Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Brought By The Wind!

You never know what you'll find on the beach from day to day. The strong south-west to west winds late last week washed a number of things onto our local beaches. Just in time for SOLVE's Beach Cleanup on Saturday March 28th, there was quite a bit of debris for the volunteers to clean up!

Due to the same winds,  a large number of By-the-wind Sailors (Velella velella) also washed onto the beach. This animal is an open-ocean dweller that lives in colonies floating on or near the surface with each individual up to 10 cm in diameter. The animal's body is composed of an oval 'float' full of gas filled pockets with a 'sail' set diagonally across the top of the float. Hanging down from the underside of the float is a single large-mouthed feeding tube, surrounded by rows of reproductive bodies and numerous blue tentacles around the rim. At sea, the float and sail remain above or near the surface and the sail helps distribute them using the force of the wind. However because they sail only downwind or at a slight angle, when the winds are right, or just wrong, they can be blown ashore in very high numbers, sometimes millions piling onto beaches.

Thousands of By-the-wind Sailors washed up on Cannon Beach this week

While Velella might appear to be a jellyfish it is actually a pelagic hydroid. There are many species of hydroids that can be found at Haystack Rock, such as the Pink Mouth Hydroid (Ectopleura marina) attached to intertidal rocks. Instead of living attached to rocks though,  Velella's "substrate" is the ocean's surface.

The primary color of Velella is blue, but the float is colorless. After washing ashore, the tissue will rot away leaving only the nearly transparent float which has a texture of soft plastic. Velella is not dangerous to humans, but they sting and capture small prey.

Close-up of a mass of By-the-wind Sailors

Single By-the-wind Sailor

Pelagic tunicates (Salpa fusiformis), also called salps, were also stranded on the beach. This is another species that lives near the water surface and also swims and/or drifts in the currents.  They can be solitary barrel-shaped animals or a chain of budding individuals which propel themselves by pumping water through their bodies. The species is translucent-white with a dark, compact nucleus housing its organs. The solitary individuals have body lengths between 1 and 5 cm and chains can be as long as 20 cm.

Salp (left) and By-the-wind Sailor (right)

Next time you walk the beach keep your eyes open ... you might find something you have never seen before. Take some pictures and the staff and volunteers of Haystack Rock Awareness Program will be happy to help with identification. We are now on the beach every day at low-tide. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Intertidal Zonation

Each creature that calls Haystack Rock home thrives in a specific environment. Some need to be submerged in water all the time, some can be exposed much of the time, others may just need a splash of water from time to time. Intertidal organisms must also cope with a broad range of temperatures. While they are underwater temperatures are relatively constant, varying by only a few degrees. But over the span of a year while exposed during low tides, temperatures may dip to below freezing or may become scaldingly hot: temperature ranges can vary significantly over a period of a few hours.

This dynamic environment leads to one easily visible feature of intertidal communities: vertical zonation - the tides cause species ranges to be compressed into very narrow bands. What appears as horizontal 'line' near the base of Haystack Rock is a reflection of zonation, with each creature inhabiting the narrow band that suits their needs.

Vertical Zonation evident near the base of Haystack Rock

Zonation - mussels, sea stars, and anemones residing in clear bands

Zonation between the extremes of low and high tides is categorized into the intertidal zone and the splash zone. The intertidal zone is further divided into the low, mid and high intertidal zones. The low intertidal zone is only exposed to air at the lowest of low tides and is primarily marine in character while the high intertidal zone is covered by water only at the highest of high tides and spends much of its time as terrestrial habitat. In between these two extremes, the mid intertidal zone is regularly exposed and submerged by average tides. The splash zone does not get covered by the tides but receives water from waves during high tides and storms.

This high intertidal zone is predominantly inhabited by seaweed and invertebrates, such as sea anemones, sea stars, chitons, and mussels.

