Guest blog by beach naturalist Jen Strongin
When the sun sets at 4:30pm in the winter, you are more than likely to find me at home and in my PJs by 7pm. Like many of you, I go into winter hibernation mode at this time of year. There is one thing though that gets me motivated enough to layer up and head out on a cold, winter’s night—and that is a good, minus tide. When the sun, moon and Earth align, we get some of our lowest tides and best times to go to the beach and explore the magical world of tide pools.
Minus tides occur during the day in the spring and summer, but only happen at night during the winter. This makes it a challenge to get out there, I know, but trust me—there is nothing quite like being out at Constellation Beach in West Seattle, all bundled up and watching the eyes of multitudes of shrimp sparkle and glow as they dart around in the water, illuminated by the beams of your flashlight! As bleary-eyed as I might be on my way to the beach, once there and looking around, I lose track of time and get lost in the wonder of all that I see. So, let me encourage you to come join us on January 27 and/or February 10 by telling you about some of the things you might find on your nighttime beach walk with us.
There are always moonglow anemones (Anthopleura artemisia) on the beach. You can recognize them by the bands on their delicate tentacles. Their color variations are spectacular—from bright green to ochre, to pink and multicolored. There is nothing more peaceful than watching their tentacles flow back and forth with the currents under the glow of a flashlight.
A bonus of winter tide pooling is the lack of algae (seaweed). During the summer, the algae blooms cover our beaches like a blanket, obscuring many animals from view. The lack of algae in the winter makes tiny (and some not so tiny) invertebrates, like nudibranchs, much easier to spot. These mollusks are always wonderful to see with their variety of shapes and colors. The frosted nudibranch (Dirona albolineata) was a favorite sighting of mine from a low tide adventure on the beach earlier this winter.
It wouldn’t be a winter nighttime beach exploration without running across mating kelp crabs! No need for privacy; kelp crabs are not modest. These shield-backed crabs aren’t the only species you will see. This winter I have seen decorator crabs, porcelain crabs, red rock crabs, sharp-nose crabs and Dungeness crabs out on our beaches as well.
You will see the usual tide pool sculpins everywhere, but keep your eyes open for other, less commonly seen species of fish. If you are lucky, you may get see a bay pipefish (Syngnathus leptorhyncus, a relative of seahorses), a spiny lumpsucker (Eumicrotremus orbis) or a marbled snailfish (Liparis dennyi).
Then there are the sea stars. There is nothing like seeing a 24 armed sunflower star, speeding (in sea star speed) across the sand, leaving its tracks behind. Or, shining your flashlight on the rocks and noticing a bright purple ochre star basking among the barnacles, bryozoans and snails.
Finally, my favorite animals to see on the beach, the cephalopods. Cephalopods are the class of animals that include squid and octopuses—both of which we occasionally see on our low tide adventures. Last winter, a lucky group of tide pool visitors got to see the octopus in the video above. We all marveled as she made her way across the rocks and back into the water. Earlier this winter, we observed some opalescent squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) flashing their brilliant colors as they were carried in and out by the currents.
Are you getting excited? I know I am! If you can’t make it this month, not to worry. We will be out on the beach again to show you the magic on February 10. Make sure to layer up, bring a good, high-powered flashlight, wear your rubber boots and prepare to be amazed! Click here for directions and details.
Beach etiquette tip: Rocks have a top side and a bottom side! If you peek under a rock, make sure to put it back how you found it. Some animals that are on the top cannot survive if you turn the rock over and put them on the bottom; same for those whose homes need to be on the underside and not the top.
“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 first 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.”