Thursday, December 8, 2016

What is That Scurrying On the Sand?

August 8th was a cloudy day with a few sprinkles in the morning at Haystack Rock. Katie Corliss, lead interpreter, along with three additional interpreters were on the beach for the 1.5 ft low tide at 11:13 am. Over five hundred visitors experienced the Marine Garden during the five hours the interpreters were on the beach.

Katie captured a great video of mole crab activity in the sand. In the genus Emerita they are crustaceans commonly known as mole crabs, sand crabs or sand fleas. Related to hermit crabs and stone crabs, the mole crab spends much of its time buried in the sand. It is well camouflaged by its gray shell, burrowing quickly and frequently into the sand. The crab lives in the area of breaking waves, moving up and down the beach with the tides. It feeds by filtering tiny plankton from receding waves using a sweeping motion of an antenna. Check out the video of the crabs scurrying in the sand and burrowing in.

Mole crabs are less that 2 inches in length and can be found along the entire west coast of the US from Alaska to Baja California. Their life span is rarely more than 2 to 3 years and they can reproduce in their first year producing bright orange eggs. Next time you are at the beach, look closely down at the sand near the tide line for these scurrying crabs.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Opalescent Nudibranch In The Sand

Today we look back to August 3rd on the beach. Gina Palmer was the lead interpreter on the beach for the 1.4 ft low tide at 7:46pm. It was a sunny afternoon with a NNW winds between 15 and 25 knots. The opalescent nudibranches, typically found under the boulders in the central pools of Haystack Rock, were today out in the sand.

Opalescent Nudibranch 

The opalescent nudibranch (Hermissenda crassicornis) is an invertebrate that resides in the intertidal rocky shores from Baja California to Alaska. They grow to about 3 inches, subsisting on a diet mainly of hydroids, but will also eat small sea anemones and bryozoans.  A nudibranch lives for a maximum of one year and is hermaphroditic. It's eggs are laid in narrow, coiled strings attached to eelgrass or algae. 

The opalescents are a colorful species of nudibranch, having bright orange areas on their back with a blue line on each side. Next time you're in the intertidal zone at low tide - anywhere on the west coast -take a look in the sand or under boulders for these colorful invertebrates!

Friday, October 28, 2016

That's A Wrap on the 2016 Beach Season

On October 27th we officially wrapped up our 2016 season on the beach. We're still working on our final counts, but as of September 30th, we've interacted with 98,500 people this season both on and off the beach and hosted 52 educational programs on the beach. Now that's an epic season!

HRAP Staff and Volunteers finished the season with an 'End of Season Cleaning and Storage Party' on the 28th. The HRAP trailer was emptied and the equipment cleaned and stowed for the winter.

Planning for the 2017 Beach Season is already underway and we'll be back on the beach in February.

We'll be revisiting the 2016 season on the blog this winter. Check back in with us to learn about the season from the perspective of the HRAP Interpreters.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Red Ascidian Tunicate - Aplidium solidum.

Red Ascidians are tunicates, a marine invertebrate with a hard exterior layer, or tunic, where it get's it's name. The first known species of tunicate dates back to 485.4 millions years ago to the early Cambrian period, when most modern phyla first appeared.


The red ascidians have two siphons which move water in and out of it's body, much like a heart. They grow in colonies up to 20 centimeters long and can be a favorite food of the opalescent nudibranch.

Have you seen a red ascidian at Haystack Rock? Let us know! Happy Tide-pooling!

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Dendronotus Density Dispatch

Tidepools on the north side of Haystack boasted a startling abundance of nudibranchs in the genus Dendronotus. "Dendrites" is Greek for "treelike." Upon close examination, these creatures with branching bodies did appear treelike.

Individual dendrontid against a background bryozoan.
From a distance, however, the dendrontids looked like a dense growth of algae carpeting the floor of the pool. 

The "blob" in the left-hand corner is a nudibranch "walking" upside down by moving its foot across the surface tension of the water. The mossy growths covering the sand are clusters of dendrontids in uncountable hundreds.

Courtesy of Stephen Grace

Friday, September 9, 2016

Until the next time we see them - Tufted Puffins

This summer, a U.S.F.W.S. volunteer closely monitored the iconic tufted puffins who call Haystack Rock their breeding ground home.

The puffins use this space as their breeding ground, because they prefer to stay close to the ocean shore. Their survival is dependent upon the sea, where they catch the food that they eat and feed their young. 

Puffins eat small fish and squid. They can hold several fish at a time in their large bill, which allows them to transport the fish back to their burrow to feed their chick. Recent studies on Atlantic puffins attribute the successful fledgling, and long term survival of chicks to an adequate food source. When fish populations decline, so do the puffin populations.  

These puffins lay their egg 2-6 feet deep in a burrow. Near the top of Haystack Rock, on the grassy slope. The north side is shielded from the strong south winds. They dig out the soil with their large, shovel like bill, and lay one single white egg. Since it is so deep in the burrow, out of sight of predators, the egg doesn't need much camouflage. 

Puffins are auklets, they are related to the pigeon guillemot and common murre. They are black, football shaped birds with a heavy orange bill. You can spot them flapping their wings furiously, flying in circles out and back to the rock. The reason they are so clumsy on land is because they are built to be out at sea. The murres look just like the puffins when flying, except that they have a while belly and sharp black beak. They look like small penguins.

Murre (left) Puffin (right)

The tufted puffins are seen at Haystack Rock from April - August. While not breeding, the they spend much of their lives up to 60 miles off-shore. They have nothing to land on out there. So, they float on top of the ocean surface and dive up to 200 feet deep. Talk about some incredible survival skills! Many of them are headed back out to sea now. You may spot some stragglers through September if you are lucky.

We received this report on September 3rd from Tim, the U.S.F.W.S. Volunteer who has been monitoring the puffins: "Not a puffin in sight on this gorgeous morning at Haystack rock Cannon Beach. Other observers report that there were several here a week or more ago but that their numbers quickly dwindled. It has been a great season and we will hope for good puffling viability and continued improvement with this population. Thanks for the opportunity to be part of this important project" 
We wish the tufted puffins a safe journey. We hope they have a lot of squid and food sources for the adults and their chicks. We will be waiting to welcome them back and to celebrate their return.

Friday, September 2, 2016

A strange fish caused great excitement at the Rock this last week. A visitor came to the truck to say he'd "found a stingray." When one of our volunteers got to the tidepool, only the eyes in the photo were visible. The fish stayed buried in the sand with only its eyes exposed for about two hours as its pool shrank and warmed. An occasional puff of breath stirred the sand in front of its face. Many visitors stepped to the edge of the pool to stare at its eyes. When the tide came back in and refreshed the pool, the mystery fish finally rose from the sand. It swam around and then reburied itself. The mystery fish is oval, translucent, and this one is about two inches long. Can you guess what species it is?

Courtesy of Stephen Grace

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.