Island Unseen: Beach combing at Bowman Bay

Making my way over and between barnacled, blunt-edged rocks and boulders along the north shore of Bowman Bay, quiet clickings increase in proportion to my pace. Shore crabs in a dozen different colors drop from the rocks on which they rest as I pass by, then scurry to safety. It’s one of several super-low-tide days in late July that expose many sea creature species, some common, like sea stars and anemones, some less so, like sea squirts and encrusting sponges. In my quest to prove that a two-inch long blob clamped tightly to a rock is a sea squirt, I return three times to the same damp, cramped foot wide space between boulders for photographs.

Digital photos in camera, I plead my case to Dr. David Cowles at Rosario Laboratories, a researcher and professor who hosts the Invertebrates of the Salish Sea site and has answered my marine biology creature questions in the past. His reply to the message and photos I email him, “We have a very odd species of sea cucumber here, Psolus chitonoides, that is just that color and size. It holds on to rocks with 3 rows of tube feet on a flat ‘sole’ on the bottom, while the dome-shaped top is covered with burnt-orange or rust-colored plates. It has two openings like a sea squirt-one for its mouth and one for its anus. It doesn’t usually live as shallow as the intertidal zone, but can be found at a minus tide. When it is feeding under water it has a beautiful circle of reddish, branching tentacles around its mouth.” As much as I hoped he was wrong, photos and other evidence force me to concede defeat.

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