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Terrific tides, a cruel crustacean and a smooth operator

Scout holds one of the many fried-egg jellies (Phacellophora camtschatica), large and small, that we found beached or at the water's edge. Photo: Jeff Adams
A girl scout holds one of the many fried-egg jellies (Phacellophora camtschatica), large and small, that we found beached or at the water’s edge. These don’t have a significant sting. However, the similarly sized, brick red lion’s mane jelly packs a nettle-like sting. Photo: Jeff Adams

Terrific Tides

The daytime minus tides that began on Thursday are the last of the lowest for 2013, so this week’s a great time to get out and explore. All tides below are for Seattle and can vary depending on where you go in the Salish Sea.

  • Saturday 7/20: -2.3@9:25am
  • Sunday 7/21: -2.9@10:15am
  • Monday 7/22: -3.1@11:03am
  • Tuesday 7/23: -2.8@11:50am
  • Wednesday 7/24: -2.1@12:37pm
  • Thursday 7/25: -1.1@1:23pm

The Kitsap Beach Naturalists will be sharing cool finds at Scenic Beach State Park Saturday (8:30-10:30), Fay Bainbridge Park Sunday (9-11), and at both Kitsap Memorial State Park and Lions Park (Lebo Blvd. in Bremerton) Monday (11-1).

I had the pleasure to end the work week by teaming up with the great Harbor WildWatch staff and volunteers to share sea life wonders with about 100 girl scouts, team leaders and some family members at Manchester State Park. We had a lot of lovely finds and a couple that really piqued my interest…

Shiner surfperch parasitized by a blood sucking copepod (Haemobaphes diceraus). Photo: Jeff Adams
Shiner perch parasitized by a blood sucking copepod (Haemobaphes diceraus). Photo: Jeff Adams

A cruel crustacean

Reactions to a dead shiner perch (Cymatogaster aggregata) were varied, particularly as we showed off the  evidence of parasites that may have hastened the perch’s demise. Turns out the poor fish’s body was home to a small coven of vampires!

Out from under each gill cover poked what looked like a pair of small Slinkys. A colleague who trained as a fish pathologist, informed us that the coils were the gonads of a parasitic female copepod called Haemobaphes diceraus.

Copepods are crustaceans, better known as abundant members of the microscopic animal plankton. Of course, in certain circles, their fame derives from Plankton, the tiny, one-eyed nemesis from SpongeBob SquarePants. Plankton was a reasonable depiction of typical copepods, which have teardrop bodies with a single eye and long antennae. Their parasitic cousins, however, wind up looking more like a bit of offal from the cleaning of the last catch.

Close up of the egg sacks from Haemobaphes diceraus. Photo: Jeff Adams
Close up of the pair of coiled egg sacks from the parasitic isopod, Haemobaphes diceraus. Photo: Jeff Adams

Haemobaphes diceraus has a long trunk that extends through the gill arch and directly into heart, where… it siphons off blood. It’s super cool creepiness even garnered the honor of Parasite of the Day in 2010.

Research from Nanaimo, British Columbia in the early 2000′s found that about 10% of shiner perch unwillingly hosted their personal blood sucker. Interestingly 97.9% of the infested fish they studied had only a single copepod inhabiting them. Our sad specimen sported two. Bummer.

Smooth operator

Beauty and grace combine on a bed of slime. Imagine shaping yourself to the ground as you move through your daily life. While halfway up the stairs, I’d be thinking “Oh yeah, I’m pretty cool.” (Then again, I’d be choking on dust and dog fur.) Alas we remain upright and rigid, but we can still enjoy watching a flatworm live the glide life.

Giant flatworm (Kaburakia excelsa) with it's spotted brown top side and branched digestive sacks on the bottom. Photo: Jeff Adams
Photo: Jeff Adams

While collecting for the touch tanks, Harbor WildWatch staff  found a beautiful giant flatworm (Kaburakia excelsa). Their typical home is under rocks, though you may find them on floats and docks and among masses of mussels. Since they can read 4″ long, these are the giants of the flatworm world and a bit tougher than their smaller cousins.

You can see the highly branched digestive sac in the picture of it’s underside. Though branched, the sack is made up of dead ends. After using an eversible throat to capturing an unfortunate victim, partially digested food is moved into the digestive sac. Since there’s no point B for the indigestible bits to leave the sac, poo must go out where the food came in. Yum.

