Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Pleasures of the Low Tide Days at Alki

For me, the low tide days of late spring and early summer are the most special days of the season. I avoid setting appointments or making commitments for the time when the tide is way, way out so I can walk the beach. After all, there are only a few days a year when this opportunity presents itself. It is as if a curtain is pulled back from the shore and we can wade out into sun-warmed tide pools to explore a world that is usually invisible.

Exploring tide pools during a -4 foot low tide at Alki Beach in June 2009.
These extra low tides coincide with the days around new and full moons. Last Saturday, for example, there was a full moon, so big and bright it was called a Super Moon. That morning in Seattle, we had a -2.1 low tide at around 11 a.m. The lowest low for this full moon phase was on Tuesday, a -3.4 tide at 12:20 p.m. Now that the moon is waning, the tides are not so low - today it was only -1.8.

There's an incredible array of marine life on display during these very low tides. Jellyfish, barnacles, sea stars and this "sun" star, above, are just a few of them. A recent post on the West Seattle Blog has images of a frosted nudibranch and a type of anemone, which you can view here.

The first time I saw a piece of a moon snail's egg casing, like this one above, I thought it was an old gasket someone had thrown into the Sound. The smooth, dense material looks like it was manufactured somewhere. Which in fact it was, right there, by the mother snail. If I am understanding the explanation furnished on Buzz's Marine Life of Puget Sound blog, which you can read here, the snail combines eggs and sand with some sort of glue and extrudes this collar. A sand collar can contain over 300,000 eggs.

If you want to enjoy the low tide experience, the next series of super low tides will coincide with the full moon on June 4. The lowest low in Seattle, a -3.8, will be on Tuesday around noon. To view the tide tables for Seattle, click here. Beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium are on hand at local beaches during low tides to answer questions and teach visitors about the marine life visible during these times. Check the Aquarium website for dates, times and more information.