All Washed Up — on the Sand

Do you ever have a dream where you find some kind of treasure, only to wake up and find that it was only a dream, but still with a sense that you’ve been enriched somehow? My dreams like that are always about giant, gleaming, colourful seashells (and for some reason chocolate coins).

Things that wash up on the beach have always seemed like treasures to me; I’ve been an avid beachcomber since I was a small child. We often went to Florida to visit my great-grandmother with my grandparents in the summers, where if we weren’t staying in a beach motel owned by family friends, we slept on an airy, screened sleeping porch perched on the second floor, where it could catch the breezes. I would roam the beaches as often as I could, finding treasures and oddments (there wasn’t as much trash on the beaches then!) that I would puzzle over and arrange over and over. My great-grandma had boxes of beautiful shells that were getting hard to find even then, and we would spend hours glueing them into pictures, or making little people sculptures out of them.

Nowadays, the art I make of the treasures I find is photographic; I like to find pleasing abstract compositions made by seaweed and seashells, and bring home pictures instead of the actual objects. That way I can share my wealth!

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Bull kelp is plentiful on our beaches, especially near the end of summer, when the beds begin to break up, the plant being an annual. The long, tapering stipe (what we would call a stem on a land plant) is smooth and sensuous to touch. I love to run my bare foot over it. The holdfast, that rooty-looking thing, does just what its name suggests; it holds onto underwater rocks to anchor the kelp.

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In the sunlight, the blades (leaves) of the plant look like golden taffy. How’s that for treasure, eh?

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Sometimes great masses are washed up, all tangled together. This one was five or six metres long.

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The different sizes of stipe had been woven together by the waves into a giant rope, reminiscent of a fibre-art installation, embossing its patterns on the sand.

Kelp tangle 3.jpg

The floats, when in the water, hold the kelp blades up near the sunlight, where they create nourishment for the plant and form a home and hideout for a rich array of sea life.

perennial kelp.jpg

Another kind of kelp is the perennial kelp, which forms lush forests offshore. I love to find tangles like this, with the furrowed texture of the blades forming a pleasing contrast to the smooth floats and stipes. Here’s what one strand looks like, unwound:

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Another of my beach favourites for making arty photos of is the Feather Boa:

feather boa.jpg

Its graceful curls also are fun to throw around one’s neck (if one happens to be in a bathing suit or wetsuit) and play fancy dress-up.

Baby Groot kelp.jpg

Sometimes it’s the water itself that’s the star of the photo. This little kelpling made me think of Baby Groot in Guardians of the Galaxy!

Kelp arc.jpg

Reflections on the sand itself are always fun to play with, too.

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A rarer find, which always makes me feel like I found some high-denomination treasure, is the sea palm, another variety of kelp. There are two species in the area, and I don’t know which one this is. I love to stand them up in the sand and pretend I’m on a tropical beach!

Rockweed & anemones.jpg

Very plentiful around our rocky beaches is Rockweed, of which there are several species locally. It lives fairly high up in the tide zone, and can survive being left high and dry among the barnacles and anemones until the tide comes back on. It’s graceful branches end in flotation bladders (which also contain its reproductive organs), which gives it the common name of bladderwrack.

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Let’s not forget the seashells! This beautiful thing (resembling quite a lot the giant seashells of my dreams) is probably some sort of dogwinkle, though I couldn’t find an exact match for it in my books. So let’s just enjoy it for its aesthetic qualities! The strange material it is nestled into is the sand-filled tubes created by the Cellophane Worm, which you can read more about here. It washes up on the beach in great patches, and feels squishy and tickle-y to walk through.

Razor Clam inside:outside.jpg

This year there were tons of razor clam shells on the beach, far more than I’ve ever seen before. I wanted to fill a big bag with them and tile a wall with their stripes and colours, but I settled for some photos. Carrying shells from a beach is not encouraged these days, as even the dead shells of molluscs have a part to play in the ecosystem. I do confess guiltily to a couple of mussels and limpets finding their way into my car along with all the sand, though.

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A gleaming, iridescent mussel shell is one treasure that is pretty hard to resist.

