Lowest Tides in 19 Years Draw Crowds
SEATTLE – From barnacles to limpets, crabs and sea stars, the lowest tides in 19 years are revealing all sorts of unusual creatures trapped in tidepools – to the delight of beach-combing masses. Hundreds of people hit the sands Friday, with many more expected to head out over the weekend.
“It’s really, really interesting. It gives you a window into what is there all the time that you don’t see – sea cucumbers, sea stars, maybe an octopus,” said Polly Freeman, a local naturalist who brought her 20-month-old son, Nate, to the beach at Seattle’s Golden Gardens park.
There are 36 factors that affect the tides, from the Earth’s proximity to the sun and the moon to the moon’s angle in relation to the equator, said Richard Strickland, who teaches oceanography at the University of Washington.
Every 19 years, those factors line up just so – creating the lowest low tides and the greatest differences between low and high tides, he said. Virtually everywhere outside of the tropics will have seen the lowest low tides in 19 years between about Friday and Sunday, he said.
“It’s almost as if you have two watches, and one is running a little fast,” Strickland said. “Somewhere down the road, one will be 12 hours faster than the other, but in twice that time they’ll be back in sync.”
Puget Sound’s lowest tide is more noticeable than most because it’s shallower than open ocean beaches, and the sound acts as a smaller container: When the tide drops to 4.1 vertical feet below the average low tide, as it did Friday at 12:26 p.m., the water can recede hundreds of yards from shore. The rest of this weekend, July 3 and 4, and a few other dates this summer will also offer extremely low tides.
While Friday’s was the lowest in 19 years in Puget Sound, it’s actually not much lower than other lowest-tides of recent years – less than six inches difference – but that small amount can reveal a lot of life.
As the water recedes, it strands creatures in the muddy pools left behind: anemones, barnacles, moon snails, clingfish and lots of fragrant, rotting seaweed. Clams become easy picking for gulls, herons and people alike. Oregon was expecting a rush of razor clam hunters on its northern beaches, where they hoped to take advantage of the minus-tide there, said Anne Pressentin of the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Department.
“The tides aren’t as low here as they are in Puget Sound, but there are definitely people out and about – a lot of them razor clamming,” said Pressentin, who planned to go clamming herself this weekend. “We make some great chowder.”
Many schools scheduled field trips to check out the tide pools, and King County and the Seattle Aquarium had scores of trained volunteer naturalists out – as they do every year during the summer’s low tides – to answer questions from parents and children alike about what they found and to tell them how to keep from harming the creatures or the ecosystem.
Eight-year-old Preston Stover begged his mom to let him keep a dead gunnel, a small, eel-looking fish that serves as food for salmon and ling cod. She declined – “It’s going to stink” – but Preston was hoping to impress his cousin.
“He lives in the country,” Preston said. “He knows a lot about animals. He’s sort of a naturalist. He’s 8 years old.”
Along with the low tides come high tides that are slightly higher than usual, though the state’s highest tide will come close to the winter solstice, in December. High tides are more of a concern at that time of year because of the increased likelihood of storms.
At Seahurst Beach in Burien, south of Seattle, Seattle Aquarium naturalists worked with a group of 30 high school students to divide the beach into quadrants and identify the numbers of each species. In a few years, workers are expected to remove the seawall there, and Friday’s project was designed to collect data that can be used to study how the beach changes after the seawall is demolished.
“I could be the luckiest person on the face of the earth – look at what I get to do,” said Janice Mathisen, who was working with the high school students. “We have an incredible diversity of life on our city beaches. It’s wonderful for kids to see that.”
On the Net: