Explore the shoreline during minus tides in the Salish Sea

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMay 23, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - Minus tides late this month and in early June offer a chance to see the clams, anemones and sea stars that inhabit parts of the shoreline that beachcombers get to see only occasionally.

Tides of minus one foot or more occur in Bellingham Bay and surrounding Salish Sea waters about midday for several days starting Monday, May 26. Such tides are influenced by a full moon or a new moon, said Holly Roger of Wild Whatcom, a nonprofit educational organization that offers guided nature walks and nature-oriented camps.

"The gravitational pull (of the moon) pulls longer," she said, marveling at the power of such a distant object to move the Earth's oceans.

Roger, who has been leading nature walks on area beaches this year, encourages budding young naturalists to explore the beaches at low tide, but to be careful about disturbing the fragile ecosystem.

"The big thing I'd like most people to know is not to take anything from the beach," she said. "They're not taking a shell, they're taking thousands of tiny animals. That is why shells smell so bad."

"Never pick up a rock bigger than your head," she tells her students. "Because when you do, you usually drop it - and that's a problem" for the creatures living on or near the rock.

Instead of lifting a rock, she said, gently tip it to see what's underneath.

Among Roger's favorite places to explore at low tide is the Kingston-Edmonds ferry dock at a public park that also offers a bayside walkway.

"The pilings for the ferry there are so amazing" and covered with marine organisms, Roger said.

Locally, Roger enjoys exploring the shoreline at Semiahmoo Spit near Blaine, Birch Bay State Park and Point Whitehorn. She said Larrabee State Park boasts a rocky shoreline with traditional tide pools, and Marine Park offers a fascinating collection of intertidal life just a short walk from downtown Fairhaven.

"It all depends on what you want to see," Roger said, explaining that sandy beaches and rugged coasts are home to different kinds of creatures.

For nudibranchs, anemones and sea stars - especially the multi-legged sunflower star - head to Wildcat Cove at Larrabee, she said. At sandy beaches, you see clams and other creatures, while at Marine Park look for barnacles and live sand dollars.

"It's fun to watch barnacles feed," Roger said. "They're eating with their feet. It's amazing the adaptations that animals have."

To find the times and heights of tides, check The Bellingham Herald's weather chart or go to protides.com and select a location. Roger advises wearing rubber boots for beachcombing and to arrive an hour before the scheduled low tide.

Contact Robert Mittendorf at 360-756-2805 or at robert.mittendorf@bellinghamherald.com.

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