#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.
“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.”