Winter produces change at the coast, promises new life in spring

Anemones cluster around a rock near the shore at Point Whitehorn west of Ferndale.
Anemones cluster around a rock near the shore at Point Whitehorn west of Ferndale. The Bellingham Herald file

Winter at the coast can seem as dreary as a leafless forest, devoid of the colorful creatures that beachcombers enjoy during summertime walks.

In winter months, the day’s lowest tides usually arrive at night, making it difficult to see common creatures of the intertidal zone such as sea stars, sculpins and crabs. But that doesn’t mean that the beach is a winter wasteland, said Jason Huntley at the Marine Life Center in the Port of Bellingham complex on Roeder Avenue.

“Seasonally, there are lot of things going on in winter,” Huntley said. “Things die down. The fall molting happens with crabs and crustaceans. But there are a lot of things that you can see year-round,” said Huntley, who also has worked at the Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Reserve in coastal Skagit County.

Huntley said visitors to the beach should poke around piles of detritus matter, such as dead eelgrass or kelp that’s washed ashore, providing food and cover for the larval forms of creatures like crab, anemones or nudibranchs.

Beach visitors should look for sand dollars, barnacles and anemones such as moonglow or burrowing anemones.

“Basically, it’s the same process as any leaf change,” Huntley said. “Sand dollars may be found more frequently because of the detritus. The rapid growth of detritus kick-starts that plant matter. All the death that you see is not really death, but the beginning of life for next year. It’s the start of a new cycle.”

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

Sea life

A great way to introduce young children to the ocean is at the exhibits, aquariums and touch tank at the Marine Life Center in Bellingham and at the Padilla Bay nature center in Bay View. Both are free, but accept donations. Call or go online for hours, directions and other information:

▪  marinelifecenter.org, 360-671-2431

▪  padillabay.gov, 360-428-1558