Sunday, May 10, 2015

Where the wild things are

The critters of the upper intertidal zone, with the exception of the insane mud snails, go into hiding at low tide; Boundary Bay becomes a wide zone of bare, grey sand. But when the tide is low enough, we can walk out to the last sandbars and the eelgrass beds between them. There, life goes on, busily, whether the water is coming or going.

These photos are in chronological order, as I walked out. Some animals only show up in the deeper areas, where the tide rarely drops below the tips of the tallest eelgrass.

Small Dungeness crabs start appearing at the inner edge of the beds. This is under about 4 inches of water.

Opalescent nudibranch, on kelp. There were many in the shallower eelgrass beds, all much more vividly coloured than the one I found last month at the boat ramp.

(More on these, later.)

Fuzzy eelgrass.

The fuzz along the blades of grass is made up of diatoms and bacteria. It doesn't look appetizing, but this is my hermits and crabs absolute favourite food. They're not the only gourmets; the fuzziest grass in this zone is loaded with bubble shells, nudibranchs, skeleton shrimp, amphipods, and other small, darting beasties. It seems that every second blade has its collection of egg masses, pink, white, and yellow; the next generation will be well provided for.

I don't know what was in that ball of pinkish stuff. It felt solid, and was firmly stuck to the eelgrass.

If you look closely at the photo, you may find the baby starfish.

Dungeness crab molt. It must be handy to get rid of your old skin when it loses its youthful smoothness.

Looking back. The photo reminds me, in tone and layout, of an old postcard in my Mom's album.

Purple sand dollar, under flowing water. This one's alive, so it still has the dark spines.

Looking north, across the bay to the hills of South Surrey.

One sandbar to go before the border marker. The water was about knee-deep from here to the bar, then the bottom drops off quickly.

Green burrowing anemone. The deep green is from ingested algae.

I found many empty clamshells; most of them contained small mottled starfish. There are three here; do you see the third?

About a third of the small starfish had the twisted, upturned armtips that may be caused by starfish wasting syndrome. I didn't see any lesions, and there were quite a few babies.

Almost every clamshell that contained starfish also held a few tiny, almost transparent shrimp. Four of them, one a female carrying young, came home with me in a handful of eelgrass. I'll have photos of these, later on.

At the outer edge of the last sandbar, as I watched, the eelgrass stretched out in the outgoing current suddenly faltered, drooped, turned back towards me. The tide was coming in. Time to go.

I had time to stop, once I'd reached shallower water, and take a couple more photos.

Blending in.

Jellyfish, alive and swimming, made visible by its shadow on the sand beneath.

I brought home a small bag of fuzzy eelgrass for my hermits; as usual, there were hitchhikers. Some of them, tomorrow.


  1. The nudibranc would be a wonderful experience to see.

    In the past week there have been articles in our local paper and by some bloggers about the appearance of young starfish and their apparent health. most said too soon to tell if they are resistant to the disease.

  2. My favorite post, so far. Great pictures, informative story.

  3. Thanks for the tour.


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