Spaghetti Worms on Sinclair Island

We leaned over the front panel of the aluminum boat in anticipation, pretending to be porpoises or just enjoying the sea smells. Islands dressed in Douglas firs passed us left and right: Guemes, Cypress, Dome. Salish Sea droplets sprinkled our arms and evaporated with the wind, leaving behind powdery jewels of salt.

Our boat landed directly on the rocks of Sinclair Island. In front of us stood a grassy lawn and wooden cabin where we would spend our weekend as grateful guests of Margo, Zach, Mike and Marni Heffron.

 The gang standing atop the lookout tower in the Sinclair Island meadow. From left to right: me, Annie, Mel, Margo, and Zach.

I had a track workout to run for my ultimate team, Seattle Underground, so I did it Sinclair style: sprinting after the back of a tractor.

Zach took the workout to a new level, pouncing onto the tractor like a hungry jaguar.

Annie "Annie Want" Want, everybody. #nevernotcute

Check out the intense baby-blue eyes.

Ms. American Robin eating an earwig.

Mr. White-Crowned Sparrow singing from a post.

Margo took me tide-pooling on her beach...

We were two happy clams.

Fair warning: all the intertidal identifications in this post are based on my favorite field guide, Seashore of the Pacific Northwest, and my own limited experience. Don't take them as certain, and if you see a mistake, don't hesitate to let me know.

This rock had a rockin' hairdo.

I could not find this bubbly brown algae in my field guide anywhere... Then I read the description for the shaggy, needle-like "black pine" (Rhodomela larix) and learned that it is often found with the strictly epiphytic Soranthera ulvoidea growing on top of it. So that's what you see here. There is no limit to the mysteries you can solve in the intertidal.

I found this lovely wrack, either Saccharina latissima (sugar kelp) or Saccharina bongardiana (split kelp), but I am not qualified to differentiate between the two.

Whatever its species, it certainly does have a nice hold on its rock.

Rockweed, a species in the Fucus genus.

A small dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) exoskeleton.

Margo convinced Mel and me to stick our tongues into the centers of an aggregating anemone (Anthopleura elegantissima) and they stung for an hour... Don't try it at home.

This red rock crab (Cancer productus) was high and dry on the shore, but it still made eating motions with its claws. I don't think it was healthy.

Limpet with a green mohawk, my dream hair style. Someday...

Frilled dog whelks (Nucella lamellosa) having a snail party.

I was delighted to find a northern clingfish (Gobiesox maeandricus), the research subject of two of my favorite people, Lisa Truong and Christina Linkem. You can follow those links to check out their Friday Harbor Labs research papers and learn all about clingfish ecology.

A red sea cucumber (Cucumaria miniata) with its oral tentacles partially extended. It uses them to filter the water and bring food particles back to its mouth.

The namesake of this post, the infamous spaghetti worm (Thelepus crispus), spread its thin web of tentacles out from the sand like a blob of pasta. I dug it up and discovered its body coated in a protective mud tube.

A baby green urchin (Strongylocentrotous drobachiensis) J-chilling and looking spiny, as it does.

Hello hermie!

We don't have any true eels in the Salish Sea, but this black prickleback (Xiphister atropurpureus) looks kinda like one.

These four fellas arranged themselves nicely for a comparative photo shoot of phyla. From lower left to upper right, we have an arthropod (the kelp crab, Pugettia producta), an echinoderm (the green urchin, Strongylocentrotous drobachiensis), a mollusc (a chiton), and a cnidarian (a closed anemone).

I was thrilled to find a population of healthy, vibrant purple sea stars (Pisaster ochraceus) when most of the species is currently suffering from an epidemic of sea star wasting disease.

Mel uncovers another healthy purple star...

...and helpfully points out the madreporite, the entry point for the sea star's water-vascular system. Sea stars use a mixture of seawater and cells, known as coelomic fluid, to move nutrients around their bodies rather than blood.

Even more abundant were the six-rayed stars, Leptasterias hexactis.

What a cutie.

Oh hey there.

This guy was not doing so well. I wonder how he lost two of his arms -- hopefully not because of wasting disease, since this species appears to be immune.

The coolest discovery of our voyage, in my humble opinion, was this dead fish.

It was huge! And orange! And very dead. After a little research, I believe it was a threatened yelloweye rockfish (Sebastes ruberrimus), one of the largest and longest-lived fishes in the Salish Sea. According to NOAA, they can live up to 118 years.

I relived the glory days of my front-porch lab in Ecuador (for some reason, my most popular blog post ever) as I inspected the fish's anatomy in detail. Here are the pads of spiny teeth on the maxilla, or upper jaw bone.

Here are the gills.

Look at those gill arches and and filaments.

Before the day was over, I took a moment to step back and admire the lovely intertidal zonation of the beach.

Here's a perfect example of an ecotone, a sharp boundary between two ecosystems. You might think of the tree line on a tall mountain, or the edge of a river. Here the ecotone between eelgrass and black pine/ulva seems to be the depth of the rock pool.

As you can see, our excursion to Sinclair Island was a success. Let's go seaweets!

Just as we were pulling away in the aluminum boat, this western tiger swallowtail (Papilio rutulus) showed up for a drink on one of Marni's beautiful pink flowers. See you next time, lady.