Wandering the beach is an iconic part of the Salish Sea summer. Summer’s going fast, so explore a beach this week. Go slow. Be observant. There’s always some new bit of wonder tucked on a rock… or sticking grotesquely out of the side of a dead fish’s head!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Worm your way into being a Beach Naturalist

Actually… elaborate disguises or moonlight dances are not necessary. If you’d like to become a beach naturalist, opportunities begin around the Puget Sound over the next few weeks. Scroll below for more information.

Giant sea nymphs (Nereis sp.). Photo: Jeff Adams
Giant sea nymphs (Nereis sp.). Photo: Jeff Adams

Explosive Love

As for a moonlit nuptial dance, we need to chat with a sea nymph (Nereis sp.). Sea nymphs are large (some very creepily so!) worms that stretch out of their burrows and use inordinately fierce looking jaws to grab a nibble of algae or maybe a soft invertebrate. However, when the moon and tides and light are right, they have a different priority.

Kind of like a werewolf, their bodies change with the coming of the full moon. The once burrow-dwelling omnivore becomes an actively swimming, gutless baby-making machine called an epitoke. On full moons in the winter and summer, the males epitokes will vigorously swim from their holes and rise into the water column, shedding sperm as they go. Once the females sense the males in the water, they follow closely spewing eggs. The sperm and eggs are often released through ruptures in the body wall (ouch!). The close proximity of eggs and sperm help ensure many of the eggs will become fertilized, but mom and dad contribute to the next link in the food chain.

Sea nymph (Nereis sp.) epitoke/body-turned-egg-case. Photo: Jeff Adams
Epitoke remains with eggs oozing out the body wall. Photo: Jeff Adams

Ricketts’ words painted a fabulous image of the experience of coming across giant sea nymph worms in their nuptial fervor:
” Specimens may be nearly a meter long, and are broad in proportion — a likely source of sea-serpent yarns. To the night collector, already a bit jumpy because of weird noises, phosphorescent animals, and the ominous swish of surf, the appearance of one of these heteronereids swimming vigorously at the surface of the water must seem like the final attack of delirium tremens.” (Between Pacific Tides, 1939). … I had to look up delirium tremens… shudder!

In early March, just after the full moon, a volunteer brought the epitoke remains pictured here to a beach exploration and said they were all over her beach. Thanks for sharing!

During that same time on the beach, we got a closer look at another really cool worm…

Beach Scrap Castle

Above ground portion of 12"+ tube of an ornate tube worm (Diopatra ornata). Photo: Jeff Adams
Above ground portion of 12″+ tube of an ornate tube worm (Diopatra ornata). Photo: Jeff Adams

When you’re on a Puget Sound beach that’s not entirely dominated by gravel and cobble, you’re likely to encounter worm tubes sticking out of the sand. The tubes represent several of the nearly 1000 species of marine worms in our region. Particularly common in the lower intertidal is the jointed three-section tube worm. Unwieldy common name aside, it can be abundant enough to look like mini forest of leafless bamboo in the sand.

The tube of the ornate tube worm (Diopatra ornata) is well decorated by bits of plant, shell debris and algae and may be overlooked even when abundant. The tube is not as sturdy as some and may lay on the beach when the tide is out. Under the sand, the tube is much narrower, doesn’t have any decoration and feels like tough parchment. It can also extend a foot deep into the sand, giving the worm a safe place to retreat. As complex as the tube may be, the worm can abandon it and build a new on if need arises.

A diagram from the 1979 paper "The diet of worms: A study of Polycheate feeding guilds" by Fauchald and Jumars.
A diagram from the 1979 paper “The diet of worms: A study of Polycheate feeding guilds” by Fauchald and Jumars.

Ornate tube worms are thought to be scavengers but eat a lot of algae. In The diet of worms: A study of Polycheate feeding guilds (actually a really cool paper to cruise through), Fauchald and Jumars described the various things this tube worm has been observed eating, but clarified that it’s apparently not picky, “feeding experiments have shown that it will accept any plant or animal material, dead or alive, fresh or rotten (R.R. Emerson, pers. comm.).” Yum.

The image to the left is also from The diet of worms. When the tide’s out, you don’t get to see this kind of activity, but it’s fun to imagine a bunch of these worms bickering over who gets the best bit of the kelp.

