A Small and Beautiful World

Mussels and barnacles live crowded together in a tide pool at Enderts Beach in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California

In this crowded space in a tide pool at Enderts Beach in California’s Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park, goose barnacles fill the gaps left by California mussels while acorn barnacles attach directly to the mussels themselves. The snails and black limpets are a little more mobile but all have evolved some sort of hard enclosure to protect against drying out at times like these when the tide has receded, and also against the birds who prey upon them. They may not be able to evolve fast enough to survive their biggest enemy as we not only warm the oceans but acidify them too. But for the moment I will bear them witness, this beautiful little world that exists only in the narrowest strip up and down our coasts, halfway on land and halfway in water.

Missing Arm

A sea star with a missing arm in Olympic National Park

This ochre sea star (starfish) is missing one of its arms, there should be another arm in between the one pointing up and the one pointing right. I don’t know if it was suffering from sea star wasting syndrome that is killing large numbers of sea stars on the Pacific coast. Multiple species of stars are affected but the ochre stars are the most visible since they are easily seen in the intertidal zone.

Earth Imitates Life

Large rocks stretch to the sky at Rialto Beach in Olympic National Park

These large rocks at Rialto Beach in Washington’s Olympic National Park reminded me of goose barnacles stretching to the sky. There are tide pools by the rocks if you’d prefer life to its imitation. There’s a gull enjoying this lovely spring morning as well as I always like to sneak a little wildlife into my landscape pictures when I can. Shown below are actual goose barnacles (also known as gooseneck barnacles) from Enderts Beach in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park in California. Their stalk is said to resemble the necks of geese and according to Wikipedia, goose barnacles and the barnacle goose were named after each other, as the goose was suspected of growing from the barnacle.

Goose barnacles crowd together in a tide pool

All Anemones Great and Small

A giant green anemone sits beside a colony of aggregating anemones in a tide pool in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

There are two species of anemones in this tide pool at Enderts Beach, the big green one is an aptly-named giant green anemone. The clustered little ones are aggregating anemones, they can reproduce multiple ways but this colony would likely consist entirely of clones. Giant green anemones are sometimes seen in tight groups but if there’s room they often spread out.

The Oystercatcher

A black oystercatcher stands on a rock covered with goose barnacles and California mussels in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park

A black oystercatcher stands in what must feel like heaven to a bird that eats mollusks, a rock covered in goose barnacles and California mussels. When the tide comes in this rock will be underwater, something I still have trouble wrapping my head around. I love watching and listening to oystercatchers as they hunt in the tide pools so it was a special treat to get to photograph this one so completely in its element. After watching them at several places in California and Washington, I began to wonder why some of them had extra black spots next to the pupil of their wondrous orange-ringed yellow eyes, leading me to a paper that suggests you can fairly reliably determine whether the oystercatcher is male or female by these eye flecks. I suspect this one may be a male since it had only small specks next to its pupil, they were hard to see unless I zoomed in on the picture.

Revenge of the Crabs

The shell of a red rock crab floats in a tidepool

I came across this red rock crab floundering in a tide pool, struggling to emerge from under the rocks and climb onto the beach but the incoming tide washing it back down. Clearly a zombie crab, but still I took pity on it and decided to help it, despite its gaping maw and triangular teeth.

“Need some help there little one?”

“Yes! About time! How long were you going to watch me struggle?”

“Promise you won’t eat my brains?”

“Just help me up!”

“I’m not going to help you if you’re going to eat my brains. And you don’t have to be so, ah, …”

“What? I don’t have to be so what?”

“Nothing.”

“Crabby? Were you going to say crabby?”

“No. Well, maybe. Yes.”

“For millions and millions of years my kind has ruled the border between land and sea, and from that border down to the depths of the deepest oceans. And in our new more fearsome form so too will we now rule the land!”

“Oh no!”

“Now you show me the respect I deserve!”

“No, I meant ‘oh no’ as in ‘oh no, the gulls have spotted you’.”

“What? Quick! Get me out of here! Help! Help!”

“Promise you won’t eat my brains!”

“We do as we must!”

“Well then, it was nice meeting you, but I’m going to keep walking down the beach. Goodbye, and good luck.”

“Help me! Help me! Don’t walk away! Maybe I’ll only nibble!”

If it said anything more I couldn’t hear it above the cries of the gulls as they closed in. If you weren’t eaten by a zombie today, say a little thank you to the gulls, they are our defenders.

I did stop to photograph this dead crab because its scattered parts reminded me of a monster climbing from under the earth, but we’re looking at the back of the crab, not its front. The large hole is where its abdomen would have been, and the teeth are bits of soft flesh left behind by scavengers (they didn’t leave much). While only one leg was still attached with the others discarded nearby, one was close enough, and angled well enough, that it seemed as though it was an extremely long arm emerging from the stones of the beach. The eyes are just a depression on the shell but if I stood at the right angle they looked like eye sockets.