Local oysters, ocean acidification and spat (what's that?)

Five species of oysters are cultivated for food in the Puget Sound region: the Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), the Pacific (Crassostrea gigas), the Eastern (Crassostrea virginica), the European (Ostrea edulis) and—the only native species—the Olympia (Ostrea lurida).

We know that ocean acidification decreases the amount of calcium carbonate building blocks available in the water for these and other shell-building animals to use as they grow. As an animal’s body pulls calcium carbonate from the water, it may be laid down in different formations, mostly commonly either calcite or aragonite, to form a shell.

Pacific oysters, for example, begin building their shells 14–18 hours after the egg is fertilized, laying down a shell made of aragonite. The larva continues life in the form of plankton for the next two to three weeks, feeding on microalgae, until it grows a foot to stick down to a hard surface. At this point, the young creature switches from building a shell of aragonite to building one of calcite.

Ocean acidification (OA) has been shown to cause delay of shell formation, weaker shells, and therefore increased mortality in larval oysters, as well as decreased growth and shell-building in adult oysters.

We also know the changing chemistry of the ocean is a complex process with varying effects from species to species. For example, unlike many oyster species, our native Olympia oysters show no negative effects when exposed to different levels of OA. But Olympias are unique in another way: most oysters are broadcast spawners, while Olympias brood their young for 10–12 days, during that critical period of initial shell formation. This allows Olympia oyster larvae to have slower rates of growth and shell-building during this phase, possibly easing the energetic burden of trying to build a shell in conditions of OA.

Young oysters are known as spat. If you look closely at an empty oyster shell on a Puget Sound beach, you may be able to see spat—which can look like anything from a small black dot to a fingernail-sized small oyster—clinging to it. Although several species of oyster can live on muddy bottoms, they thrive when able to attach to a hard surface (another reason to leave shells on the beach!). Like a snail shell becoming a home for a hermit crab, old oyster shells become a nursery for the next generation.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#2 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Bobby:

The 2018 group of Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists have been hard at work training for the new season. We have lots of new volunteers and plenty of returning volunteers—who you can spot by their faded red hats. I am starting my third season and I am still learning so much every time I go out on the beach. The veterans really help to train the eyes of the newer naturalists. So much of what we are looking for while we are on the beach is for smallest of indicators of a creature. It could be a color that stands out against the rocks and algae. It could be a quick movement that catches the light. We learn to look for the habitats of the creatures. I am still amazed when a fellow naturalist finds the tiniest of creatures—something I would have looked right past.My fellow blogger and photographer Jen works with a new beach naturalist to help identify a creature.

As I am regaining my “sea-legs” for the season lets take a look at some of the critters we found on our final low-tide training walks at South Alki and Golden Gardens beaches.I love to photograph anemone, especially when they are still in the water. This painted anemone was tucked under a rock and had all of its tentacles out in the water.A large male Red Rock Crab holds a female close, waiting for her to molt, in order to mate.A sea lemon is hidden between the rocks. They are a type of nudibranch that likes to feed on encrusting sponges.Pacific gaper siphon. This one blasted my camera lens with water as it retreated underground.A Moonsnail burrows itself back into the sand.A tiny Acorn Barnacle holds on to the back of a colorful Lined Chiton.Jen found a disoriented Dock (Coonstripe) Shrimp in the Sargassum.A small Stiff-Footed Sea Cucumber (aka, White Sea Cucumber) pokes out from under a rock.
A couple photos of an Orange Sea Cucumber with it’s oral tentacles out and a close up on the body with the tentacles pulled in.

I am excited to be back out on the beach this summer with all my fellow naturalists. Be sure to say hello if you see me, I will be the one with a felted orange sea star on my red hat.

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Bobby:

This is Bobby’s third year as a beach naturalist.

His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle four years ago from San Antonio, Texas.

Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him biking to work where he leads a creative team at a local marketing agency.

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Know your beach-this week from the beach

#1 in the 2018 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Message from Jen:

Welcome! I am so happy to be back with my co-blogging partner-in-crime, Bobby Arispe, to bring you to the beach with us throughout our season this summer. If our beach trainings are any indication, this summer is going to be an especially good one! Did you know the Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalist program has 240 amazing volunteers who dedicate their time during the spring and summer months to educate visitors at our local beaches about all of the wonderful animals that we share our local shores with? And that you can see a sea star or a nudibranch or maybe even an octopus on a beach within the Seattle city limits? You can. We live in such an amazing city!

