Geoduck is pronounced goo-ee-duck. Other names for this majestic mollusk: mud duck, king clam and (translated from Chinese) elephant-trunk clam.
A well-earned name
Geoducks (Panopea generosa) are native to the west coast of North America, and their name is derived from a phrase in the Nisqually language, gʷídəq, which means “dig deep.”
The world’s largest burrowing clam
When fully mature, Puget Sound geoducks weigh, on average, a bit over two pounds. Their shells are between six and eight inches long, and their siphons (the “necks” that protrude from their shells) can be over three feet long!
The largest geoduck ever weighed and verified by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife was a whopping 8.16 pounds.
Geoducks can live more than 150 years, and don’t reach their full size until they’re 15 years old.
True to their name, geoducks are generally found buried two to three feet deep in mud, sand or gravel on Puget Sound beaches (by comparison, Manila clams are usually two to four inches underground).
If you’re lucky enough to see a geoduck siphon on a Puget Sound beach, touch it gently—if you can even do so fast enough before the geoduck retracts it. Pulling on the siphon will break it and kill the animal. Fast fact: it’s illegal in Washington state to possess only the siphon of a geoduck.
The Seattle Aquarium bestowed its annual awards at our Chairman’s Dinner on January 26. For his lifetime leadership at the critical intersection of marine conservation, science, government policy and citizen engagement, William W. Stelle, Jr. was awarded the Seattle Aquarium Medal, which is presented to an individual whose leadership and lifetime accomplishments reflect the Seattle Aquarium’s mission of Inspiring Conservation of Our Marine Environment.
Will Stelle is the senior advisor to the NOAA administrator; he was formerly the regional administrator of NOAA Fisheries, West Coast Region, managing the listings of salmon and steelhead populations under the Endangered Species Act in the coastal west. He has also served as the chief architect for salmon recovery strategies covering hydropower, hatcheries, harvests and riverine, estuarine and marine habitats vital for salmon. He’s been at the center of some of the region’s most contentious natural resource engagements over the last two decades. He led major structural reforms of marine fisheries management and marine mammal conservation endeavors. He played a major role in leading NOAA’s tribal fiduciary responsibilities, and in ongoing congressional engagements, and served as co-chair of the Puget Sound Federal Caucus during the Obama administration, along with EPA.
In his remarks after accepting the award, Stelle emphasized the importance of resuscitating Puget Sound and, by extension, the one world ocean we all share. He noted that our region’s history, technical and scientific expertise, and wealth are strong foundational points from which to build. But, he noted, we must take ownership for what is occurring in our figurative backyard. “The time has come to stop saying, ‘I wish they’d do something about it,’” he commented. “The ‘they’ is ‘we.’ It’s our responsibility.”
For his endless commitment as an educational leader for marine life and cultures of the Salish Sea, Dr. Marco B.A. Hatch was awarded the Seattle Aquarium Conservation Research Award, which honors individuals performing leadership research in the field. An assistant professor of environmental sciences at Western Washington University (WWU), Marco Hatch is a marine ecologist and member of the Samish Indian Nation. Prior to WWU he directed the Salish Sea Research at Northwest Indian College. His research focuses on the nexus of people and marine ecology, with a particular focus on clams.
Dr. Hatch spoke of clam gardens—beaches, from Washington to Alaska, altered by First Nations and Native American people to ensure a reliable food source. He described visiting one such beach and finding “a series of modifications done over thousands of years” created by “interdisciplinary teams grounded in community.” His remarks reinforced that it is through approaches like these that true, long-lasting change can be made.
Past Chair James C. Gurke presented 17-year veteran Seattle Aquarium board member J. Terry McLaughlin with this year’s Scott S. Patrick Inspirational Award. Named for the late Aquarium board member and Seattle Seahawks executive who served with extraordinary passion, the award recognizes the Seattle Aquarium board member whose service best exemplifies the leadership and enthusiasm that characterized Patrick’s life and board service.
Among his many contributions, Terry McLaughlin has served as board chair, secretary and treasurer; and co-led the successful negotiation with the City of Seattle to allow the Seattle Aquarium Society to manage the Aquarium on the city’s behalf. He is currently co-chair of the expansion project oversight committee.
“I wish people understood the strong connection between the Aquarium and the marine environment of Puget Sound,” reflects Bob Power, current Seattle Aquarium board member.
