Myrtle Edwards Park

Low Tide Adventure. Seattle, Washington

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Only a few blocks from the Space Needle, beaches in Myrtle Edwards Park have surprisingly good low-tide lookings given their adjacency to downtown Seattle. While there is not a great deal of explorable territory along this waterfront, there is still a significant amount of biodiversity to be discovered at this location.

 

There are three main beaches along the waterfront of Myrtle Edwards Park. I have had the most success when exploring the first beach, though the other two are worth a peek. Even with a thorough looking do not expect to spend a ton of time here. If you live near downtown this is an excellent spot for frequent brief visits.

 

When the tide recedes below -1', rocks at the lowest point of the first beach are exposed. Among those rocks is where you want to look. Take care when treading on the seaweed as it is quite slippery down there.

 

Beyond the tide pools, this area is great for all sorts of wildlife. Harbor seals, river otter, sea lions and a variety of jellyfish frequent the area spanning from the Seattle Aquarium to the end of the Elliot Bay trail. Bald eagle nest in trees along this part of the Sound and often can be seen getting chased of by the Northwestern crow. Watch the crows for clues- at low tide they enjoy scavenging and can point you towards interesting (tasty to them) findings.

Ochre Stars

One of the most abundant and frequently seen creatures is the ochre sea star (Pisaster ochraceus). These can typically be observed underneath and in the crevices of rocks where they can remain hidden from sunlight. Be careful not to move any rocks in your search as you may harm unseen organisms in and around them. In Puget Sound purple ochre sea stars are most common though you may see an occasional orange colored variation.

Pisaster ochraceus
Pisaster ochraceus

Ochre sea star

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Pisaster ochraceus
Pisaster ochraceus

Ochre sea star

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Pisaster ochraceus
Pisaster ochraceus

Ochre sea star

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Pisaster ochraceus
Pisaster ochraceus

Ochre sea star

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Pacific Blood Stars

Bright orange or red in color, pacific blood stars have five slender arms and a rough texture with fewer visible bumps than an ocher sea star. You can also find these guys tucked in between the rocks, often precariously dangling from a surface.

Henricia leviuscula
Henricia leviuscula

Pacific Blood Star

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Henricia leviuscula
Henricia leviuscula

Pacific Blood Star

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Henricia leviuscula
Henricia leviuscula

Pacific Blood Star

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Henricia leviuscula
Henricia leviuscula

Pacific Blood Star

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Tunicates

Chain tunicates (Botrylloides violaceus) are incredibly abundant in Puget Sound and are pervasive throughout Myrtle Edwards Park. Quite simply, these colonies of organisms take on the appearance of a bumpy patch of brightly colored snot. Upon close examination you can spot the delineation of individuals, covered by a slimy sheath or "tunic". These little guys began their life as free-floating vertebrate creatures that settled down in a group and colonized. Non-native to the Americas, chain tunicates are considered an invasive species to Puget Sound. They appear in any color of the spectrum, however I have only observed purple, yellow and orange chain tunicates. These can be spotted pretty much anywhere the rocks and water meet.

I've had the pleasure of finding one bristly tunicate down here. Unlike chain tunicates, bristly tunicates are a single organism. It resembles a berry growing from the rock.

Botrylloides violaceus
Botrylloides violaceus

Chain tunicate

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Botrylloides violaceus
Botrylloides violaceus

Chain tunicate

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Boltenia villosa
Boltenia villosa

Bristly Tunicate

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Botrylloides violaceus
Botrylloides violaceus

Chain tunicate

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Chiton

Chiton are found all over this beach, adhering to rocky surfaces. They can easily be missed as they tend to blend in with their surroundings. A close examination of a chiton will often reveal delicate, striking color. I am not adept at distinguishing the species of chiton in Puget Sound.

Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Nudibranch Egg Ribbon

These sea slug eggs stumped me when I first saw them, dangling underneath a rock. They are distinctly different from tunicate and sponges, yet appeared to be a similar organism. I do not know what type of sea slug laid them or if they are even identifiable from the photograph alone. It is unlikely that you will find these during low tide, however they provide an example of one of the many unusual things you may encounter. 

Nudibranch Egg Ribbon
Nudibranch Egg Ribbon

Sea Slug Eggs

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Nudibranch Egg Ribbon
Nudibranch Egg Ribbon

Sea Slug Eggs

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Leather Stars

Leather stars (Dermasterias imbricata) are less commonly found in tide pools as they prefer to remain deeper in the inter-tidal zone. They look and feel both softer and slimier than ocher or blood stars. Their arms have a more webbed appearance and are white below their distinctive orange-red surface. You'll find the occasional leather star at the lowest of tides, clinging to the rocks.

Dermasterias imbricata
Dermasterias imbricata

Leather Star

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Dermasterias imbricata
Dermasterias imbricata

Leather Star

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Dermasterias imbricata
Dermasterias imbricata

Leather Star

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Dermasterias imbricata
Dermasterias imbricata

Leather Star

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Anemones

The anemone scene isn't really happening down at Myrtle Edwards Park, but what little you do see can be rather grand. Large, individual anemones can be found dangling from the underside of rocks. They appear as rounded, droopy blobs in various colors when out of the water. To appreciate their full majesty, look for anemones in the water where they can fully expose their tentacles. Painted anemones (Urticina grebelnyi) have been observed here with the occasional cluster of aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima).

Urticina grebelnyi
Urticina grebelnyi

Painted Anemone

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Urticina grebelnyi
Urticina grebelnyi

Painted Anemone

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Urticina grebelnyi
Urticina grebelnyi

Painted Anemone

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Urticina grebelnyi
Urticina grebelnyi

Painted Anemone

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Chiton

Chiton are found all over this beach, adhering to rocky surfaces. They can easily be missed as they tend to blend in with their surroundings. A close examination of a chiton will often reveal delicate, striking color. I am not adept at distinguishing the species of chiton in Puget Sound.

Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Tonicella lineata
Tonicella lineata

Lined Chiton

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Purple Encrusting Sponge 

From a distance, the purple encrusting sponge can look similar to tunicate colonies. Up close you should have no trouble distinguishing it. This sponge can be found on any rocky surface below the tide line, frequently sharing space with tunicate colonies. Most organisms I observe in the Pacific Northwest have a good deal of accessible information about them, but there appears to be little written about this sponge.  

Haliclona permollis
Haliclona permollis

Purple Encrusting Sea Sponge

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Haliclona permollis
Haliclona permollis

Purple Encrusting Sea Sponge

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LOCATION

Approaching from the Olympic Sculpture Park (paid parking available here or on the street) head down toward the waterfront. The first beach is a little ways along the path on the left. Follow the pedestrian path a ways further to get to the second beach, which is nearby a small utility building. The third beach is much larger and easily visible when you walk a short distance further.