Training for new beach naturalist volunteers starts in March and culminates in May with an evening of guest speakers and the distribution the beach naturalists’ signature red caps. By the time our new volunteers hit the beach, they have been schooled in beach biology, interpretation, the importance of the nearshore, the salmon life cycle and how to be good stewards of our local marine environment.

Come along with me, and I will show you some of the wonderful animals we saw during our trainings last month.

On the way down to the beach at South Alki, we saw a mama killdeer guarding the eggs in her nest. A regular at our spring trainings, she’s good reminder of the connection between the nearshore and the intertidal zone.

We know it’s spring when we visit the beach at low tide and see lots and lots of moon snail egg collars. Reminiscent of clay pots or discarded toilet plunger bottoms, these casings—made of sand, mucus and eggs—contain over half a million baby moon snails, getting ready to hatch out. They make a great shelter for other animals too and you never know what you might find if you turn one over (just make sure to turn it back!).

During our training at Saltwater State Park, we found this gorgeous, rainbow-colored polychaete worm on the underside of a moon snail egg collar!

This empty moon snail shell was home to so many animals! A juvenile red rock crab thought it made a great hideout.

An opalescent nudibranch thought this shell was the perfect spot to lay his/her eggs. Don’t overlook the barnacles and that teeny snail who decided to call this old shell home too. Just like up on our urban streets, housing is tight in the intertidal zone.

We do a lot of beach CSI during training, looking for evidence of various animals on the beach and learning about them. The countersunk hole in this clam shell is clear evidence that a moon snail has been here. Using its large foot, a moon snail will grab hold of an unsuspecting clam and move it into position. Next, the moon snail excretes special enzymes/acids that soften the shell so it can make use of its special tool: the radula. This secret weapon is a tongue-like organ with hundreds of tiny sharp teeth, excellent for drilling holes and scraping out bits of delicious clam meat from the shell.

A face only a mother could love? Hmm, well we naturalists love it too! I mean, look at those awesome teeth! Some of our new naturalists got to learn all about the plainfin midshipman at our Saltwater State Park training. The males are often found high up in the intertidal zone, under rocks, guarding their eggs. They can breathe through their skin and are able to spend long periods of time out of the water at low tide. Don’t be alarmed when you see one, they are exactly where they should be—with their eggs!

Midshipmen were given their name because of the small white dots on the sides of their bodies that reminded someone of the buttons on a military uniform. These dots are actually small organs called photophores. Photophores give the midshipmen the intertidal superpower of glowing in the dark! See, you love the midshipman now too, don’t you?

I may have to declare this the summer of the leopard dorid nudibranch. We saw SO many during our trainings. They love to cruise the rocks, grazing on sponges as they go. One thing I learned this spring: the egg mass of a leopard dorid can contain up to 17 million eggs!

So, first of all, all of our fingernails look like this after a day of naturalizing at the beach, so don’t judge, ha. Second of all, look at this tiny anemone on a blade of eelgrass! This is a brooding or proliferating anemone. They start off as female and transition to hermaphrodites once they mature. There are no true males among this species! Although they can reproduce by broadcast spawning, self-fertilization is common. When the babies are ready to hatch out, they come out of the anemone’s mouth, slide down the side and then stay there until they are ready to go off on their own. If you find one, look closely for little babies all along the base of the body! There are all kinds of animals that use the eelgrass for shelter and as a nursery for babies, including our beloved salmon. We do our best to walk around eelgrass so we don’t crush anyone under foot. Beach etiquette tip: Walk around the eelgrass!

One more cool anemone observation from our time on the beach last month: The photo above is a plumose anemone out of the water with all of its feeding tentacles pulled in. However, we CAN see some other specialized tentacles here called acontia. These are super-powered defense tentacles, filled with extra potent stinging cells. This plumose anemone can shoot out these stringy tentacles from all over its body (kind of like Silly String) to defend itself against predators.

Here are some more photos from our days on the beach:

Bobby will be here next week with more photos and tales from our trainings. We are back out on the beach June 13 for some of the lowest tides of the summer. We look forward to exploring with you and sharing our love of the Salish Sea! 

