it smells like garlic. Most leather stars will have a “commensal” scale worm that lives in the spaces between the leathers star’s tube feet. Leather stars like to eat anemones and urchin.

Blood star (Henricia leviscula)

Blood stars are vivid orange or brick-red and are small compared to other sea stars. They feed primarily upon sponges.

Mottled star (Evasterias troschelii)

Often mistaken for ochre stars, mottled stars are not as vivid in color, have longer slender legs, and tend to stay in protected areas.

Sunflower star (Pycnopodia helianthoides)

These stars are the fastest sea star in the Northern Pacific. They have up to 26 rays and can have an estimated 15,000 tube feet on its body. A skilled predator, sunflower stars have wide range of appetites.

Long arm brittle star (Amphiodia periercta)

These small stars can be found from the intertidal zone to over 5,000′ deep. They are also an indicator of water quality, since they avoid areas with wastewater.

About Bobby:

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

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle five 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 leading a creative team at a large non-profit healthcare company.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#5 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Jen:

I spent every day on the beach during this past super low tide series and it was wonderful! We will have more of the lowest tides of the summer this week and weekend, I hope you all get out to enjoy them.

We do our best to tread gently in the intertidal zone. There is life, literally, EVERYWHERE!

Bringing a hand lens to the beach is always a good idea. It helps us to slow down and look for the tiniest creatures that often get overlooked. If you were on the other side of Dana’s hand lens, you would have had a great view of this tiny barnacle eating nudibranch!

Another reason to watch your step is fish! We see a variety of fish at low tide on our beaches from tide pool sculpin to large skates!

If you hear some screaming “EEL! EEL!”, chances are they are talking about this tidepool fish called a gunnel. Even though they do look like eels, they differ by having pectoral fins on the sides of their heads. We do not have any true eels in Puget Sound!

We saw several buffalo sculpin at Constellation Beach in West Seattle. I love these fish! They are quite beautiful and kind of fierce looking with those two long, horn-like spines on their gill plates!

There are ALWAYS crabs that never fail to delight the youngest to the oldest visitors to the beach! The hairy helmet crab above is one of my favorites. They stand out with their golden color and soft, fuzzy carapace.

Pygmy rock crabs are a bit fuzzy too:) They are small, cute and love to hide out in the nooks and crannies of the intertidal zone. When disturbed and exposed, they sometimes curl up and roll like a stone.

Red rock crabs are one of the most common sights on the beach at low tide. You can recognize them by the black tips on their claws. Beach Etiquette Tip-If a crab is bigger than your fist, don’t pick it up. The bigger the crab, the harder and more painful the pinch! 

If you want to hold a crab, crab molts are great for kids and adults to pick up and examine. When crabs grow bigger, they grow a new shell under their old one. When that shell is complete, they fill themselves up with seawater and pop right out of the back of their old shell. The remains are called a molt, and the process is similar to a snake shedding its skin.

Ever wonder what makes those big squirts of water on the beach? Clams are usually the culprit! Piddock clams are a very common species on many of our local beaches. In the photo above you can see a rock with holes and a piddock clam siphon sticking out to say hello! The shell from the piddock clam is really unique. You can see the series of ridges on the bottom half of the shell above. The clam uses these ridges like a drill as it wiggles back and forth in clay and soft rock to make a hole-y home for itself.

Super low tides increase our chances of spotting some Lewis’ moon snails. Sometimes I think they look like giant, creepy (but amazing) eyeballs! Let’s zoom in on this one..

Look at all that mucus! Mucus is really important for so many of our intertidal dwellers. It can provide protection as well assist in locomotion, as seen above. Moon snails use their copious amounts of mucus to get around town and females use it to seal up their egg cases.

Can you find the moon snail relative, a limpet, in this photo? They use mucus to get around too!

The super low tides allowed to us to see a variety of sea stars on our local beaches. This gorgeous orange star is a blood star. They love to eat sponges in the intertidal zone.

We were happy to see several good sized, healthy sunflower stars at Constellation Beach in West Seattle.

A beautiful, blue toned mottle star at Lincoln Park Beach in West Seattle.