Above ground portion of 12"+ tube of an ornate tube worm (Diopatra ornata). Photo: Jeff Adams
Head end and first 80 or so segments of an ornate tube worm. Photo: Jeff Adams

Finally, if you’re lucky enough to get a look at the beast inside the tube, you get to see that the tube isn’t the only ornate character in its life story. The five black-tipped feelers on the front of it’s head are purported to have smelling abilities though I couldn’t find any more detail on that.

The gills extend for scores of segments behind the head and look like skinny red Christmas trees with branches spiraling up toward the tip. The worm my have more than 100 segments beyond that.

Segments are apparently disposable since the worm can pinch off segments from its hind end, presumably to give a predator something to nibble on while the important bits head off to build a new tube.

Beach Naturalist Opportunities

Screen shot 2013-03-19 at 9.18.56 AMIf you’re in the Kitsap area, join me, other volunteers and guest experts at the Poulsbo Marine Science Center on Thursday evenings this spring. The Kitsap Beach Naturalist training starts March 28th and will include classes on the oceanography, invertebrates, seaweed and the nearshore environment’s form and function. You can print and fill out the form to the right or register online.

Similar opportunities are available all over the Puget Sound area.

If you don’t necessarily want to be part of a training and volunteer program, check with any of the groups above for naturalist led beach exploration opportunities. Hope to see you in a classroom or on the beach!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

 

 

Swollen seas and a Tolkien tide

A Tolkien tide
Having been a fan of Tolkien’s faerie tales since I was chasing squirrels in the oaks and hickories of the heartland, it’s no surprise I’m excited to see the Hobbit. My dear Alejandra even bought me a ticket to the opening show at our local theater. Of course, that requires staying awake!

If you too have any intention staying up for a midnight cinematic premier, mother nature will provide a premier low tide (-3.6′ish) to fill the “I really should be going to bed now” hours with “Ooo’s” and “Ahh’s” in the beam of your light. For most of the inland Salish Sea, the tide will be in minus territory any time after 9:pm and bottoms out around around 11:pm. It’ll probably be wet and chilly, so dress well and feel free to share what cool things you see through comments or by  contacting me directly.

The wrack or debris line over this parking area indicates the peak of especially high storm tide in early December 2012. Photo: Jeff Adams

Swollen seas
‘Tis the season for storm surges.

The week before Thanksgiving, I saw the 12′ predicted high tide lapping on the beach as I walked off a ferry to West Seattle. A stream babbled north under the dock, well above the tide and buffered by large wood and another few feet of gravel/sand beach.

I traveled the same path a week later, when the predicted high tide was actually a few inches lower. However, the storm tide had swamped the beach logs and stream both, lapping in the vegetation of the recently restored shoreline. Numerous logs with cut ends had rolled and floated out into the bay – an example of the sub-par services cut logs provide when compared to their rooted and branched brethren.

You may also recall the heavy rain before Thanksgiving. Along with that came the surge that I observed and that you can see in the graph below. The actual water levels (red) pushed almost 2 feet higher than the predicted level (blue). The green shows the difference between the two. When predictions hold, the green line stays on zero.

Air pressure and predicted and actual water levels during 2012′s pre-Thanksgiving storms. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov
Air pressure and predicted and actual water levels at The Battery Station, New York City, during Hurricane Sandy. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov

Heaping on the water
Tides are predicted based primarily on the locations of the Earth, Moon and Sun. Those astronomical or predicted tides are the numbers we see in our tide tables, apps or calendars. We have a great deal of certainty as to where the heavenly bodies will be at any given time in the future, but back on our corner of the blue planet, long-range weather details are largely unknown. Consequently, we have no long-range ability to factor storm surges into our tidal predictions.

Storms, caused by the collision of colder northern air and warmer southern air, set our Pacific waters in motion. The warm air rises, lowering the pressure the atmosphere applies to the ocean and allowing the ocean to swell. That pressure-driven surge is accompanied by some level of  wind-driven surge, as the rising warm air also fosters stronger winds that pile the water up on the coastline.

Since our region is spared tropical cyclones (we seem satisfied with earthquakes and volcanoes), our storm surges are mild compared to what everyone watched the East Coast suffer during Hurricane Sandy (right). Still, it’s not unusual for our waters to surge 1 or 2 feet higher than expected during stormy seas.

