Monthly Archives: May 2011

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Habitat specificity… or… home, home on the whale

I’ve really been enjoying a blog by Jackie Hildering, “The Marine Detective” from Port McNeill, BC. In her most recent post to, she share a story of a relationships between species that literally build upon each other.

In Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?! She shares the wonder of diversity and discovery that never ceases to surprise. In her research on humpback whales she and her colleagues noticed a species specific whale barnacle on a particular humpback. As time went on, the barnacle changed like a gnarly wart growing hair. Finally, they got a close look at the “hair” to find it was a barnacle specific barnacle – the humpback whale barnacle barnacle. Share the marine detective’s wonder and enjoy her amazing photos.

Humpback whale in Colvos Passage near the Southworth ferry. Jeff Adams

Humpback whales sometimes find their way into Salish Sea waters (as you may note in my Loch Ness blurr style humpback pic). So bring the binoculars next time you hear of one (join the Orca Network list for near daily whale sightings info). Wonder not only at the magnificence of the whale, but see if you can spot a humpback whale barnacle, or even a barnacle with a medusa doo. Cheers! JEff

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 or call at 360-337-4619.

Last chance for a close shave

Happy razor clammers! Kim Pham

The last opportunity of the season to collect our outer coast’s famous razor clams (Siliqua patula – Latin for Pod open since it looks like a newly germinated seed pod) is today (5/18) through Sunday (5/22). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a whole series of pages devoted to razor clams, including how to dig them and their relationship with domoic acid, a toxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning and is produced by the group of diatoms called Pseudo-nitzschia. So far, the razor clam beaches have the Department of Health OK for harvesting razors this week.

If you’re looking for a spur-of-the-moment staycation you might give this some thought. Our Salish Sea clams generally stay in one place while you rake/dig them near the surface or chase their neck down deep. Razor clams take a different approach on their beaches of deep sand. They have a specialized foot that can rapidly extend, long and pointed, straight down into the sand. Once extended, the end of the foot expands to act as an anchor. Muscles then contract and pull the entire clam deeper into the sand. You shovel, they plunge, you shovel, they plunge… the chase is on!

Jackknife clam from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

You might imagine, such an approach wouldn’t work well in many Salish Sea beaches because of the mix of sand gravel and cobble that are often dominant. Hence, we fjord-folk have to travel to the open coast and bravely face the Pacific expanse to forage for these delicacies.

On the other hand, we do have a very similar-looking species, called the jackknife clam or blunt razor clam (Solen sicarius, meaning something like Pipe dagger-man, ouch!). Its shiny, oblong, beige to brown shell is similar to the razor clam, but certainly unique among Salish Sea clams. The shell of a jackknife, however, is relatively narrow and more squared off on the ends. Also, the hinge, where the two shells connect, is at one end of the shell instead of near the middle. That’s pretty unusual to see among our clams.

Partially buried jackknife clam shell, from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

The jackknife clam is not often seen alive since it prefers sand and mud from the very lowest tides down to about 180′. Jackknife clams (up to 5″ long) also dig a more permanent burrow than a razor clam, whose burrow fills and empties of sand more regularly. The jackknife burrow may be 15″ deep or more and can be relatively smooth lined, particularly in substrate that’s more of a hard mud. The clam can zip quickly to the bottom when threatened. It can then dig deeper if necessary… but it’s no longer so zippy.

Summer clamming is a great time with nutritious benefits. Just keep your eyes on your regulations and limits, refill your holes and don’t forget to check the Department of Health’s marine biotoxin pages and alerts. If you head out to the Coast this week/weekend… enjoy, feel great about supporting the local economy… and may your skills be sharper than a razor. JEff

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 or call at 360-337-4619.

Terrific Tides and Historical Harper

Harper fishing pier on the right and ferry "dolphin" on the left. The dolphin was removed in 2009 shortly after this picture was taken. Jeff Adams

Along with the amazing sea life you might encounter around the Kitsap Peninsula, the Salish Sea and beyond, I also want to periodically highlight some beaches that host our saltwater bounty.

The area of South Kitsap from the Harper pier, south into a pocket estuary is a great place to watch birds, dive, reflect on history and our shoreline fingerprint, launch a boat, and explore the beach. The area uncovered by a low tide is a real hodgepodge of public and private ownership, but the boat launch and fishing pier are readily identifiable public access points.

Harper has a history well worth noting. The fishing pier stands were the ferry system linked Kitsap to Vashon and West Seattle until the early 1960’s. Until their 2009 removal, a remnant of the ferry dock (a cluster of deteriorating creosote pilings called a dolphin) could be seen at the end of the pier.

The Harper pier is frequented by divers and anglers alike. For divers, there are even a couple wrecked boats to explore beyond the pier. The sport plumose anemones, kelp crabs, barnacles and other piling fare to enjoy. Divers also find abundant lures, lines, bottles and mobile phones lost by the piers other regular users. It’s also a great place to see birds and get a great view of the Central Puget Sound.

A pile of brick from one of the Harper Clay Products brick dump areas. Jeff Adams

A fascinating history lies on the beach near the boat launch, and just under the surface. The Harper Clay Products Company started making bricks from nearby clay in the late 1800’s (click here for some great old photos and maps). The good bricks can still be seen in Pioneer Square buildings in Seattle and in the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. The discarded bricks, however, are abundant near the boat launch as one of the “brick dump” areas used by the factory. The bricks wind up supporting barnacles, rockweed and some other animals that live on hard surfaces, though in the areas where they’re piled deeply, they don’t do any favors for the mudflat organisms that would have been there in their absence.

A rich pocket estuary and salt marsh lies to the south of the boat launch and road. The culvert that feeds this area is the subject of restoration interest, with the intent of broadening the salt marsh habitat to its historic extent.

As for this week’s great low tides…
Our first -3 tides of the season are today and tomorrow. Excellent mid-day minus tides continue through Sunday. As a bonus, it looks like we’re even in for a few sunny days.

A layer of discarded Harper bricks can be seen on the eroded edge of the boat launch. Picklweed and grass now grow on top. Jeff Adams

5/17, -3.0 at 11:30am, Tuesday (better hurry:)
5/18, -3.2 at 12:10pm, Wednesday
5/19, -2.9 at 1:00pm, Thursday
5/20, -2.3 @ 1:40pm, Friday
5/21, -1.3 @ 2:30pm, Saturday
5/22, -0.2 @ 3:15pm, Sunday

Head out to Harper or your favorite walking, birding, shellfishing, trash cleaning, beachcombing, all around breathtaking beach to enjoy the low tides and maybe a bit of sunny and sixty for a change. Time to trade knee boots for sandals? Cheers! JEff

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 or call at 360-337-4619.