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Then there are all the soft-bodies things that are stranded by the relentless tides. These little jellies, about the size of a nickel, are a regular thing that one has to walk around (these little guy won’t sting, but they are kind of unpleasant anyway — like stepping on a grape; and anyway, you don’t want to step on any kind of jelly just in case). They do look like some kind of jewel, though, perhaps a moonstone.

I’ve long wondered what they were, and came across the answer here on an engagingly written blog from Monterey Bay called Bay-to-Beach Life,  in a post about jellies in general. They are Sea Gooseberries, a kind of comb jellyfish, and in the water they actually have bio-luminescent running lights that make them look like some kind of spaceship. I wish I could see them underwater!

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Here’s a bit of beach jewelry that you definitely should not mess with — I’m not sure what kind it is; this jelly had been in the sun long enough that any colour that had been there was gone. My guess is a Sea Nettle (which gives you an idea why you shouldn’t touch it) as it was about the size of a dinner plate, too large and massive for a Moon Jelly (although the four symmetrical indentations give me pause on that thought). You can see that it’s substantial enough to have created its own erosion pattern in the sand! If you know what this one is, let me know in the comments, and if you’d like to see some other stranded jellies, in case you encounter one, here’s a good post from a wonderfully informative blog with some fine beach photography called “theoutershores”.

UPDATE: Steve Morey of theoutershores blog commented below, with the same page from his blog, and he says: “My two cents on your large jelly is moon jelly. They can get pretty big. Sea nettles don’t lose their color quickly on the beach. Yours was fairly fresh, so I’m guessing moon jelly.”

So I’m going with his ID — he knows his jellyfish a lot better than I do! Thanks, Steve!

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A couple of years ago, we arrived at Long Beach to find huge numbers of Velella velella, or By-the-Wind-Sailor, stranded on the sand. This photo doesn’t show the startling blue colour of the “boat” part, but I couldn’t resist getting arty with the “sail”.

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Sometimes I find some beach gem that totally stumps me. The closest I could come with this one is some kind of egg-case strand; it’s similar to what lightning whelks make, but those are tropical and subtropical. Only one of our local whelks, a Nassarius genus dogwhelk, makes something kind of similar, but it’s not quite right, at least for the only picture I could find. The little discs were about a centimetre or a bit less in diameter; if anyone out there is a naturalist or marine biologist and knows the answer, please let me know in the comments!

UPDATE: The good folks at Ucluelet Aquarium got back to me: they also think they are some kind of whelk eggs, though they didn’t specify which kind.

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UPDATE: My Ucluelet Aquarium correspondent also identified these for me as Opalescent Squid egg cases – once I knew what to look for, it was easy to google and find all kinds of picture of both the squid and its eggs. Here’s a post with both from Victoria Kayak.

This bit is now outmoded, but since you might be interested in learning about two critters that it’s not, I’ve left this in:

The last beach mystery also made kind of an arty photo — my best guess so far on this transparent thingie, after consulting books and the interwebz: some kind of tunicate, probably ciona savignyi, also called sea vase, transparent tunicate, sea bottle, and several other things. They are mostly called nasty things however by sailors, because it’s an invasive species which fouls lines and such.

Or it could be a glassy tunicate, Ascidia paratropa, but they’re solitary and I found this as a group, which is more like the sea vase. Again — if you know the answer, let me know in the comments!

This is the fifth in a week-long series about my recent trip to the west coast of Vancouver Island. If you’re especially interested in sea life, the previous post is about tidepools!

Tomorrow: The Ucluelet Aquarium!


6 responses to “All Washed Up — on the Sand

  1. Pingback: An Aquarium Photo Safari | Karen Gillmore Art·

  2. Pingback: The Wild Pacific Trail | Karen Gillmore Art·

  3. Wonderful post. I enjoyed seeing the the tide line through your eyes. Loved the mysteries too! My two cents on your large jelly is moon jelly. They can get pretty big. Sea nettles don’t lose their color quickly on the beach. Yours was fairly fresh, so I’m guessing moon jelly. I’m not an expert, but I’ve posted a few common jellies from the northern Oregon shore. I think I’ve got my IDs right.
    You’ve got a great site, I’ve got some reading to do!


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