Our strongest storms often strike in the winter, when we also have some of our highest predicted tides (see and be part of WA DOE’s King Tide photo initiative). Add 20 inches of storm surge to an already high tide, then throw in some high wind and waves… repairs to shoreline properties, roads, and utilities often follow. Factor in potential effects of climate change (a few inches of sea level rise, more intense storms), and the issue of storm surge becomes an important consideration with regards to shoreline infrastructure. Oh, and that kayak that you didn’t bother to tie up because it was 2 vertical feet above the highest predicted tide… (ouch!)

Our highest tide. Highest recorded water level at the Seattle, Puget Sound station. http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov

Tide fun courtesy of NOAA
If you enjoy exploring graphs and numbers, you can have some fun through NOAA’s Tides & Currents portal. You can even check out sea level changes over time and historical extremes. The “Seattle, Puget Sound” station’s highest recorded water level was in January 1983 at +14.48 (right). Not too bad considering our recent big surges were about +14. Certainly nothing compared to the extra 10 feet piled onto the east coast shorelines.

When you’re playing with the numbers and graphs, remember the -8hr conversion from GMT and a -7.94 feet conversion from the extremes section to make them comparable to what we’re used to seeing (based on mean lower low water [MLLW] as 0.0, instead of the station standard that’s 7.94 feet below MLLW).

Have fun exploring NOAA’s online tidal treasures and our last lowest tide of the year! And if you fall asleep at work or school tomorrow… you didn’t read this.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

Whale puke and beach cleanup

Flyer for September 15, 2012 beach cleanups on Sinclair Inlet (Port Orchard and Bremerton, WA). Click to see a larger version.

First of all, this Saturday (9/15/2012) is an opportunity for you and your family or friends to  join others all over the world as we put a dent in the garbage that litters our shorelines and impacts sea life when they eat it or get caught in or smothered by it. Even people may be in harms way from large, sharp or toxic debris.

Often you’ll find sea life living or in marine garbage. They may be happy, but their “home” also serves as an unnatural hazard to other sea life and ultimately may not suit their own needs. I once found a board floating on the beach. On the underside was a cluster of midshipman eggs. Daddy midshipman attracted a lady to lay eggs for him to guard… a tough job when his nest floats away. Now that the wood is gone, he’s more likely to find a nice stable boulder.

If you’re in the Bremerton/Port Orchard neighborhood or want to come over for a visit, check out this flyer image above for details on Sinclair Inlet cleanups.

You can also visit the Ocean Conservancy’s “Sign Up to Clean Up” website, enter your city/town, and find cleanups near you. You can also propose your own cleanup site.

Unfortunately, trash from enormous to miniscule is very abundant on beaches an in the water worldwide (explore NOAA’s Marine Debris Program). However, there are other gems that can be found on the beach.

Chunks of ambergris. Photo: Peter Kaminski

A young boy in the UK recently found a $60,000′ish chunk of “whale sick”… to use the British terminology. If you read and have a clear memory of chapter’s 91 and 92 of Melville’s Moby Dick,… well anyway, it tells of the procurement of a some ambergris from a sperm whale obtained by “unrighteous cunning” and says of ambergris  “Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is.”

Ambergris was historically used in the production of perfumes and still is in limited, but extremely expensive quantities. It was also used to flavor food. Ambergris eggs and muktuk? (A poor play on green eggs and ham… since ambergris eggs apparently don’t go well with pig).

The ambergris is produced in the intestines of sperm whales and typically passed out as feces. If it’s too large, then it may be puked up. It is described as starting with an distinct  aroma of feces (yum), but over months and years of floating on the ocean becomes uniquely sweet, marine and earthy… and edible.

Dig around for more information on this unique relationship between humans and a marine resources. Fascinating stuff! Ambergris is mostly found in the Atlantic Ocean and the Western Pacific, but as you’re cleaning the beach this weekend, keep an eye and nostril out for a waxy, gray rock that has an unusual aroma. You may find your own windfall of whale discharge.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

Terrific tides, crab opener, and croaker care

Students and families at Scenic Beach State Park. Photo: Jeff Adams

Terrific tides
This morning was the first in a great set of minus tides.

