Bainbridge Island, WA – A trip to a Salish Sea beach at low tide is truly a treasure hunt. Most of our beaches are covered with rocks of different sizes, along with a variety of marine plants that can make finding the gems a bit of a challenge. Large rocks mean larger creatures, so start with them. Take a peek under the shaded edges closest to the beach and most of the time, you will be greeted by one creature or another going about their business.
Another tactic is to scan the beach for bright color in an otherwise monochromatic scene of grays and greens. A common resident of Salish Sea beaches is the orange sea cucumber, also known as a red sea cucumber or red sea gherkin. They are easy to find and fun to watch. At low tide, they seem to just sit there, but if you are patient, you may see them slowly expanding and contracting.
There is a lot going on in this video. Subtle movements in the periphery delight and stir up wonder as crabs, anemones and other tide pool creatures wait for the tide to return. At around 2:40 something unusual happens…
Experience the orange sea cucumber:
- The two most commonly seen species of sea cucumber in the Salish Sea are California sea cucumbers and orange sea cucumbers.
- You will find the much larger California sea cucumber moving slowly across the sandy sea floor. Orange sea cucumbers are found in rocky intertidal areas, typically attached to or hanging from the underside of rocks.
- Orange sea cucumbers let their food come to them instead of scooping it up on the move like the larger California sea cucumber. When submerged, 10 tentacles resembling branches filter the nutrient rich water for detritus and plankton, then literally deposit it into the small mouth seen in the center of the tentacles.
- Because orange sea cucumbers are anchored to their rock habitats, do not attempt to pick them up, as you can damage their delicate skin.
- As always, be sure your hands are free of sunscreen or other irritants before going to the beach. Before touching any marine creature, wet your hands with sea water so dry hands do not harm them. Use a gentle 1 -2 finger touch and never touch delicate mouthparts.
For more information about orange sea cucumbers, check out Shape Changing Sea Cucumbers. If you have questions or comments about the orange sea cucumber, contact us or post in the comments section.
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