Know your beach-this week from the beach

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

Moon Snail, Lincoln Park Beach

Moon Snail, Lincoln Park Beach

We celebrated the summer solstice with some pretty special low-tide guests at Lincoln Park last week. This moon snail gave us quite the celebratory show, with its grand foot extended and in full view. Moon snails use their giant foot to get around and to help themselves burrow into the sand to hide from predators.

To the delight of a number of schoolchildren (we had about 180 visit us that day!) and all of us naturalists, we also got to spend some quality time with an octopus. It eventually hitched a ride on a moon snail egg collar as the incoming tide brought it back out to sea!

Crab #1

Many of the school kids were picking up crabs and showing me all the “dead” crabs they found. We played a little game of “beach detective” and used our senses to determine if these crabs were really dead. A gentle touch to see if they moved; if not, we picked them up and felt how heavy they were. Then, we gave them a good smell. If the crab didn’t smell really stinky, we tried opening the carapace. If it opened easily and looked like the crab below, we knew we had “crab clothes” or, more technically, a molt! This crab had just grown a little bigger and left its old exoskeleton behind.

Crab #2

Lincoln Park and Constellation Beach are my home bases as a beach naturalist, but this week I headed up north to visit the beach at Carkeek Park. I love Carkeek with its amazing beds of eelgrass (important habitat for young salmon and many invertebrates) and the famous “whispering rock” at the north end.

Whispering Rock

Whispering Rock at the North end of Carkeek Beach

Every nook and cranny of the whispering rock is covered with life—from tiny barnacles to huge sea stars. If you visit and Beach Captain Daoud is there, he will show you around. He knows this rock like the back of his hand! If you’re lucky, he might show you where the amazing and strange-looking tunicates hide out.

Daoud

Daoud, illuminating one of the many crevices filled with animals at Whispering Rock. Carkeek Beach.

Shiny Orange Tunicate

Shiny Orange Tunicate at Whispering Rock. This strange looking animal is more closely related to us than any other invertebrate on our beaches!

Some Carkeek beachgoers were convinced that this mass of orange sea cucumbers at the whispering rock was a giant octopus! You can see why—their bright orange, tube-feet-studded, elongated bodies piled one on top of the other looks just like a tangle of octopus arms.

Sea Cucumbers

Sea Cucumbers at Whispering Rock, Carkeek Beach

We will be on your local beaches July 2–6 to help you celebrate the 4th of July holiday weekend with some low-tide exploring. Come on out and visit us!

Sea star

Beach Etiquette Tip of the Week- Touch gently with one wet finger

Other photos from the beach:

 

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 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.”

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Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 3

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals
Part 3: California sea lions, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals

The U.S. population of California sea lions is currently estimated to be around 300,000 animals, all on the Pacific coast. According to wildlife biologists, the species is now at “carrying capacity”—near the highest level the environment can sustain. California sea lions are the most common marine mammal patient at The Marine Mammal Center. Although the population of Guadalupe fur seals is increasing, the species is still listed as depleted under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Northern fur seal wild populations are decreasing by four to six percent each year and they are also listed as depleted under the MMPA.

 

The daily care and medical needs of sea lion and fur seal pups are similar to that of elephant seal pups, but a more gentle yet quick approach is needed to accommodate their small size agility, and natural aggressiveness. Animals requiring tube feedings receive thinner tubes and staff providing restraint must be conscious of the animals’ large and delicate flippers. Animals are usually placed into kennels for weigh-ins due to their ability to rotate their rear flippers underneath them, which allows them to run quickly.

Photo ©The Marine Mammal Center

Many of these animals suffer from malnourishment due to their inability to find the fish stocks that were once plentiful. Research shows that overfishing and warming ocean waters associated with an El Niño could be major contributors to the declines in local fish populations. Entanglement in marine debris is another major cause of marine mammal strandings. According to a multiple-year study published in 2014 in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, it is estimated nearly 270,000 tons of plastic is floating in the world’s ocean and that plastic is broken up into more than five trillion pieces.

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Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation: Part 2

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center
Part 2: Northern elephant seals

Elephant seals pups are the second most common patient at The Marine Mammal Center (California sea lions are the most common, more on that later) and are admitted primarily from February through June. These pups are usually washed away from their rookery (breeding grounds) during storms or have not successfully learned how to forage resulting in malnourishment.

Julie and Mariko tube feed an elephant seal

Julie and Mariko tube feed an elephant seal
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Care of these animals includes daily cleaning, feeding, medical checkups and regular weighing. All care follows specific guidelines to ensure animal and human safety. Protocols must be followed to avoid the animals becoming too acclimated to humans. Talking is only permitted when necessary and at low volumes. Large boards are placed between the animals and humans in an effort to keep the animals from acclimating to people walking near them. Elephant seal pups that do not know how to hunt for food or swallow whole fish are initially fed using a tube. Tube feeding is not as difficult as it sounds since marine mammals are designed to swallow large fish whole. A small feeding tube is passed down the animal’s throat and into its stomach relatively easily, then one person gently restrains the animal while the other person places the tube into the correct position so a mixture of blended fish, fish oil, vitamins and medications can be poured through the tube. Other animals are kept away with boards to ensure safety. Tube feeding is done two to four times a day depending on the animal’s specific needs.

Elephant seal weighing

Mariko waiting her turn to wheel her elephant seal onto the scale for weighing
Photo © The Marine Mammal Center

Weighing the elephant seals was definitely one of the “cuter” jobs. Elephant seals, like our local harbor seals, can only crawl on land using their small front flippers, so they are briefly lifted into a wheelbarrow and wheeled onto a platform scale. Elephant seal pups usually weigh about 70 pounds at birth; they more than triple their body weight to 220–250 pounds during the approximately four weeks they nurse to receive milk from their moms. Maternal care usually ends at that point, and the moms abandon their pups on the beach.