California Mussels (Mytilus californianus
Exposed in the Intertidal

The low intertidal zone, exposed only during low tide, has much more marine vegetation, especially seaweeds. There is also greater biodiversity. Organisms in this zone do not have to be as well adapted to drying out and temperature extremes. Low tide zone organisms include abalone, anemones, brown seaweed, chitons, crabs, green algae, hydroids, isopods, limpets, and mussels. These creatures can grow to larger sizes because there is more available energy and better water coverage: the water is shallow enough to allow more sunlight for photosynthetic activity, and the salinity is at almost normal levels. This area is also relatively protected from large predators because of the wave action and shallow water.

Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica)
Partially exposed on this particular tide

Ochre Star (Pisaster ochraceus)
Fully exposed in the intertidal

Next time you visit Haystack Rock, or any rocky shore on the Pacific Coast, take a closer look at how the creatures are distributed on the rocks and you are sure to see evidence of Intertidal Zonation!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Gull's Life!

Haystack Rock had a healthy dose of rain and wind this past weekend - typical weather for this time of year and quite the change from the mild sunny days we have been enjoying the last two months! While that may have curtailed human visitation to the rock somewhat - and led to the cancelation of the Sunday HRAP shift - it didn't phase the creatures of the rock.

Western Gulls are probably the first species of bird you'll see when you step onto the beach.  They are a stocky bird with a heavy bill. In their first year, they are predominately brown with a dark tail and bill. At full maturity, they have a white breast, gray wings with black tips, a white tail, and a predominately yellow bill.

The gull has a small claw halfway up the lower leg that enables them to sit and roost on high ledges without being blown off - which likely came in handy on Sunday that brought wind gusts up to 100 mph to the beach! Coastal birds, they can drink both fresh and salt water; salt is flushed from their system by a special pair of glands that are located above the eyes.

Monogamous, male and female gulls pair for life and share the responsibility of incubating their eggs and, once hatched, feeding and protecting their chicks. As the chicks get older, 'nursery flocks' of young gulls are formed where they play and learn skills that are vital for them to survive as adults. The nursery flock is watched over by a few adult male gulls and these flocks remain together until old enough to breed.

The gull is an opportunistic feeder; foraging, scavenging, and outright stealing food (especially from whales, other birds, and humans). Their food includes insects, fish, bird eggs, and crab. This week we spotted several resident gulls dining on crab!

The gull has the crab out of the water!

Now for a closer look!

Let the Feast Begin!

The gull's meal was certainly a crab, and likely a Red Rock Crab (Cancer productus). This species of crab is brick red in color with black-tipped pincers. They inhabit gravel or rocky areas and the intertidal to about 260 feet in depth. They can be found from Alaska south to Baja California.

Red Rock Crab

Creature Highlights

  • Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
  • Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)
  • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Common Murre (Uria aalge)
  • Black Oystercatcher ((Haematopus bachmani)
  • Hairy Chiton (Mopalia ciliata
  • Red Rock Crab (Cancer productus)
  • Dungeness Crab (Cancer magister)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


Spring is just around the corner, although it seems like it arrived in Cannon Beach back in January! Many of the inhabitants of the intertidal have been spawning this last month ensuring their species will continue to inhabit the Rock!

First up is the California Mussel (Mytilus californianus). This mussel, the only mussel in residance at Haystack Rock, can be found from Alaska to Mexico and grows to up to 10 inches long. They gather in dense beds, firmly attached to the rocks and each other,  in the mid-intertidal. The sexes are separate in mussels with each broadcasting their egg and sperm into the surrounding waters where fertilization takes place.

Spawning Male Mussel
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Habecker

Spawning Female Mussel
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Habecker

Not to be left out, the Moonglow Anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) were also spawning. Like the mussels, the species can broadcast spawn. Once fertilized, the larvae seek a suitable location to settle and then start their life as a young anemone. Unlike the mussel, anemone can also reproduce asexually, budding a new anemone with the exact DNA. The Moonglow anemone is usually found in sandy areas attached to a large shell or a rock. They can grow up to 2 inches with only the tentacles protruding above the surface.