I never appreciated worms much until I started taking a closer look at marine worms on our beaches. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and some have incredible patterns and colors. Look at the patterned plates on this neat scaleworm!

I don’t know what happened but this calcareous tube worm was out of its home! I love that you can see the entire animal from its feathery feeding feet at the top to its segmented body below.

This Spaghetti Tube Worm capture and eats its food with its unruly head of spaghetti-like tentacles! They make delicate, protective homes out of sand. Please be gentle if you uncover one and make sure to cover it back up!

This tiny opalescent nudibranch with its eggs is another animal you might want to use a hand lens to observe when you are out on the beach. If you forget yours, ask one of our naturalists, we often carry a spare! I will leave you with a short clip I took of a pacific red octopus at Constellation Beach in West Seattle. They are my favorite animal and I hope to see one again this week!  As a reminder, octopuses are venomous and have sharp beaks, so observe them with your eyes only.

See you on the beach!

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 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 third 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.”

www.jenstronginphotography.com

@jenseattle 

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Prepare for a strawless Seattle!

Get ready to skip the straw and help the ocean! On July 1, the City of Seattle’s ban on single-use plastic straws and utensils will go into effect. The measure banning these items was originally passed in 2008, but exemptions were made each year because viable alternatives weren’t widely available.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that paper/compostable straws and utensils have entered the mainstream, the City is moving forward with the ban—and when it does, it will be the largest metropolitan city to do so to date. Go Seattle!

This ban is great news for the ocean and the animals that live there. Plastic packaging makes up 26% of the volume of all plastic produced around the world, and it’s almost exclusively single-use. Plenty of those plastics end up in the ocean, where they can cause great harm to marine animals. Even worse, plastics in the ocean never truly break down and disappear; they just keep getting smaller and smaller, eventually becoming tiny enough to be called “microplastics” (and to be ingested by animals that are in turn ingested by humans—read our previous post about microplastics in shellfish here).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plastic pollution is clearly a problem for our ocean, and one that continues to grow: the equivalent to a garbage-truck-full of plastic is deposited into the ocean every minute of every day. What’s also clear is that single-use plastics are everywhere, not to mention incredibly convenient.

Thanks for joining us in working to reduce ocean plastics!

 

 

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#4 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Bobby:

A couple of Saturdays ago I was out at Lincoln Park for one of the lowest tides of the season. It was an absolutely beautiful summer day in the PNW. It felt great to be out in the sun and smell the salty air. We had a decent turnout of people coming down to enjoy the low-tide. What really impressed me was how knowledgeable the kids and their parents were that day.

Fellow beach naturalist Diana looks for sea critters with an inquisitive young scientist.

We were not finding anything really big; only a couple of sea stars and just one big anemone. So I turned my sights and camera to one of my favorite little critters, chitons. I like to think of chitons as little pieces of art, especially the lined and woody chitons. They are each so unique in their colors and patterns.

Using a magnifying glass is a great way to see the many details and patterns in chitons.

You can identify most chiton by their eight plates on their back surrounded by a fold of flesh called a girdle. Woody chitons can vary in color from brown to blue to green with additional stripes that resemble wood grain. One way to identify a woody chiton is to look for stiff hairs stemming from light-colored spots on their girdle. Woodys can grow up to 3 inches and can be found on or under rocks in the intertidal and subtidal zones. Woodys eat a variety of algae and diatoms, with their favorite being sea lettuce.

A closeup of a woody chiton’s plates and girdle.

A tiny teal woody chiton moves along the inside of a clam shell.

Two woody chitons move along a rock face.

I thought the color of this woody chiton was beautiful.

Lined chiton look similar to woodys and are just as abundant on our shores. They have some of the most striking lines, zigzag patterns, and colors on their back plates. They are found on rocks with encrusting coralline algae, which is their favorite food. They can grow up to 2 inches long, but most we find are smaller. The lined chiton’s main enemy are purple sea stars.

This tiny lined chiton had a beautiful teal and red pattern on its plates.

A closeup of a lined chiton with teal and orange patterns and a brilliant orange girdle.

Mossy chiton are another type we see often during low-tides. Mossys have shaggy wider girdles and are often seen with barnacles or covered in other organisms. This chiton doesn’t mind staying out of the water during a daytime low-tide, but it will stay put until it is dark and it is back underwater.