Bob and his daughter Emily, a member of the Aquarium’s auxiliary board, are both excited to spread the word about all the programs at the Aquarium. Emily sums it up, saying, “I don’t think people know about everything the Aquarium offers. It gives people an opportunity to study marine biology without having access to college classes. It has programs for science and research, and funding for kids and families to come to the Aquarium when they couldn’t afford to otherwise. It’s a chance to inspire.”
Emily, a Northwest native, grew up playing on local beaches and feels a strong connection to Puget Sound. Over the last 20 years she’s noticed how the environment has changed. “My brother in Alaska has seen how the salmon population has been affected,” Emily says. Volunteering at the Aquarium gives her an opportunity to be part of marine conservation. “The Aquarium shows people how small changes can make a difference, like using less water.” Emily adds, “Being on the auxiliary board is a chance for me to be a voice and advocate for this cause.”
For Bob and Emily, giving back to causes that matter is an important family value. With their shared passion for the water and the environment, the Aquarium is a perfect fit. And, as Bob puts it, “I don’t know how you could say that 70 percent of the world’s surface—water—doesn’t matter.” Bob adds that he’s very proud to see Emily involved in a cause he cares so much about, saying, “It’s a good chance to work on something together.”
Since he joined the board, Bob says he’s seen a slowly growing understanding of the need for a healthy ocean. “People are more aware of the importance of the marine environment and how it affects every part of our lives.” Emily adds, “My friends are excited to know I’m on the board and that my service will make an impact on the environment.”
You can join Bob and Emily in making a difference at the Aquarium. As Emily says, “There are so many ways to participate: get involved; donate. Even beyond marine environment—be a camp counselor. Donate or go to events. Ample ways to be involved—people should absolutely go for it.”
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.
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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.”
The New Year’s Eve fireworks may be behind us but, believe it or not, fabulous fireworks displays play out in dark ocean waters around the world every day. According to NOAA Senior Scientist and Deep Sea Researcher Dr. Edie Widder, “Bioluminescence in the ocean is the rule rather than the exception.”
First things first: what’s bioluminescence? It’s the production of light from a chemical reaction inside an organism, produced by animals for defense, attracting mates or finding food. Numerous deep sea creatures exhibit bioluminescence and more than a few light-producing organisms are found right here in Puget Sound—some of which are even housed at Seattle Aquarium.
Bioluminescence is sometimes confused with other forms of light:
Fluorescence—When particular wavelengths excite a material, i.e. black light or the green fluorescent protein (GFP) in the Aequorea Victoria jellyfish.
Phosphorescence—Similar to fluorescence, where a material is excited but has a longer-lasting effect, i.e. glow-in-the-dark stickers or many species of coral.
Iridescence—When light is separated into component wavelengths and we see distinct colors in close sheens, i.e. soap bubbles, beetles, abalone shells.
Evolution of fish bioluminescence
According to a study conducted in 2016, fish evolved to make their own light at least 27 separate times. Bioluminescence is likely a much more common phenomenon than most people would think. It is found in over 700 genera of organisms; eighty percent of these occur in the ocean.
This study looked just at ray-finned fishes and not at other types of bioluminescent organisms. In these fishes, bioluminescence can be intrinsically generated (produced by a chemical process within the fish’s own body) or generated through bacterial symbiosis (bioluminescent bacteria are housed within the fish’s body).
Intrinsic bioluminescence evolved eight separate times throughout history, with more than half of known bioluminescent fish species utilizing this method of producing light. Of the 1510 known bioluminescent ray-finned fishes, about 785 produce their own light, though it is unknown how most of them obtain the necessary components for the chemical reaction (in at least some species it appears to be through their diet). Bacterially aided bioluminescence evolved at least 17 separate times.
Bioluminescence in human history
Bioluminescence holds a special fascination for many people. Imagine being able to produce your own light—it sounds like some kind of superpower! And yet it’s remarkably common among many animals, especially in the deep ocean. Although humans are not capable of bioluminescence, we have found opportunities throughout history to appreciate and utilize this ability in other creatures.
For example, Aristotle wrote about bioluminescence in his work De Anima in 350 B.C. During World War Two, Japanese soldiers used dried ostracods, a type of bioluminescent plankton, as a source of light. In 1954, James Lovell followed a bioluminescent wake to land his fighter plane on an aircraft carrier after his instruments failed during a night flight. And today, we have toys that allow anyone to capture the wonder of bioluminescence.