Category Archives: Fish

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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 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 or call at 360-337-4619.

Thingy Thursday: Genesis and the Lancet

Inspired by “Amusing Monday” on Christopher Dunagan’s Watching Our Water Ways blog, I’m officially launching “Thingy Thursday”!

Once in a while, folks send pictures or questions about aquatic life to me or to groups I’m affiliated with. Some are relatively straightforward. Some seem alien. Others confound the experts.

I’ll start with those that have come across my desk and add a few mysteries I’ve personally encountered. I really hope, readers will start sending questions and images ( to help Thingy Thursday grow from a tiny larva to a full blown sea monster! … A bit overblown there,… but if you do happen to find a sea monster, please grab your camera.

Longnose lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). Photo by: Kim Esterberg

One of my favorites washed up on Bainbridge Island’s shoreline in October 2008. The pictures wound up on my desk, so I forwarded it to folks in the know. Several identified it as the longnose or long snouted lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox). This is more of a reminder than an original story since it was blogged about at the time: Watching Our Water Ways: Another Strange Creature shows up in Puget Sound. Still I’ll add a couple extra elements.

What you can’t see in these pictures are the huge fangs (a pair on top and 2 pairs on the bottom) and the large, sail-like fin this deep sea predator sports. (Click here for good pictures of those features from a specimen in California).

Longnose lancetfish closeup of head. Photo by: Kim Esterberg

The musculature of these fish is described as “watery”, suggesting they ambush prey instead of actively chasing it down. They’re known to eat fish (including their own species), squid, crustaceans, and salps (free-floating sea squirts, highly evolved invertebrates). I wonder what the watery muscles mean for the fight they put up at the end of a fishing line? Very few people would know.

Another specimen washed up on Vancouver Island in April 2008. The article reported three other beached lancetfish sightings in the Northwest that month, as well as a barracuda and six-gill shark on Vancouver Island. The Bainbridge fish was found 3 months later.

More on lancet fish at… Wikipedia and FishBase

The oceans are full of amazing creatures, and once in a while they appear on that thin boundary between our world and theirs – the beach. I’ll offer up beach walk to the first person to find a giant or humbolt squid on a Salish Sea beach, and either send pictures or pull out the beak for me. You’re more likely to find them on the outer coast, but strange things show up in our inland waters from time to time.

Feel free to send along anything exciting or unusual. Here’s to life’s mysteries! 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, email to or call at 360-337-4619.

From the south blows an ill wind

On my way around Sinclair Inlet this morning I was reminded that even though the daytime minus tides are over, the approaching full moon continues to provide us with ample beach to explore. I also watched as a big Navy ship was pulling out for Rich Passage, the Sound and presumably the oceans beyond. (Eyes back to the road please.)

Twenty minutes later, I was watching the huge ship from the five floors of glass staircase up to my office, but something else caught my attention. Waves. There were some pretty healthy waves in Sinclair Inlet. That means a lot of surface water was on the move. A couple other things came to mind… I had commented to someone earlier in the morning that it would be good kite weather. I had also noted flags firmly held toward the north by the southerly wind. … But when I saw the waves, I started to think of Hood Canal.

The short of it is that winds from the south (southerly) actually push the surface water in Hood Canal to the north. Deeper water with lower oxygen has to rise to take its place. Unfortunately, this year the deeper water in Hood Canal is particularly low in oxygen.

I walked into my office ready to write this blog and refer any readers to a recent note from the UW’s Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program that noted oxygen values “among the lowest observed, based on the data sets available.” You can find the document by visiting the Hood Canal Dissolved Oxygen Program website and clicking on the Summer 2010 Hypoxia water drop on the right. Christopher Dunagan has been reporting on the threat in recent weeks.

Windblown flags and choppy waters in front of the Bremerton marina.

I also checked email, only to find that a fish kill report had already been announced. The following was passed along by researcher Jan Newton of the UW Applied Physics Laboratory…

“The midnight buoy profile at Hoodsport, Hood Canal, shows that the very low oxygen concentrations we’ve been following became shallower (within less than 10 m of surface) and that surface concentrations were very low (3.1 mg/L). This is consistent with what we predicted may occur with S winds. Conditions relaxed a bit this morning, surface oxygen currently 4.7 mg/L. If winds persist, it may get worse; if they relax, it may improve.”

She continued “A WDFW crew led by Wayne Palsson reports dead fish at Potlatch: sanddabs, greenlings, and blackbelly eelpouts [Lycodopsis pacifica].  They will be diving today, recording fish observations and oxygen concentrations at the Sund Rock area.”

You can look at plots of dissolved oxygen and other data from ORCA (Ocean Remote Chemical Analyzer) buoys near Hoodsport and Twanoh at the NANOOS NVS and HCDOP websites. Look for additional information at the Kitsap Sun (it’s already up) or in Christopher Dunagan’s Watching Our Water Ways blog. We’ll see what the next days/weeks hold for the south end of Hood Canal.

In the meantime… It really is a good time to pull out the kite. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Ocean and Fishery Sciences, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea-life blog, email to or call at 360-337-4619.