Spawning Moonglow Anemone
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Habecker

Spawning Moonglow Anemone
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Habecker

Juvenile Ochre Stars (Pisaster ochraceus) were also seen spawning in the intertidal. This was wonderful to see after the sea-star wasting experienced all along the Pacific Coast last year. The juvenile Ochre Stars in the photo below, one in the center and another in the bottom left, are happily sharing the intertidal with other residents. Then, of course, the sea stars will eat them. But that's a story for another day!

Juvenile Stars
Photo Courtesy of Lisa Habecker

Visit our blog each week for new stories from Haystack Rock!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

February at the Rock!

It's the start of another great year, Haystack Rock Awareness Program's 30th, at the Rock and what a start it has been!  Staff and volunteer interpreters began manning the beach on 'lucky' Friday the 13th and have just finished three great weekends of support with hardly a raindrop encountered - a real rarity for February on the north Oregon Coast!

February 15th at Haystack Rock
Photo by Sarkawt Amir Sabir, a visitor from Kurdistan

Visitors to Cannon Beach in February took the opportunity to visit the rock during our string of sunny days and mild temperatures. The number of visitors topped 100 per hour on several days and over 2000 visitors on our opening, four-day weekend.

 Visitors loving the Rock and it's Creatures on Valentine's Day 

The inhabitants of our Rock, birds, fish, and invertebrates alike, did not disappoint the visitors. There were birds circling, sculpins in the tidepools, and the invertebrates were out in force. We spotted six species of nudibranchs and three chiton species. There were crabs, clams, and sea snails in abundance as well as orange hydroids and green anemones. Check out the Creature Highlights section below to see a species list of the life already spotted at Haystack Rock this season.

An Opalescent Nudibranch and several Anemones
share space in an exposed tidepool

Of special note - nearly 150 ochre sea stars are 'hanging on' at the Needles, just south of Haystack Rock. The entire West Coast experienced a massive die-off of sea stars last year so we are excited to see so many making themselves at home on the Needles!

Purple and Orange Sea Stars clinging to the barnacles!

Interpreters will be on the beach for daytime low-tides the next two weekends after which you'll find them on the beach every day for a daily low tide and even occasionally for both low tides. You can easily identify the interpretors by their red jackets or T-shirts. They love to share their knowledge with visitors so don't hesitate to seek them out, say 'Hi', and ask away!

We look forward to seeing you on the beach!

Interpreters are Always Happy to Share Their Knowledge 
of the Intertidal and its Inhabitants!

Creature Highlights

  • Western Gull (Larus occidentalis)
  • Harlequin Duck (Histrionicus histrionicus)
  • Peregrine Falcon (Falco Peregrinus)
  • Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
  • Surf Scoter (Melanitta perspicillata)
  • Common Murre (Uria aalge)
  • Opalescent Nudibranch (Hermissenda crassicornis
  • Shaggy Mouse Nudibranch (Aeolidia papillosa
  • Red Nudibranch (Rostanga pulchra
  • Rufus Tipped Nudibranch (Acanthodoris nanaimoensis
  • Three-Lined Nudibranch (Flabellina Trilineata
  • Sea Lemon Nudibranch (Anisodoris nobilis
  • Mossy Chiton (Mopalia muscosa
  • Hairy Chiton (Mopalia ciliata
  • Leather (also called Black or Katy) Chiton (Katharina tunicata
  • Ochre Sea Star (Pisaster ochraceus
  • Orange Hydroid (Garveia annulata)  
  • Strawberry Anemone (Corynactis californica
  • Dungeness Crab (Cancer magister
  • Pacific Razor Clam (Siliqua patula
  • Purple Shore Crab (Hemigrapsus nudus
  • Olive Snail (Olivella biplicata
  • Frilled Dogwinkle Snail (Nucella lamellosa
  • Striped Dogwinkle Snail (Nucella emarginata
  • Black Turban Snail (Tegula funebralis
  • Stalked Tunicate (Styela montereyensis)
  • Tidepool Sculpin (Oligocottus maculosus)
  • Mosshead Sculpin (Clinocottus globiceps)