Seattle Magazine, July 2007
By Roddy Scheer

The beach isn’t just about bikinis. Check out local tidepools for close encounters with wildlife

If your idea of beach wildlife is more about geoducks and sea stars than bikinis and volleyball, you are in the right city. Indeed, beach life during Seattle’s sizzling summertime can be pretty wild for those willing to don rubber boots and poke around at low tide. “We usually see sea cucumbers, sea jellies and lots of crabs—porcelain, redrock and Dungeness,” says Anne Bentley, a Seattle parks naturalist based at Discovery Park whose enthusiasm for Seattle’s tidal wildlife is contagious. “And of course tons of sea stars, both the ochre and sunflower varieties,” she adds.

Beyond such familiar sights, Bentley waxes poetic about some of the more exotic players on Seattle’s tidal stage, including the sea slug, which features “translucent blue and orange electric striping down the middle with blue and orange-tinged gills,” the softball-sized moon snail “with a foot as big as a dinner plate,” and the sea pen “that looks like the orange quill of a pen.”

Wild and wacky stuff indeed.

While you can explore Discovery Park’s tidepools with a qualified naturalist/guide like Bentley on a scheduled weekend beach walk, you can also head out on your own. And if you time it right, you may even encounter someone who can help you decipher what you discover on the beach.

Besides leading the occasional organized beach walk, Bentley and the other staff naturalists also train park volunteers to man beachside information tables at Discovery Park’s West Point throughout the summer and answer visitor questions about the tidal environment and its inhabitants. Also, King County has teamed up with naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium to train hundreds of additional volunteers for similar duties on seven other Seattle-area Puget Sound beaches.

According to Janice Mathisen, a naturalist with the Seattle Aquarium who helps train beach volunteers if you set out without the aid of an expert keep these tips in mind:

Tread lightly and keep your eyes peeled for interesting shapes and colors in the sand below you, without stepping on them inadvertently; also, avoid walking on eelgrass beds which serve as oceanside nurseries for marine wildlife.

Keep pets under control and on a short leash, as they can wreak havoc on already fragile tidal ecosystems. Better yet, just leave Fido at home.

Take only pictures and leave only footprints: rocks, shells, logs and even seaweed provide food and shelter for tidal wildlife, and should remain where you found them. If you do move anything for a closer look, put it back where you found it.

Leave anemones and barnacles that are tightly attached to rocks and pilings alone, as they work hard to get to spots for optimal feeding and might suffer the ultimate setback if removed.

Do pick up and remove trash from the beach, especially fishing line and plastic six pack holders that can choke the life right out of wildlife.

Of course, anyone with two feet and the motivation to get up off the couch can enjoy the vistas, sand, wildlife and salt air of Seattle’s beaches. Once that resolve has been mustered—even if it’s just because your house doesn’t have air conditioning—forget the surf trunks and instead get out the rubber boots, for the tidal treasures of Seattle’s beaches beckon.

Go With A Guide
Upcoming guided beach walks are on July 14, 15 and 28, and August 11 and 29 at Discovery Park; and July 28, and August 11 and 14 at West Seattle’s Me-Kwa-Mooks Park. Participation is free but space is limited to ensure a 15:1 ratio of visitors to naturalists. Timing of each beach walk varies depending on the day’s tide, so advance sign-up is recommended. Kids under 6 years old are welcome on some of the beach walks and not others, so be sure to ask.

Coordinates

DISCOVERY PARK
3801 W. Government Way
206.386.4236
seattle.gov/parks/Environment/discovparkindex.htm
Park hours: Daily, 6 a.m.–11 p.m.
Visitor center hours: Tue.–Sun., 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

ME-KWA-MOOKS PARK
4503 Beach Dr. SW
206.684.4075 (general Seattle Parks info)
seattle.gov/parks/parkspaces/me-kwa-mooksPark.htm
Park hours: Daily, 6 a.m.–11 p.m.

Ask an Expert
Trained volunteers man beachside information tables at Discovery Park’s West Point throughout the summer and answer visitor questions about the tidal environment and its inhabitants. You’ll also find trained volunteers (part of a joint program between King County and the Seattle Aquarium; seattleaquarium.org/conservation/beach/) at seven other Seattle-area Puget Sound beaches. Shoreline’s Richmond Beach, Broadview’s Carkeek Park, Ballard’s Golden Gardens, West Seattle’s Constellation Park and Lincoln Park, Burien’s Seahurst Park and Des Moines’ Beach Park. The volunteer naturalists will be on hand at each of the beaches listed on these days: July 4, 12:30–3:30 p.m.; July 14–15, 10 a.m.–2 p.m.; July 28, 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.; and  July 29, 10 a.m.–1 p.m.

Lowdown on Minus Tides
The best time for summer tidepooling on the Pacific Northwest’s saltwater beaches, including those around Seattle, is during a minus tide, when the tide is out lower than usual, exposing more of the sea stars, moon snails and geoducks that normally take cover below the water surface. July 10–17 and 26–31, and August 6–12 and 24–29 promise some of the lowest minus tides of 2007. If you’re on the lookout for tidal wildlife, plan your beach visits accordingly. Be sure to check the exact timing of a given day’s minus tide by checking up-to-date tide tables online (at websites like www.tidesonline.com or dairiki.org/tides).