Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Crab Attack and Dying Seaweed

April 22nd and the Kelp growing in the lower intertidal at Constellation Marine Reserve is already dying.  Brown seaweeds do not tolerate the hot sun and bright sunlight.  So if you are a Kelp you want to attach to something that will keep you in deeper water and not allow you to be exposed to the harsh elements......that is if you want to stay alive.
Some images attached of dying seaweeds and also an image and short video of a Red Rock Crab attacking and eating a Northern Kelp Crab......what with the harsh elements and hungry predators it's a wonder anything survives.   :)
Dying Witches' Hair seaweed

Dying Kelp
Dying Kelp
Dying Kelp
Red Rock Crab eating Northern Kelp Crab

Red Rock Crab eating Northern Kelp Crab


Sea Star Wasting Disease Update

A survey of Constellation Marine Reserve in West Seattle on April 20th 2015 results:
Pisaster ochraceus (Purple Sea Star)   41 healthy - 5 with SSWD
Pycnopodia helianthoides  (Sunflower Star)   1 small (damaged likely by gull) otherwise healthy
Evasterias troschelii (Mottled Star) None observed
No other sea stars observed.
Tide Level:   minus 1.7ft  at 12:45PM
Surface temp:   63 deg f.
Wind - N, light
Clear and sunny
The count included all of Constellation Marine Reserve down to the minus 1.7ft tide level.
Much of the beach was covered with an extensive growth of seaweeds, especially Wire Weed and various kelps.  So some sea stars may not have been visible.  The survey only included sea stars that were easily visible without turning over seaweeds or rocks.  Previous surveys have been done in the same manner.  Last year appeared to be a good year for sea star recruitment and many were seen over the Winter and most appeared healthy.  In Spring the juvenile stars go into hiding under rocks and crevasses where they cannot be seen so it is difficult to access the population of juvenile stars during the Spring and Summer.  The question is:  Will these juvenile stars remain healthy or contract SSWD?  We will likely not know the full answer to that for a few years.  All of the Purple Stars observed on April 20th were medium to large size as in the images.
The highest count of Pisaster ochraceus  at Constellation Marine Reserve was in August of 2011   -  609  (prior to SSWD). 
Sunflower Star (small) with damage (likely due to gull)

Purple Sea Star with SSWD

Purple Sea Star (healthy appearing)

Friday, April 17, 2015

April 2015 Snow and Sea Lions

April brings the first good minus daytime tides of the season.  Beach Naturalists training on Sunday the 19th will see only a modest -1.3 ft low tide at noon.  In fact 2015 is not a great year for exceptionally low tides.  The lowest this Summer being only a minus 2.8 ft in Seattle.  Some exceptional years see a minus 4.1 ft low....not this year.  With the low tides during the day we will have a chance to access the status of sea star wasting disease on our local population of stars.  Last year saw a continued decline in the sea star population along the Pacific Coast. Some areas saw considerable numbers of juvenile stars most of which seemed healthy and it will be interesting to see if these youngsters remain disease free and begin the recovery of sea star populations.
Washington State snow pack from this winter is well below average by as much as 70% in some areas of the Cascades and Olympics.  Some late snow in mid April has helped a little but near term temperatures are headed up with 70 deg. the weekend of the 19th.  Spring rains thus far have helped fill Washington's reservoirs and it appears that a water shortage is not likely for Western Washington.  California on the other hand is still in the grip of a multi-year drought and forecasts are not looking good for an ending any time soon.
The April jump in California Sea Lion population in Puget Sound has arrived with more animals being seen in Elliott Bay now than during the winter months.  By mid May most will have left for breeding grounds south.
The North Cascade Highway and Chinook Pass in the Cascades opened earlier than usual this year due to the low snow pack.  This gave us an opportunity to check out the snow pack for ourselves and do a little bird watching.....and feeding.  We observed that Clark's Nutcrackers dominate the Gray Jays when it comes to grabbing food from a willing hand.  Clark's Nutcracker is a resident of the mountain west, while the Gray Jay ranges much farther north into Alaska and northern Canada and is only seen in the U.S. in the western mountains.

CA. and Steller Sea Lions Elliott Bay

CA and Steller Sea Lions Elliott Bay
Washington Pass Overlook

Moving the snow mover

Clark's Nutcracker

Bold Clark's Nutcracker

Clark's Nutcracker

Watch the birdie

Clark's Nutcracker

Gray Jay