Jul 9, 2011

Puget Sound Extra Low Tides

Here is a big post about three visits to Discovery Park and one visit to Mee Kwa Mooks Park for low tides during June and July. I wish negative tides like these happened every day. But I think that would give us a full moon every night too and that that could get weird. Anyway, whenever I get the chance I take off for the water to muck about with the seaweed, moon snails, anemone, and crabs, and plenty of herons and bald eagles.

In the photo above, because of the perspective, it looks as if these people could summit Mt. Rainier in just a few steps. In the distance you can also see the West Seattle Bridge and some of the cranes that load and unload shipping containers on Harbor Island.

At Discovery Park, before I even get to the water, I walk through the woods and listen to the calls of the Swainson's thrush (one of my favorite bird calls) and the spotted towhee. I also pass a small meadow filled with daisies and lupine.

Just a nice clam with barnacles hitching a ride - and an existence.
A shy anemone
The Olympic Mountains seem close enough to touch.You never know what you might find on the beach. I've been on one Argosy cruise or another about eight times and I've yet to purchase the pic from the mandatory photo opp. Maybe this is what happens to all the abandoned photos?
West Point Lighthouse.
Found this beautiful crab claw shell. I love crab shells. Best part, all the joints were still connected and still worked (still are and still do).

Looks like someone stepped on this crab shell. This is how I found it. It reminds me of learning about Pangea, the super continent that broke apart to eventually form the continents are we know them today.
Behold the moon snail. Beautiful shell. Large shell. This is the first time I've ever found a shell with its inhabitant still inside. The snail spends most of its time under the sand hunting clams.But when it surfaces, let's say because of low tide, it hides inside the shell and shuts the door. Here is the underside of the moon snail. You can see that it has shut its operculum to seal itself inside. It's made of material much like our fingernails and is relatively hard. Behold the moon snail sand collar. Looks like a half-buried piece of pottery. When a moon snail is ready to lay eggs, it constructs this egg case in which it will deposit the eggs. The moon snail lives mostly under the sand but it must surface to construct the sand collar. The snail, a sizeable bivalve (the shell alone is the size of a softball), basically surrounds itself with its huge foot, the muscular apendage it uses for locomotion. The cilia on the foot gather sand until the snail is almost completely covered. The sand has been combined with mucous so it has stiffened and formed a protective barrier around the snail.
Then the snail lays several thousand eggs and the cilia go to work again, this time distributing the eggs all over the surface of the first layer of the sand collar. Next, another layer of sand and mucous is gathered forming the outermost layer. The eggs are sandwiched between the two layers. When it's all said and done, the snail must extricate itself from this sand sculpture. Again, the giant foot goes to work and the snail digs straight down into the sand, disappearing from view, leaving behind this amazing structure.
As the eggs mature and hatch and leave the collar, it begins to break apart. You should never disturb a complete sand collar. An intact sand collar is a pretty good indication that the eggs are still inside.
Thanks to the parks representative who was available to answer questions right on the beach, I learned it was a good idea to bury this snail in the sand. Luckily, two little girls equipped with buckets and shovels were up to the task at the representative's request. The snail will be safe from seagulls if it's back in the sand.

I saw only half in tact collars and even picked up a piece of one floating in the water. It's a bit leathery but still fragile.

Here is what happens when a moon snail gets hold of a clam. That hole is work of the moon snail's radula. With the radula, the moon snail bores a hole into the clam to access the juicy insides. Yikes.
Again, the sea-level perspective really plays tricks with your eyes. This boat looks too close.

At Mee Kwa Mooks I spotted purple sea stars, a shy red crab and orange sea cucumbers.
Here's a close-up. See the red crab?
This tiny hermit crab housed in this brilliant yellow and green shell was barely as big as my pinky fingernail. It was cruising along the edge of this limpet.Here it is again. I like the sun glitter in this shot.This pattern in the rocks caught my eye.Here is the Alki Lighthouse, seen from Mee Kwa Mooks Park.


jeannie said...

These snaps are friggin' brilliant! I loved the moon snail & egg laying description. I don't remember seeing anything that big when I was with you. Softball size? no way. But, when I was up on Orcas Island, I saw orange and purple star fish (sea stars)...but NEVER a CUCUMBER! Totally cool! And those colors are so brilliant! Thanks for sharing. Wish I was there to share in the FUN!!!

vb said...

Well, when you and I were here we did see shells almost this big. It's just that no one was home in them at the time. I wish photography could do justice to the colors. I must admit, I saturated some of the pics a bit so you could see what I saw in person.


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