Curious Creatures in a Hidden World

Amy and I headed out at dawn to Ecola Point with the goal of probing the low intertidal zone. We wanted to see some bizarre creatures. Mission accomplished. There may be weirder animals on the planet, but I have yet to see them.

The low intertidal zone, a realm rich with life, is exposed for only a handful of hours each month. When the minus tides around each full moon and new moon peel back the watery blanket that covers the lowest reaches of the intertidal world, exposing its hidden inhabitants to human eyes, strangeness ensues.

As soon as we entered the kelp forests and surfgrass meadows of the low intertidal zone, we saw our first sea lemon nudibranch. Our first kelp crab moved mechanically among swaying fronds while we gawked at the hallucinogenic palette provided by another creature we had never laid eyes on: the painted anemone.

Painted Anemone, also known as Mottled Anemone or Christmas Anemone (Urticina Crassicornis)

We saw red sea cucumbers, purple sea urchins, stalked tunicates, and six-rayed sea stars. And to this list of beasts that had thus far eluded us, we added a nudibranch that had caused much consternation the past several months: the elusive leopard. The leopard's prey, the purple sponge, finally led us to this lovely slug.

Leopard Nudibranch

Other wonders were glimpsed before we fled the turning tide. Marine worms stretched like orange strings across black pine seaweed. Iridescent kelp shimmered in the current. Lined chitons as exquisite as gemstones clung to craggy walls. And a pair of black oystercatchers winged overhead, sounding a shrill alarm as two curious mammals scrambled atop boulders to escape the rising waves.

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