Friday, August 5, 2016

Jelly Fish and an Octopus

Video credit: Stephen Grace
A few weeks ago, volunteers and staff found juvenile octopuses in the tide pools at Haystack Rock. You can see pictures of them in the last blog post. This past week, another juvenile octopus was found in a tide pool where the water was receding. The octopus was placed in an aquarium to await the incoming tide. Watch the video to see the octopus move around.

Moon jelly
Volunteers and staff are also seeing a number of jelly fish. Pictured above is a moon jelly, Aurelia aurita. The jellyfish is translucent, usually about 25–40 cm (10–16 in) in diameter, and can be recognized by its four horseshoe-shaped gonads, easily seen through the top of the bell. It feeds by collecting medusae, plankton, and mollusks with its tentacles, and bringing them into its body for digestion. (Wikipedia)

Volunteer, Stephen Grace, also found this Pacific sea nettle jelly, Chrysaora fuscescens, about a mile north of Haystack Rock. Sea nettles have a distinctive golden-brown bell with a reddish tint. The bell can grow to be larger than one meter (three feet) in diameter in the wild, though most are less than 50 cm across. The long, spiraling, white oral arms and the 24 undulating maroon tentacles may trail behind as far as 15 feet. For humans, its sting is often irritating, but rarely dangerous. (Wikipedia)

Pacific sea nettle jelly
(photo credit: Stephen Grace)

What kind of jelly fish do you think this was?
While octopus and jelly fish are both invertebrates, they have many differences. For an interesting comparison between octopus and jelly fish, visit this site

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Interesting Sightings of the Week

There have been some interesting sightings recently at Haystack Rock. Volunteers and staff have sighted juvenile octopuses, more nudibranch, a red rock crab, and a mottled sea star.

Juvenile cephalopod spotted at Haystack Rock
(Photo courtesy of Stephen Grace)

While it's hard to tell exactly what type of cephalopod this is at this early stage, it's more than likely a Giant Pacific Octopus, Enteroctopus dofleini. The Giant Pacific Octopus has a lifespan of three to five years, which is long-lived for an octopus. 

Opalescent nudibranch among aggregating anemone

Nudibranch continue to be seen. The opalescent nudibranch eat hydroids and anemone, which fight them off with their nemotocysts (stinging cells). Opalescent nudibranchs grow to about 3 in. and live less than a year. 

Red rock crab

When visiting Haystack Rock you may see a red rock crab, cancer productus. This crab uses its pincers to crush barnacles, which it eats. It also eats small live crabs and dead fish. 

Mottled sea star
A mottled sea star, Evasterias troschelii,  was also spotted. These can be found in the intertidal zone and down to 10 m or so. This sea star feeds on bivalves, limpets, barnacles, and snails, among other things. Predators include gulls.

What interesting things have you seen at Haystack Rock recently?

Friday, June 17, 2016


The birds at Haystack Rock are busy nesting. Have you ever wondered what the eggs look like that they're laying?

Common Murre 

The common murre lays one egg at a time. They lay their egg on a bare rock ledge on a cliff face. The egg is blue-green in color and is speckled. The incubation period for the common murre egg is 32 days. Once hatched, the young fledge on Haystack Rock for 20-25 days. When it comes time to leave the nest, they fall to the ocean at dusk or at night while following their father. 
Common murre egg

Notice the shape of the egg. What would happen if you tried to roll the egg? What path would the egg take?  How could this help in the success rate of the nesting pair in producing a chick?

Common murre egg that rolled off the rock

Black Oystercatcher

The pair of black oystercatchers nesting in the saddle at Haystack Rock were sitting on two eggs that were layed in late May. Unfortunately, those eggs were lost. There's still time for them to try again this summer. The clutch is usually 1-3 eggs, and the incubation period is 26-28 days. The eggs are tan in color and speckled. The chick is able to leave the nest after one day but will stay in the territory after fledging for 40 days. Like the murres, the oystercatchers lay their eggs on the rocks. The nest is a shallow bowl in the rocks into which they toss small pebbles and shell fragments with their beaks. 
Black oystercatcher egg

How does the shape of this egg differ from the egg of the common murre? 

Empty black oystercatcher nest

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Some interesting finds

While opalescent and shaggy mouse nudibranchs are fairly common at Haystack Rock, every once in awhile the staff and volunteers find some more obscure ones. One example, which was seen last week, is the alabaster nudibranch. As reported by Steve Grace, a volunteer, "This morning, after several months of searching, I finally spotted the alabaster nudibranch (Dirona albolineata). Its white lines glowed against a dark kelp background, its oral veil undulated in the current, and its translucent body seemed to be lit from within."
alabaster nudibranch
(photo courtesy of Steve Grace)

Steve also found a Christmas anemone (aka mottled anemone or painted anemone) Urticina crassicornis. While they've been seen at Ecola Point, this was the first one seen at Haystack Rock.

Christmas anemone
(photo courtesy of Steve Grace)

The intertidal area at Haystack Rock is ever changing. Sand comes in, sand goes out. Sometimes we have to look really closely to find some interesting things. How many different types of things can you find in this photo?

An area along the north wall
(photo courtesy of Gretchen Stahmer)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Nudibranch Central

It’s been a busy month at Haystack Rock. Many of the birds that nest on Haystack Rock have returned. The common murres are back in abundance as are the western gulls, pelagic cormorants, pigeon guillemots, and, of course, the tufted puffins. The black oystercatchers have been working on establishing a nest in the rocky area of the saddle

There have also been a lot of nudibranchs found in the Needles, the rocky areas just to the south of Haystack Rock. Nudibranchs are a group of soft-bodied, marine gastropod mollusks that shed their shells after their larval stage. They are known for their often extraordinary colors and striking forms. Currently, about 2,300 valid species of nudibranchs are known. 

