tidepool immersion~blue inside

 

(The photo above is from a different beach I visited on a grayer, less photogenic day, save for these colorful anemones.

All that follow are from a single tidepooling trip.)

 

On my recent tidepool walk, I found a fish lying on the sand. A large sculpin? I picked it up to take a picture (as one does). In my hand, its body shifted so that its mouth dropped open and I gazed into a gaping chasm of blue! Its mouth is blue?! Simultaneously, its opercula opened, closed, gasping. It was still alive!

 

I snapped quick photos and rushed it into the water. It lay on the bottom, letting water pour across its gills, brown lumpy body camouflaging its secret bright interior. At home, I looked it up: a cabezon, part of the true sculpin family, a rocky intertidal dweller who feeds on crabs, fish, and mollusks. In its blue inner realm – not just mouth, but also flesh and internal organs – tiny abalone shells are said to become brightly polished in its digestive acids. The cabezon spawns on rocks, where its eggs, poisonous for consumption, can disperse up to 200 miles from shore, drifting as embryos divide, develop, hatch into wiggling larvae, absorb their yolk sacs. Arriving back in their tidepool spawning ground as fry, they hunt and grow into adults who lurk in the kelp beds.

 

I walked to the farthest extent of the beach one can access, and then only on these lowest low tides. Actually, I stopped short of the farthest tippy tidepool at the end once I spotted hauled out seals, and ceased approaching. Took zoom lens photos of baby seals raising their heads and rear flippers like they were rehearsing their swim, strengthening their core muscles.

Discodoris sighting! aka Diaulula sandiegensis from family Discodorididae

I chose fishing line as my genre of litter to collect on this day, filled my pockets.  Stepped across a vein of something agatized or fossilized. Made by pressure, revealed by water, without having to dig.  The smooth light gray rock erodes pockets and dimples. The small black cobbles collect inside. On the farthest stretch, the crabs are less accustomed to having to hide from hikers, and they plop and tumble into tidepools, scuttle and skitter under eelgrass clumps.

 

Otter is the name of the beach I wandered, though the last known individual sea otter swimming in Oregon waters was shot off Newport in 1907. Locally extinct ever since, they no longer exert control over sea urchins, which can overgraze the kelp holding down the base of this ecosystem.

Other species help in the role of maintaining kelp forests, though none to the extent that otters once did. I leaned over every edge of every farthest shelf of rock on this day, hoping and wishing to see a sunflower star.

(Like the one Quinn is touching here in 2010.)

(Or this pair from 2011.)

But sunflower stars have reached critically endangered status as of December 2020, failing to make a comeback from sea star wasting disease. Locally extinct now in the southern part of its range (zero Mexico or California sightings since 2018), sightings in Oregon are now vanishingly rare. I have not been able to find one.

I did see a leather star, though, between meals of anemones. A number of purple and ochre sea stars wrapped around mussels. Some species are making a halting comeback, others not. They will pull on the threads that connect them to other species until a new equilibrium is reached.

 

Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished reading Into Great Silence, a memoir written by a woman who studied the Chugach transient orca pod in Prince William Sound, a diminishing group that has not reproduced since the Exxon Valdez emptied oil into the sound in 1989. There are now just seven individuals. Maybe it’s because the author, Eva Saulitis, included a quote from the poem The Last One by W.S. Merwin, so I read the rest of the poem. I think a lot about these last ones, the impossibly lonely condition of being a last one, that so many species are facing. And then the one is gone, and there are none. Maybe it’s because I felt like I discovered a kindred spirit in Eva as I read her book, and know that she, too, is gone. Or maybe I’m a cabezon. I’m just a little blue on the inside, too.

 

 

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