  • 6/29, -0.4 at 7:43AM
  • 6/30, -1.6 at 8:36AM
  • 7/1, -2.5 at 9:27AM
  • 7/2, -3.1 at 10:16AM
  • 7/3, -3.4 at 11:03AM
  • 7/4, -3.2 at 11:50AM
  • 7/5, -2.7 at 12:35PM
  • 7/6, -1.7 at 1:20PM
  • 7/7, -0.5 at 2:04PM

Remember that these are predictions for Seattle and can vary depending on geography and weather. Should get you in the ballpark though. Kitsap Beach Naturalists will be on several beaches at different times over the next week if you can take advantage of the great critter stories they have to share.

Eagles know where to find midshipmen. The medium to large rocks such as those in this image often harbor midshipman during the summer. Poulsbo waterfront. Photo: Jeff Adams

When you head out to explore the beaches, keep a few things in mind to protect and respect those who call the beach home.

  • tread lightly and walk more than run (you stay safer and see more cool stuff when you’re walking anyway),
  • look around the edges of eelgrass and kelp beds instead of tramping through them,
  • explore mostly under rocks that are smaller than your head and return them to the way you found them,
  • refill any holes you dig, and
  • remember, shellfish license or not, it’s illegal to take most living sea creatures off the beach, including  shore crabs, hermit crabs, sea stars, sand dollars, snails, etc.
Midshipman eggs with the front half of daddy midshipman cryptically visible to the lower left of the eggs. Fort Ward. Photo: Jeff Adams

Midshipman (croakers)
In the big rock category, if you do turn over a large rock this time of year, you may find male plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus) guarding pea-sized yellow eggs that are attached to the underside of the rock. It’s a really cool thing to see, but over-handling of the fish and awkward replacement of a heavy rock may be tough on the fish and it’s progeny. If you do get a good look at one, maybe stick to the “rocks smaller than your head” rule and leave the rest of the large rocks be.

These amazing deeper water fish have light producing spots called photophores under their head to attract prey, and some seriously sharp teeth with which to munch them. Each late spring/summer, they rise up to the intertidal to stake out nests under large solid objects and make grunting noises to attract the ladies (the reason they’re sometimes called croakers).

Midshipman, nibbled on and left to dry. Poulsbo waterfront. Photo: Jeff Adams

Plainfin midshipman are important predators, but also fall prey to seals and sea lions and can be a very important part of eagles’ diet. It’s not unusual to find the bodies of eviscerated midshipman far from the shoreline, delivered there by an eagle or crow. They are also sometimes abundant bycatch in commercial shrimp trawls.

Crab season
For those of you who have been drooling for dungeness since Christmas… The recreational crab season opens this Sunday, July 1st, for much of Puget Sound and lasts until September 3rd. Blain/Bellingham/San Juans are the exceptions with a slightly later start and close to the season. You can only crab Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. I guess Tuesday and Wednesday is the crab weekend.

The large hard substrate that midshipman find isn't always limited to rocks. Silverdale Waterfront Park. Photo: Jeff Adams

You’re still measuring between where the outermost points meet the carapace. In Puget Sound, you’re looking for up to 5 male Dungeness that measure at least 6.25″, and up to 6 red rock crabs of either sex that are at least 5″. Make sure their shells are hard and that you record your Dungeness. For crab sexing, you can check out an earlier post, and for lots of great information including gear and regulations, see WDFW’s excellent recreational crab site.

Enjoy the holiday week and the excellent tides, and our intertidal treasures!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Beach Walk on the big screen and jellies in the water

Beach Walk DVD front and back covers. By: Robyn Ricks, Washington Sea Grant

In recognition Puget Sound Starts Here Month, Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido is sponsoring a showing of Beach Walk: A Naturalist’s Review at the Dragonfly Cinema (822 Bay Street, Port Orchard) on Thursday, May 24th at 6:30. As an added bonus, we’ll be exploring the Port of Bremerton’s Port Orchard Marina‘s sea life immediately after. As part of the Sustainable Cinema Series, this showing is offered free of charge, and donations are gratefully accepted.

Beach Walk was produced by Nancy Sefton of Unicorn Studios with participation by Washington Sea Grant and WSU Kitsap Extension. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to narrate and poke my head onto the screen a few times. It’s original intent was to be a refresher video for volunteer beach naturalists before they participate in a beach exploration with the public. However, the 35 minute film has appealed to a much broader audience, giving a flavor of the seaweeds and animals you can find on Puget Sound beaches when the tide is out.

