As the moon pulls the ocean away from the shore, certain rock features hold on to what they can of the receding water. What’s left collects into tide pools, creating safe and salty homes for numerous creatures. It also creates intriguing little windows into the underwater world for those enamored by tide pooling, a familiar activity on the beaches of the West Coast. Chesterman’s is usually the spot to be, although any beach that allows for some rocky features will produce some great pools. Whether it’s the first or millionth time you’ve taken to the pools of the intertidal zone, every experience is bound to be different, as there are endless critters to keep an eye out for. More than a few that are a little tough to see!
Like in Finding Nemo, but without all the clownfish, the rocks and pools of Tofino’s beaches are full of anemones. Gracefully swaying with the movement of the water, the anemones’ tentacles lead to a harsher reality than their soft appearance. Predatory by nature, creatures such as urchins, crabs and small fish that brush past the filaments receive a paralyzing dose of poison before being swept into the anemone’s mouth. Don’t be worried about wandering too close, though, an anemone’s bristles are relatively harmless to humans. Usually, green surf anemones and aggregate anemones can be found in abundance in the tide pools. They’re stunning to look at, especially on a sunny day due to their elegant emerald shade.
These guys are also commonly known by their less flattering name: Sea Slugs. They come in a multitude of different shapes, sizes and colours, some less attractive than others. Some, however, manage to pull of being graceful and even kind of cute. Despite their harmless appearance, nudibranchs are carnivorous and rely on a healthy diet of creatures like anemones, barnacles, coral, sponges and even other nudibranchs. Many are bright colours with wispy tentacles on their body, which is why they are often considered to be beautiful. Keep an eye out in the pools for a slug-like creature with a fancy hair-do – you’ll probably be looking at a nudibranch.
Ps. it’s a fun fact that, while all nudibranchs are sea slugs, not all sea slugs are nudibranchs.
Nearly forty of the two thousand species of sea stars call Tofino their home, adding a dash of colour to the tide pools of the area. Bright purple, red, orange and pink adorn the lanky limbs of one of the ocean’s most adored creatures. Most common is the ochre star (aka. Common starfish); those are the bright purple guys found clinging to rocks. You’ll even catch them slowly digesting pried-open mussels with inside-out stomachs. Accompanying the ochre stars are sometimes sunflower stars and sun stars, who boast a brighter, bigger range colours and more legs. By the way, if a limb falls off, most sea stars can regenerate them.
Laced between their sharp, protruding spines, tiny tube feet carry these prickly predators across the tidal pools of Tofino. Typically bright purple to nearly black in colour, these guys will do you no harm unless, of course, you don’t look where you step. Treat them gently though, and the spikes are no more dangerous than blades of grass. Sea Urchins enjoy a well balanced diet of meats (dead fish, mussels, sponges and barnacles), as well as veggies (algae), of which there are plenty in their tide pool homes. Ever growing teeth located in their soft underside assist the consumption. It’s common to see these guys roaming slowly around the deeper sections of the intertidal zone.
Listen closely and you’ll become aware of the soft patter of scuttling crab legs across the rocks that surround the tide pools. Both in and out of the water, numerous species of these crustaceans are right at home on Tofino’s beaches. Arms raised defiantly as they sidestep away, these sassy little fellas will certainly let you know if you come too close. From hermit crabs that steal deceased snail’s shells and use them as portable homes, to various breeds of shore crabs, their abundance ensures the pools are always a hopping place. You may even catch a glimpse of a lanky spider crab from time to time.
Littered along the rocks are dark bundles of razor sharp shells – California mussels. Holding on for dear life with its fibrous byssal threads, the mussel opens up and starts filtering the water for particles of food. Every hour the tiny bivalve tastes about 3litres of water, just to make sure it gets enough to eat. In the intertidal areas that see a lot of wave action, mussels tend to take up a lot of real estate. However, where calmer waters prevail, they become a great food source for numerous other creatures (like sea stars). Humans also have a tendency to dig into a fresh bowl of these tide pool regulars.
Although the rocks that form the tide pools in Tofino are often fairly sharp, the most likely culprit of any knick, scrape or cut is a barnacle. Far from just a bump on a rock, these shell-like creatures are actually crustaceans and are related to crabs. It’s common to see what are known as Acorn barnacles clustered along the rocks. A more intriguing type of barnacle is the Gooseneck, which, unlike its neighboring acorns, possesses a flexible stem that makes it a culinary hot topic – fishermen can make about $1000/week by harvesting them. You’ll see both taking over vast plots of rocks in most tide pool regions.
For more information on the wildlife on Vancouver Island, check out this page.
To learn more about tide pool creatures first hand, pay a visit to the Ucluelet Aquarium!
Contributed by: Laurissa Cebryk