A closeup of a mossy chiton with a kelp’s holdfast attached to its plates.

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 third year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle five 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 leading a creative team at a large non-profit healthcare company.

Posted in Conservation, Marine Animals, Seattle Aquarium | 1 Comment

Know your beach-this week from the beach

#3 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Jen:

Did you get out and explore our beaches this past week during some of the lowest tides we will have this summer? Our naturalists were out every day, mingling with our intertidal neighbors and helping our visitors see and learn about even the tiniest of creatures! Pictured above is a tiny animal, no bigger than the tip of your pinky finger, called a leather limpet. You can find these wondrous beings nestled into the seaweed or cavorting amongst the barnacles on the upper areas of the intertidal zone. Not really true limpets, leather limpets are more closely related to some of our other favorite beach dwellers, nudibranchs. They need air to breathe and are known to find trapped air bubbles, to use kind of like little SCUBA tanks, so they can breathe when the tide covers them up.

If you ever find a perfectly spherical, jelly-like, transparent blob on the shore, it might be a sea gooseberry. We got to see some on our West Seattle beaches this past week. sea gooseberries are comb jellies, not true jellies. They don’t have any stinging cells, instead they capture their prey with sticky pads on their tentacles. They have eight rows of “combs” covered in tiny hairs that they use to propel themselves through the water. If you are lucky enough, you might see one with the light hitting it just right to create a rainbow-disco-light show.

 

Another tiny member of the intertidal is the barnacle eating dorid nudibranch. Small but mighty, they use their drilling tongue covered in hundreds of sharp, tiny teeth (radula) to drill into barnacles and slurp them out like a barnacle soup.

We all like to nerd out over nudibranchs. They are a diverse bunch and range in size from teensy to football sized. Pictured above is a cryptic nudibranch, worthy of an I-spy hunt while you are out tide pooling! They eat kelp encrusting bryozoans (a moss animal), those beautiful, circular patterns you see on big blades of kelp. They look amazingly like their prey and can be very hard to spot. Once you see one though, you may start to see them everywhere.

Brittle stars are also among the tiny animals on our beaches. They prefer to stay hidden under the rocks where they can be protected from the sun and larger predators. We have 53 species of brittle stars in the Pacific NW! These are delicate animals that will shed their limbs if they feel threatened.

Beach Etiquette Tip – Don’t turn over rocks that you need more than one hand to lift and always return the rock exactly as you found it. Turning over large rocks means a greater chance that you may crush delicate animals and leave them exposed to predators. 

We have been seeing more and more green sea urchins on our local beaches. These spiny skinned animals are relatives of sea stars and sea cucumbers. They love to eat kelp but have also been known to scavenge other detritus too (it is good to be adaptable)! The urchin’s mouth has a jaw with five sharp teeth. It is referred to as Aristotle’s lantern as it reminded Aristotle of a five sided lantern made of bone common in his day. 

Moving on to some bigger friends, did you know some chitons are real homebodies? If you look carefully at rocks on the beach, you might notice some very distinctive, chiton-shaped bare spots. Some species of chiton have a “home base” that they return to every morning after a night of foraging. Over time, that special spot gets worn down, as they clamp down hard to keep themselves from being swept away by the currents or eaten by predators.

We love seeing stars on the beach. I have fielded many questions from visitors this season about how our local stars are doing after the devastating Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) that wiped out 80% of some species up and down the West coast. There are still many unanswered questions regarding this disease. We are seeing some healthy stars on our beaches but are certainly still seeing some affected by SSWD . The top photo shows some gorgeous, healthy ochre stars we saw and the the second photo above is an arm of an ochre star, still clinging to the rock, the rest of the body gone, most likely a victim of SSWD.  If you are interested in reading more about the current survivors of this disease, the New York Times has a very interesting article in their science section this week.

I will leave you with a few more photos from the intertidal zone! We are so lucky to share our city with these beautiful creatures. We hope to see you out on the beach soon! If you have any photos of your own from your local beach explorations, be sure to tag them on social media with #beachnaturalist!

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 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 third 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.”

www.jenstronginphotography.com

@jenseattle 

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