You can preview or watch the film on YouTube in 3 parts.

  • Part 1 – 5 min, introduction and best beach behavior
  • Part 2 – 15 min, sea life of cobble/boulder beaches
  • Part 3 – 14 min, sand/mud beach life and things you can do anywhere in the watershed that protect marine habitats

After the film and a brief discussion, we’re going to head across the street to the public entrance of the Port Orchard Marina. I hadn’t been to the marina before, so I checked it out last week and found lots of sea life treasures.

In particular, I was struck by the jellies, finding about a dozen species. Many people have seen the moon jellies and even the large, red lions mane or yellow fried egg jellies. But look closely and the sea is alive with a variety of these predatory, floating, gelatinous anemone cousins.

The compilation below shows several species. From left to right, top to bottom…

  • aggregating jelly (Eutonina indicans) with it’s dangling mouth.
  • gregarious jelly (Clytia gregarium) is very similar to the aggregating. These can be so abundant the water surface is writhing with them. They also make a good meal for larger jellies.
  • eight-strand jelly (Melicertum octocostatum) has 8 large sex organs around its body. It’s a weak swimmer. Trade off for reproductive prowess?
  • red-eyed jelly (Polyorchis penicillatus) has tiny, light sensitive red spots where the tentacles meet the body. The spots help it figure out which way is up in the water.
  • sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia bachei) has two feeding tentacles that can stretch to 8x the length of its body. Since it’s a ctenophore and not technically a jelly, it has 8 rows of tiny comb plates that wave to help it swim. In the sunlight, they make a beautiful pulsating rainbow.
  • many-ribbed jelly (Aequorea sp.) looks like a bicycle wheel. Can we rename it spoke jelly?
Opalescent nudibranch taking a slime across my hand. Photo: Jeff Adams

I also encountered several gorgeous opalescent nudibranchs (sea slugs), one of which was floating bottom up on the water’s surface (maybe looking for a new home?). I gave it a perch on my hand before putting it on the dock next to a small anemone (sorry anemone). They eat hydroids, little coral-like creatures, but may nibble the occasional anemone or sea squirt.

We may see these creatures at the Port Orchard Marina after the show, and we will certainly see others…. rain or shine. Hope to see you there. Be sure to dress for the weather and enjoy spring!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

“Ocean Frontiers”: Working together can really work!

Ocean Frontiers doesn’t have a dragonfly inspired alien or a mutant invasive snakehead fish (I love that stuff!), but it is an opportunity to see some inspiring examples of how stakeholders with very different interests can address issues in ocean conservation… to mutual benefit.

Ocean Frontiers logo courtesy of ocean-frontiers.org.

After a brief introduction, the case studies begin with an amazing effort in Boston Harbor to understand why ships and whales are having unfortunate encounters. Really cool whale research follows that then informs decision making by shipping and energy companies. The results and the process are a model for better, more informed management of our marine environments.

Protection efforts in the Florida keys and off the Oregon Coast follow, but in the middle is an example that really came home to me. I grew up on a small farm along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi River Delta faces a number of ecological challenges, which in turn impact important fishery opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico. Who comes to the rescue? Iowa farmers.

I was really struck by the image of a bunch of Iowa farmers (could have easily been my childhood neighbors and friends) on a fishing charter in the Delta, 1000+ miles from their crops and cows. They were reeling in something other than bass, crappie and catfish while learning about the connections between their agricultural choices and the distant fisheries in the Gulf.

There are so many perspectives that come into play as we engage in efforts to rehabilitate and protect the Puget Sound (and all of the Salish Sea), while maintaining an economy, culture and lifestyle that is dependent on estuary’s watershed and resources. Ocean Frontiers provides examples of ocean management that can embolden us to imagine how our perspectives can work together to mutually beneficial ends.

If you missed the Bainbridge Island screening in early February and the Seattle screening last week, opportunities to catch the film (and ensuing discussions) remain. The Ocean Frontiers’ website’s find a screening page indicates a showing in Bellingham April 25 (umm, that would be shortly after I post this). Also looks like it will be screened in Olympia June 9th. Click on the pin drop for more details on that showing.