The Center’s elephant seal patients are often admitted weighing less than 100 pounds. When pups appear more food-motivated they begin “fish school,” where fish is offered in a variety of ways to elicit their hunting instincts. All feeding data and observations are carefully recorded for analysis.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#2 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Here it is, my first official day as a beach naturalist, and I am a little nervous. I have been through lots of training at the Aquarium, I have had days out on the beach learning to identify things, but now it becomes official—I get to put on the red hat and a vest with a ton of pockets! My first shift was at Constellation Park or, as we call it, South Alki. Which is kind of awesome for me since I live down the street. It was a beautiful sunny day and a cool breeze was in the air. It was going to be a short shift and not a very low tide (-1.28), but it was my front yard and I knew where all the creatures like to hide. I slid on my wellies and headed down to meet the rest of my Beach Naturalist team. We got signed in and grabbed our conversation counters. My nervousness kicked in again—what if I don’t have as many conversations as the other volunteers? The team was great and we were laughing and excited to get out on the beach.

I headed out to the large boulder wall, where I knew I would find lots of creatures. I poked my head into the larger openings and cracks between the boulders.

The sun was peeking through the gaps in the rocks and I came across this great little scene—a sunbeam coming through a gap in the rock, revealing a hidden little world for sea stars and anemones.

At the boulder wall I found lots of purple sea stars, and some of the largest anemones I have seen yet. There was so much life on and in between these rocks.

I came across an old leather boot that had become home to a couple thatched barnacles. Above the boot I found a brilliant orange sea star hanging out (literally) with a group of purple stars. The boot became my marker to show people the vibrant colors of our local sea stars.

Beachgoers were starting to show up and it was time to earn my red hat. I was a little nervous with the first few people, but I realized that the people coming out were just as excited as I was to find and learn more about the many creatures that live just off the shore. I got to have great and comical conversations about the saggy-baggy-anemones hanging out, just waiting for the tide to come back in. I got to show people a colony of aggregating anemones and explain how they split and clone themselves—we even had one starting to split. I got to have so many great conversations with people. I was a beach naturalist!

From the boulder wall I moved out to some smaller rock outcroppings. I met a family that had two of the most excited little explorers. We hunted for creatures and found the largest purple sea star I have ever seen. The two sisters were ecstatic. “STARFISH!” they exclaimed to everyone in earshot! I think they were doing a better job getting people over to see it than I was. It was really great to kneel with them and talk about sea stars. They knew so many facts that I was impressed, and I totally had to step up my game.

We went on the hunt again and found a mottled sea star and lots of sea cucumbers. The interaction with these two little sisters and their parents really helped me understand why what we do as beach naturalists is so important. We are helping people learn about the waters that are around us and how important each creature is in the food chain from the smallest nudibranch to the salmon and orcas.

 

Before I knew it the tide was coming back in and I had enjoyed 26 conversations with people on everything from iridescent red algae to ocean acidification. It was a great first shift and I am ready for more.

 

About Bobby:

Bobby is new to the Beach Naturalist program, joining after encouragement from a co-worker who is a seasoned volunteer.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle three 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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Seattle Aquarium staff lend a helping hand in marine mammal rehabilitation

Julie & Mariko

Seattle Aquarium bird and mammal team members Julie Carpenter and Mariko Bushcamp recently traveled to The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California to assist in the care and rehabilitation of sick and injured marine mammals. The Marine Mammal Center is a nonprofit research hospital and educational center dedicated to global conservation of marine mammals through their rescue and rehabilitation work, as well as educational outreach and scientific research efforts.

Julie and Mariko were able to assist in important rehabilitation efforts, learn more about the West Coast marine mammal stranding network, and bring back a wealth of knowledge to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium. Through this collaborative relationship, we hope to continue to educate people about the critical work being conducted at The Marine Mammal Center and the many environmental issues affecting marine mammals.

Learn about Julie and Mariko’s experience in this five-part blog series.

Part 1: An opportunity to assist at The Marine Mammal Center

Julie and Mariko arrived in Sausalito in late April to assist in the care of The Marine Mammal Center’s current group of approximately 200 marine mammal patients in need of rehabilitation. The Center’s main headquarters lie in the Marin Headlands, with additional satellite operations throughout California in San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Anchor Bay and Fort Bragg. The Center’s response network encompasses approximately 600 square miles of the central and northern California shoreline. The Center has also opened a new Hawaiian monk seal hospital on the Big Island of Hawaii called Ke Kai Ola.

Maps

Maps © The Marine Mammal Center

To date, The Marine Mammal Center has rescued more than 21,000 marine mammals. The number of animals rescued varies seasonally and annually. The Center has experienced an ongoing increase in sick and injured animals since the facility opened in 1975. On average, about 600–800 marine mammals are rescued annually due to a variety of issues including malnourishment, premature separations from their mothers, consuming or becoming entangled in marine debris, gunshot wounds, oil spills, shark bites, cancer, and various diseases including domoic acid poisoning (a neurotoxin produced by algae which can accumulate in shellfish, sardines, anchovies and other small fish) and leptospirosis (an infectious type of bacteria).

Typically, The Center rescues California sea lions, northern elephant seals and Pacific harbor seals. However, in recent years, they have seen an increase in northern fur seals, Guadalupe fur seals and Steller sea lions in need of rehabilitation.

Part 2: Northern elephant seals
Part 3: California sea lions, northern fur seals and Guadalupe fur seals
Part 4: Pacific harbor seals
Part 5: Rehabilitators working together with zoos and aquariums

 

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