Marine Life of California's Rocky Shores (Image 47)
June 29, 2010
Marine Life of California's Rocky Shores (Image 47) Two species of common sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus spp.: the smaller and more lavender-colored species are S. purpuratus, also called 'purps', and the larger and usually darker-colored species is S. franciscanus, also called 'frans'. It is mostly the frans that are collected by local sea urchin divers, who harvest them for the five reproductive organs inside. When ripe, these organs--called uni--are a delicacy in Asia and used in sushi bars. These urchins are fairly strict herbivores and eat mainly kelp, chewing voraciously with five sharp teeth that are on the bottom. These five sharp teeth, called Aristotle's Lantern, are constantly repaired and can be completely replaced in 75 days. The urchin is prey for several fish and some sea otters. In fact, some sea otters feed so exclusively on sea urchins that the purple pigment of the urchin is incorporated into their bones and, when dead, they have lavender-colored skeletons. This is just one of the thousands of species of "tidepool treasures"--marine plants and animals found in the small bodies of water left by the ebbing tide that fill the rock basins and depressions along California's rocky shores. To learn more, see "More about this Series," below. [Image 47 in a series. See Image 48.] More about this Series This series of images examines the various marine life that can be found in the different sea levels, or zones, of the rocky shores of the California coast. The images were photographed by Genevieve (Genny) Anderson of the Biological Sciences Department, Santa Barbara City College, as part of her ongoing research on the subject. Rocky shores provide a stable substrate for plant and animal life or organisms, as opposed to sandy beaches where the substrate (sand) is constantly moving. When the tide goes out then the influences of the air and weather (sun, rain, snow) begin to play important roles--more with the higher zones. At any tide level on a rocky shore, a pool of water--called tidepools--can be left with the receding tide. These pools provide welcome ocean water for marine life left high and dry with a receding tide. The pools highest in the intertidal may become very hot due to the sun which may not be comfortable for some species. The pools closest to the low tide have the least influence from the air and weather and thus the greatest variety of marine life. These tidepools often mirror what is actually subtidal (below the lowest low tide, as opposed to intertidal which is between the tides). As the water goes down, most of the ocean creatures go out with it, but some can't move and are left on rocks. These creatures must be adapted to withstand not only the dryness of their area, but waves, storms, wind and rain. It is their ability to withstand dryness, and their interactions with each other (eating, being eaten, competing for space, and reproducing) that determine who dominates within the rocky intertidal areas. In examining the marine life of the exposed rocky surfaces of California's shores, it is easiest to look at these rocky surfaces where they live in "zones." Above five feet, the surface is covered only by the highest high tide and thus dry three-quarters of the day. This is called the "Splash" Zone. Then, between five feet and two and a half feet, the surface is covered alternately by both high tides so it is dry between the high tides--about half a day. This band is called the "High Tide" Zone. Between sea level and two and a half feet the rocks are only left dry at the low, low tide. This area is thus dry only a quarter of each average day and called the "Mid Tide" Zone. Then there is what we call the "Low Tide" Zone, the area below sea level that is exposed for only a few hours every few weeks at special "minus" tides (remember, zero sea level is the average of the low, low tides). To learn more about Genevieve (Genny) Anderson's research on marine life along California's rocky shores, visit her Web page, "California Tidepools (Rocky Shores)." Anderson, who has been a teacher of Marine Biology and Biological Oceanography at Santa Barbara City College for over thirty years, has other interesting lesson plans and lecture material available on her Web site, Here.
Topics: Environment, Marine biology, Aquatic ecology, Fisheries, California, Littoral zone, Tide pool, Rocky shore, Coastal geography, Intertidal zone, Sea urchin, Bodies of water, Sea otter, Tide