As the tide ebbed on a sharply cold night Friday, about 60 people ventured onto the beach at Marine Park, their headlamps and flashlights like fireflies dancing on the sand as they explored the area’s rich tide pools and sand flats.
“Being on the beach at night is a special time,” said Holly Roger of Wild Whatcom, an outdoors education organization. “It focuses your attention on what is right in front of you.”
Roger and several naturalists and volunteers, including educator Doug Stark of the city of Bellingham and Casey Pruett, director of the Port of Bellingham’s Marine Life Center, led small groups of participants to find creatures that inhabit the intertidal zone.
We put the light up next to a burrowing anemone and the red ones especially glow with that light coming from underneath it a little iridescent.
Doug Stark, city of Bellingham
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Friday night’s excursion was an otherwordly experience, as participants scoured the sand flats under the light of a full moon that glowed softly through an overcast sky. Roger said more intertidal creatures are active at night because fewer predators brave the darkness.
“We’ve been finding sea stars, of course, and then we saw the nudibranch eating the anemone,” said Cory Hoeger of Bellingham, one of the participants. “We saw some shrimp and a lot of crabs.”
Preutt said she saw several crab carcases, evidence of octopus activity. A few participants huddled around a tiny red anemone that had trapped a small pipefish for its dinner, the pair locked in a miniature life-or-death struggle. Geoducks shot long jets of water, to everyone’s delight.
Opportunities to explore the shallows in the dark come only in winter, as the lowest tides fall at night. But most public parks and tidelands close at dusk, making Friday’s event a special time indeed, Roger said.
Participants dressed in tall waterproof boots and layers of warm clothing as the mercury dropped to 26 degrees. A tide of nearly minus two feet left plenty of opportunities to wade through swaying fronds of eelgrass past the park’s fascinating bed of live sand dollars or to turn over rocks to find miniature ecosystems thriving underneath.
“We put the light up next to a burrowing anemone and the red ones especially glow with that light coming from underneath it a little iridescent,” Stark said.