Operation Starfish Rescue

We’d walked over some slippery, wet, seaweed-covered rocks to get to a sandy part of the beach, to cut across to where the interesting tide pools were. Scattered here and there were some clumps of seaweed, and a few small jellyfish, abandoned by the retreating tide.  A few starfish sprawled in the sand, too.

Look Mama, I can pick this one up, it’s not stuck to a rock!

I showed Cameron that the poor thing wasn’t doing so well. It didn’t respond quickly to touch – normally if you touch a starfish they’re soft and squishy at first, then quickly turn hard. This one stayed kind of spongy. Its tube feet barely moved to seek something to hold on to.  It was looking a rather grey shade of purple.

I know Mama, let’s get it back in the water! Look, there’s a rock there, with water, it can hold on?

I thought it might be a little far gone for that, but figured what the heck, let’s let him try to rescue it. He placed it with great care and thought, trying to position it so it could be as much under water as possible, yet have rock to hold on to, in the dip left by the outflow of water around the rock.

We found a few more starfish in distress on our way to the rocky tide pools, and each one was placed gently in the little sandy pool by the rock.

No more of them in sight, my knight in a backwards red jacket happily headed for the rocks. We chatted about the starfish, how everything in the intertidal zone is all about survival. Hiding from predators is part of it, but so is not drying out at low tide, and not getting washed away at high tide. We talked about how the animals living there adapt.  We talked about, and watched, the predators – gulls, eagles, herons.

Crabs burrow under rocks, slipping through cracks between them. Staying under rocks helps them to stay wet at low tide, and keeps them safe from predators. They’re also sandy-brown shades, so they’re camouflaged. Camouflage is big for some creatures in the tide pools, not so big for others. Take a long look at some of the pictures, and slowly, if you know what you’re looking for, new animals will resolve out of the background of broken shells and rocks.

Sea anemones anchor themselves, either in sand or to rocks. At low tide they curl up into themselves to save water.

Starfish cling to the rocks, it makes them hard to eat (though not impossible, as Emma demonstrated another day for us), and keeps them from being washed away. They pile into cracks to keep from drying out, too. But why can they be purple and orange? Clearly, they don’t  need camouflage to keep them safe from predators.

Barnacles, oysters, sea cucumbers, geoducks, polychaete worms, hermit crabs, green sea urchins (I’d never seen them there before, this time we found two), the eel-like prickleback fish, chitons , limpets, tube worms, …  we saw them all and more, and they all have ways of staying put, of not getting eaten, and of not drying out.

Okay okay, I didn’t deal with the need for these creatures to also find a mate. Mentioned it in passing. Cameron didn’t jump on it, so I let it slide.

Hands red from turning over rocks to see what was hiding underneath, cheeks red from the cool wind gusting in, and the tide starting to come in, it was time to head back. Mom, aka Granna, was going to pick us up soon.

But we had to check on the rescued starfish, first. Those ones that didn’t have something to hold on to, and were drying out on the sand, upside down, open prey for gulls before Cameron came along.

I helped Cameron in the big jump over water to get to the rock, and we balanced there to have a look, waves rushing the tide in around us. The starfish were still there, safe and sound. They’d all recovered enough to hold tightly to the rock, and had clearly even maneuvered themselves around, vying for the best spot.

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