Tomorrow evening (April 26 @ 6:30PM) a Port Orchard screening is sponsored by Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido and held at the Dragonfly Cinema in downtown Port Orchard at 822 Bay Street. A discussion will follow, lead by Washington Sea Grant’s Marine Habitat Specialist, Jim Brennan. Cost is only a suggested donation. I hope you can take advantage and join in an atmosphere of collaboration that can lead us into a future of healthy oceans and prosperous societies.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Be a star: Become a Kitsap Beach Naturalist

Four species of sea squirt from the Bremerton Marina. Photo: Jeff Adams
  • How can sea squirts be our cousins?
  • Why do barnacles hold the record for masculine endowment?
  • Why is nori so good for you and sweet kombu so tasty?
  • What would a skeleton shrimp Halloween costume look like?
  • Why doesn’t muscle stand a chance against hydro power?

It’s my belief that whether life led to a career in construction, law, food services, biomedicine, administration…, everyone who has ever wanted to be a marine biologist should have that opportunity. I’m not talking about a graduate education and cruises on the Calypso, but you can learn more than the 99% and share your wonder with others by becoming part of the Kitsap Beach Naturalists or other programs around the Puget Sound (Seattle Aquarium, South Sound Estuary Association, Island County Beach Watchers, Harbor WildWatch, Bainbridge Beach Naturalists).

Kitsap Beach Naturalists explaining sea star tube feet to beach goers. Photo: Jeff Adams

Starting Friday March 23rd, join the Kitsap Beach Naturalists for our 5th year of  training, and learn more about some of the questions above. Classes are Fridays from March 23rd to May 11, 2012 at the Norm Dicks Government Building in Bremerton. You can register ($60 for materials) by contacting WSU Kitsap Extension at 360-337-7157. You can get the flier online (click here) or feel free to contact me or comment to this blog with questions.

Volunteers who have completed the training have a variety of citizen science projects (eelgrass, dead birds, beach diversity,…), beach and dock explorations and youth and family outreach opportunities they can be a part of.

We’ve expanded the training this year to include more field opportunities and more speakers, covering everything from intertidal invertebrates to seaweed cosmetics. I look forward to meeting some of you for what should be another great year of celebrating and understanding the shorelines that are such an important part of our contemporary and traditional Pacific Northwest culture.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 

Drawn from the deep

Public entrance to the Bremerton Marina. Photo: Jeff Adams

OK, so we’re unlikely to witness the rise of a leviathan, but tomorrow evening (Saturday 2/18 from 7:30-8:30), you can join Kitsap Beach Naturalists, along with me and my WSU Kitsap Extension colleague Peg Tillery at the Bremerton Marina (map). We’re taking a break from the night time low tides to explore the subtidal and free-swimming life that can be enjoyed on almost any floating dock, at any time. Night time on a dock can bring even more sea life to the surface with the aid of a bright light.

You never know what might respond to lights pointed into the water at night. Ever watched squid jiggers at work – often in the cold, often in the wet, always in the dark? Their porcupine lures rise and sink through the water in or around a column of bright light. Schools of squid are attracted by the lights and often can’t help but embrace that brightly colored tube, entangling themselves in the lure’s spiny skirt. The jiggers are taking advantage of the many-armed tasty’s attraction to light.

Opalescent or market squid (Loligo opalescens) near the surface at Bremerton Marina. Photo: Washington Sea Grant

What else will be attracted to the light? Many creatures spend the daylight hours below the photic zone – the top layer of the water where there’s enough light to support plant growth but also enough to be easily seen by predators. Every evening they come to the surface to feed under the safety of darkness, then return to the deep as the sun rises.

The spring blooms are yet to arrive but some small organisms and even some jellies still float around near the surface. Imagine you’re a tiny copepod (about as long as the thickness of a dime) and you’re happily filtering tiny particles out of the water. Leviathan being something of a matter of scale, the hairs near your cycloptic eye may rise in fear as dusk settles in and from below swims an torpedo-shaped arrow worm (Sagitta elegans). It’s 40 times your size (about the length of a football field compared to a tall human) with rows of hooked hunting spines on either side its head (ironically not unlike the squid jig). Yikes! … Back to your human self, just shake off your imagination and remember the arrow worm’s only an inch and a half or so long.

Northwest ugly clam (Entodesma navicula) on the Bremerton Marina docks. Photo: Washington Sea Grant

No guarantees on what we’ll see swimming in the water, but there’s always a spectacular show to take in on the submerged areas of the dock.