In this photo you will find four species of nudibranch.  Can you find them all? The four species represent three major nudibranch types: Dorid (red sponge nudibranch), Dendrontid (Dendronotus frondosus), and Aeolid (opalescent nudibranch and shaggy mouse nudibranch).

Four species of nudibranch
Photo courtesy of Steve Grace
The red sponge nudibranch is probably the easiest to spot in the picture.
Red sponge nudibranch

The opalescent nudibranch should also be easy to spot toward the bottom of the picture. 

Also found this month were a janolus nudibranch shown here and a rufus tipped nudibranch.
Janolus nudibranch

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Mermaid's Purse

A few weeks ago, the HRAP staff was alerted that a mermaid’s purse had been found on the beach. A mermaid’s purse is an egg capsule produced by the Big Skate, (Raja binoculata). The capsule, which is oblong in shape, usually measures 9-12 in long and 4-7 in wide. It has horns protruding from the corners.
Egg Capsule (mermaid's purse)
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman

This species is oviparis, which means that the egg capsules often contain more than one embryo. This particular egg capsule held three juvenile skates. Unfortunately, the capsule was damaged, and the skates fell to the sand when a visitor picked up the capsule. 

Visitors viewing the juvenile Big Skates
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman

The Big Skate is the largest species of the skate family. They are found on the Pacific coast from Alaska to Baja California. They feed on worms, crustaceans, molluscs, and small fish.

While the capsule contained three juvenile Big Skates, their premature entry to the world due to the damaged egg capsule was detrimental. Some visitors picked up the skates to take pictures, despite the HRAP staff member’s pleas to leave them alone so that the situation and the skates health could be assessed. Before the skates could be placed in a protective container, one was washed away by a wave. The remaining juveniles were placed in a plastic container with ocean water until it was decided what to do with them.

Protecting the skates from further damage
Photo courtesy of Frances Holtman
The skates were eventually tucked back in the torn mermaid’s purse and placed in the ocean so that they were protected from the roaring waves.

While this encounter had somewhat of a tragic ending, there’s a lot that can be learned from it.
  • When wildlife is encountered, it’s important to view them without injuring them. Seek the help of a trained professional. If you’re visiting Haystack Rock, look for the staff and volunteers in the red coats or shirts.
  • Big Skates are an important. They’re commercially fished off the coast of California and are sold for food.
  • They are also part of an intricate ecosystem that helps provide the air we breath.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Biggest Bird on the Beach

If you are from the Oregon Coast, you know that bald eagles are seen in great abundance along the shore. But this hasn’t always been the case. In the past, bald eagles had such low population numbers that they were put on the endangered species list. Before 1972, DDT was a popular pesticide that was used all over the country. In coastal areas, the chemicals in this pesticide would end up in the ocean, building up in fish populations that eagles and other large raptors would then prey upon. The chemicals used in DDT would soften eggshells, making bald eagle reproduction success rate very low. Once the use of these chemicals was banned in the United States, eagle numbers began to rise and they were eventually switched from the endangered species to threatened species. It wasn’t until 2007 that eagle numbers were high enough to remove the bird from both endangered species and threatened species lists.  

Nowadays, with such a large abundance of seabirds, like those seen at Haystack Rock, it’d be surprising if eagles weren’t spotted along the Oregon Coast.  Bald Eagles are a rather large predator, which prey on fish, birds and rodents. Due to their size, they do not have many predators other than those that invade their nests and snack on their eggs. This may include raccoons and other rodents and birds.

Some birds may harass eagles when the eagle is going after individuals of their species. At Haystack Rock, Western Gulls are normally seen pestering the eagles on the hunt. In Cannon Beach, there is an eagle nest in a patch of trees directly across the beach from Haystack Rock. There is also a pair on the north end of Cannon Beach, which prey on the abundance of birds seen on the rocks at Chapman Point. When the eagle arrives at these rocks, it is no secret. There are some very distinct sights and sounds that warn all about the eagles’ presence.
Juvenile Eagle holding Common Murre being pestered by Gulls
Photo Courtesy of Alanna Kieffer 

Juvenile Bald Eagle with Common Murre in talons being chased off by a Western Gull
Photo Courtesy of Alanna Kieffer

Gulls use a loud warning call to signal all the other gulls on the rock to be ready for the predator. Common Murres will abandon their spot on the rock to head out to the water where they are more protected. Cormorants will mostly stay seated; the eagles don’t normally mess with them due to their large and strong beaks. Puffins hide in their burrows and western gulls join the fight. Some dive bomb the eagle while others hover around trying to distract or confuse the eagle. With a wingspan of about 6 feet, it is easy to spot the eagle in the mass of birds.

Bald Eagle posted at Chapman Point
Photo Courtesy of Alanna Kieffer

At Haystack Rock the most common bird seen taken by the bald eagles are Common Murres. Just about every year around the beginning of summer the eagles mate and have a chick. When the chick first hatches, the adults are heavy on the hunt for food to feed their chick.  Once the chick is old enough to hunt, the juvenile will head over and learn the ways of hunting at the rock.

Eagle after an unsuccessful hunt at the rocks
Photo Courtesy of Alanna Kieffer
Bald eagles can be seen at Haystack Rock all year round, but the beginning of summer is a prime time to see some eagle action! Like most nature, you may never know exactly when the eagle is going to strike but the gulls will definitely let you know. Next time you’re at the rock and the birds start to get noisy, remember to look for the Oregon Coasts largest bird of prey, the bald eagle!