This summer I booked off 3-5 day chunks for every low tide. This adventure is the first in a series of three during my last opportunity this year for a good daytime low tide. I picked Bainbridge Ferry Terminal to start with because it always provides an amazing experience full of creatures and I wanted to kick off our last hurrah on an exciting start!
I had two companions for this expedition, which proved to be helpful as we were able to make many more discoveries than what would have be possible with only one set of eyes. The lowest tide of the day would be at 11 am, clocking in at a -1.9'. We set off on the 7:45 ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge. Typically I like to get started two hours before the lowest tide. We arrived with time to spare and grabbed coffee before heading down to the beach. We headed down Harborview drive, next to the ferry, where we took a path from the left of the road that took us to the water. From here we wasted no time getting underneath the dock to our right, largely ignoring anything on our way there. You do not have the luxury of taking your time during low tide, so it pays to head to where you know the interesting stuff is first.
Initially heading under the dock it appeared a bit spooky and uninhabited. When you get under the dock you won't necessarily see anything. It's a bit dark and creepy, which makes it uninviting. Fortunately my past experience here helped me push through that wee bit of discomfort. Soon after entering we needed to use our phones as flashlights to avoid stepping on organisms as there were creatures everywhere.
The plumose anemones hanging from the dock beams were our first encounter. These are literally in your face as they dangle at eye level. You have to be careful to not hit them with your head!
Pretty early on we came to a row of concrete post stubs with water pooled inside them. I knew that these were little treasure chests so we bee-lined for them, carefully avoiding underfoot anemones. Sure enough we were not disappointed, each taking turns holding the light for one another as we looked inside the posts.
There were numerous ochre stars lounging in the water inside the posts or hanging out on the side. It was interesting to compare the stars in and out of water- they appear to take on a somewhat fuzzy look when submerged!
While my companions were engrossed in their own lookings, I made an amazing discovery in one of the posts- a sea slug I was later able to identify as a white-lined dirona. It was striking! Surreal and iridescent. We soon realized it was with a companion. We lingered here a long while in awe of them.
The pair were interesting to observe. One was slightly larger than the other. The smaller seemed to be attracted to our light and would swim toward it. They peacefully drifted around in the dock post, sheltered from the low tide.
We finally moved along, looking closer to the water where there were ochre stars, plumose anemones and painted anemones in abundance, with the occasional mottled star. Unlike previous visits, the water was murky and difficult to see through. I was able to see in to it well enough to avoid stepping on anybody but my movement would greatly disturb the sand and obstruct my vision. Patience was required to move through the water to observe creatures more closely. This location is particularly good for comparing the same species in and out of water. As we moved closer to the end of the dock the sea floor drops off steeply and walking in the water is no longer possible. We turned around upon reaching the end of the dock as the beach beyond did not entice us.
Heading back out toward the side we started, a floating part of the dock caught our attention. The floating dock was far enough out that it required walking through about a foot of water to reach the side of it. It was well worth the visit. There were many species of critter attached to the dock that we did not see anywhere else around the ferry terminal. A large colony of feather duster worms dominated the side of the dock, intermingling with shiny orange sea squirts, anemones, and the occasional kelp crab.
After exiting this dock (of course checking on our sea slug friend on the way out) we headed straight over to the actual ferry dock itself. The sea had fully receded and the surface on our way across was very squishy to step upon. We did not see much save for one sad looking, yet still alive, ginormous sea cucumber.
We entered underneath the dock at the ferry terminal itself right before 11. This dock is more welcoming and bright. The water under here was clear and did not become cloudy when we waded through it. I had seen many Lewis' moon snails over here in the past so searched for any sign they were on the beach. Other than a few old egg casings there was no evidence they were here. Perhaps August is beyond their breeding season!
The ferry dock had large, accessible masses of ochre stars clinging to the posts. There was also a good show of painted and plumose anemones. On this side we saw more kelp and red rock crabs, but that might have been because the water was much more clear. For this reason we were also able to observe numerous anemones in the water, with their tentacles fully extended! The only other human we encountered was over here, wading through the water, muttering about crabbing. We were very fortunate and found a seven-armed ochre star! Sea stars are capable of reproducing by splitting into to organisms, however this star did not appear to be in process of doing that. It was a lucky looking indeed.
It was past the lowest tide of the day when we finished exploring under the ferry dock. With half an hour to fill before walking up to the ferry we decided to go back to see our sea slug friends in the dock post one final time. The water had noticeably risen, but not near enough to ruin a final visit. A ten minute walk got us back to the ferry, quite satisfied with our lookings!