Most animals and plants on the docks don’t move through the open water and rely on the hard surfaces of the dock to give them a strong foothold that they would otherwise only find from rocks below the exchanging tide. Among these will be seaweeds, chitons, anemones, crabs, barnacles, stars, cucumbers, urchins, slugs and squirts… and (my personal favorite) the ugly clam.

Plumose anemones (Metridium) and green false jingle (Pododesmus macroschisma) adorning a pipe at the Bremerton Marina. Photo: Jeff Adams

Clams on a floating dock you may ask? This is no ordinary clam. In a natural environment, you’d find the ugly clam (Entodesma navicula) growing out of a crevice or between rocks, it’s shell deforming to fit its surroundings. It’s far easier to find these clams on docks where they are frequent inhabitants.

Another bivalve that lives on docks an form fits to its home is the false jingle shell (Pododesmus macroschisma). It’s bottom shell has a hole through which it attaches to it’s substrate. It also has bright orange lips that you can see while it’s feeding.

Speaking of lips, maybe we’ll be lucky enough to see a scallop or two flashing their bright smile.

Smiling scallop at the Bremerton Marina. Photo: Washington Sea Grant

Like the squid jiggers, it’s likely to be cold, wet, and dark, so bring flashlights or headlamps (something with a strap so it doesn’t fall in the water). Life jackets are a good idea for kids. Wear warm, waterproof clothes so you can even get down on belly if you like and get a closer look off the dock.

If you can’t join us tomorrow, go to the public docks nearest you any time they’re open. If you see something cool, let me know and even send a picture. I love that stuff and am happy to let you know more about what you found!

We’ll also be doing this again, so if you’d like to be kept in the loop, please contact me or Lisa Rillie 360-337-7157 x 3244 or lrillie@co.kitsap.wa.us. Happy dock exploring!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets, FaceBook and video posts, send email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

Surf’s up on the Salish Sea

Leave the board on your woodie though.

Surf scoters near the Southworth Ferry dock. Photo: Jeff Adams

Surf scoters (one of my top five most beautiful ducks) have moved in for the winter. The dramatic contrast of black/white/orange on the male surf scoter’s head is strikingly beautiful, though the Halloween colored heads are not the only reason I connect with these birds.

Surf scoters and several other ducks (including two other scoter species: white-winged and black) are winter only residents, flocking to our shores after the tourists take flight. They join us only for the short days, clouds, wind and rain that define our region from October to May.

I and lots of other moldy, web-footed folk love Western Washington winters. However, others mourn the passing of our sunny summer and begin to pine for sun, fine sand and warm air shortly after the rains set in.

Surf scoters as a species have similar and very strong preferences. While a large population migrates from their Northwest Territories breeding grounds to the Salish Sea, many bypass our area and spend the winter in California and Mexico. Most of the southern birds then spend some time in southeastern Alaska before flying to the breeding grounds.

Male surf scoters near an encrusted ladder and pilings, from which they might nibble a snack. Photo: Jeff Adams

The Salish Sea birds are true devotees to this place. Just as a summer visitor might return to their favorite cabin or campground, about 90% of the birds that return for the winter to hang out in the exact same spot they spent the previous year. They also stay here until they’re ready to go to their breeding grounds.

When the tide’s out, you may see the surf scoters nibbling on the community of critters that’s developed on pilings, targeting small mussels and crustaceans. You might also see them diving, sometimes in unison as they search for similar fare on the seafloor or in eelgrass beds. When herring spawn, scoters fatten up on the eggs in preparation for the breeding season.

The Puget Sound population of scoters once represented about 2/3 of the total West Coast population, but the number of birds declined precipitously in the 1980′s and particularly in 1990. They seem to have leveled off in numbers but represent about half the number of birds that were here 30 years ago (pollution? herring problems? hunting?). The decline also represents the greatest loss of Puget Sound marine bird biomass in the last 30 years.

Surf scoter foraging on a piling. Photo: Jeff Adams

You can find more information with calls and maps at Seattle Audubon’s BirdWeb. The 2007 Puget Sound Update also has a nice section on scoters.

If you and a flock of scoters share a favorite shoreline haunt (whether a ferry, pier or bit of beach), take some time to get to know them. When they take flight in the spring, you can wish them well and holler “See you next year!” Those that survive will return to share the winter love with you once again.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.