Meet Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists on local shorelines this summer! Check our website for dates, times, locations and directions.

About Jen:

Jen writes:

“I ventured westward from Albany, NY and fell madly in love with our city from the moment I arrived. It was 21 years ago this August when Seattle first charmed me with its lush, forested parks, beautiful beaches, and water and mountain views (when the skies are clear enough) all around.

I signed up to be an interpretive volunteer at the Seattle Aquarium in 2013, became a beach naturalist volunteer in 2014, and this will be my third year as an official member of the Seattle Aquarium staff as a beach captain. My favorite place to be is on the beach, with my camera, sharing my love and knowledge of our intertidal dwellers with the hope that I will inspire others to love and protect the Salish Sea and the ocean beyond.”



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A closer look at what puts the “lump” in our Pacific spiny lumpsuckers

Puget Sound is home to some pretty unique species, but one lumpy fish that calls our waters home is so ugly, that we here at the Aquarium think it is cute! Difficult to spot due to their amazing camouflage and smaller size, the Pacific spiny lumpsucker is a great example of the incredible diversity and adaptability of species that call the Salish Sea home.

Sometimes described as a swimming golf ball, the lumpsucker is known for its awkward swimming motion and the comical way it maneuvers throughout its environment. An outstanding feature of the Pacific spiny lumpsucker is its pelvic fins which are fused into a modified suction cup that it uses to fasten itself to rocks or other surfaces and blend into their surroundings.

The other unique feature that helps give the lumpsucker their name are the unique bumps found all over its body. Called tubercles, these bony protrusions of the skeleton provide a coat of armor for these adorable, slow moving fish. You can imagine that being covered in bony armor would weigh a fish down, but the lumpsucker’s skeleton is made of cartilage to help with buoyancy. Plus, this fish has a good dose of jelly deposits under the skin, also helping it float.

This amazing image (above) was created by Leo Smith with the University of Kansas for a paper he plans to submit to the American Society of Icthyologists and Herpetologists on the skeleton of the Pacific spiny lumpsucker. Smith used cow stomach enzymes to dissolve the fish’s muscle, leaving the skeleton behind, which was then dyed for an even better view. The incredible image better shows the unique bumps and armor that are all over the lumpsucker’s body.

These jelly-filled, lumpy fish are some of our favorites here at the Aquarium and we are excited to have some on display in our Puget Sound Fish exhibit. Come visit us so you can get a closer look, or join us for some fun upcoming events like Aquarium After Hours (age 21+) or Family Science Weekend where you can get up participate in hands-on science with the whole family.  We hope to see you soon!

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Sound Conversations: Learn how we #stopsucking with Dune Ives on May 17

Do you know where the plastic straw you used in your iced latte or soda goes after you toss it in the trash? Many end up in landfills but others end up as part of the growing problem around single-use plastics polluting the ocean.

Last year the Seattle Aquarium helped launch the Strawless in Seattle initiative—a one month campaign to encourage local restaurant owners and consumers to #stopsucking by giving up single-use plastic straws.

The initiative, which was organized by the Lonely Whale Foundation, challenged as many as 500 local businesses to give up their plastic straws in an effort to promote ocean health. The result was an estimated 2.3 million single-use plastic straws being removed from circulation.

We are proud to announce that one of the lead architects of this effort and executive director of the Lonely Whale Foundation, Dune Ives, will be joining us as part of our Sound Conversation Series in May.

Dune has been championing ocean conservation initiatives for more than a decade and more recently has been working to raise awareness and drive measurable impact around single-use plastics. Prior to joining Lonely Whale, Dune was the head of Paul Allen’s Vulcan Philanthropy and led the Great Elephant Census, Global Fin Print, Smart Catch, and the BLM Coal Leasing Program PEIS lawsuit.

The Aquarium was proud to be part of the Strawless in Seattle campaign and is trying to do its part by reducing the number of single-use plastics used throughout our facility. Our Sound Conversations event with Dune will be discussing some key drivers of environmental degradation and species decline throughout the world, and continued efforts to get more people to #stopsucking.

Our talk-show-style conservation event will be taking place on Thursday, May 17 at 7pm (reception); 7:30pm program begins, and will be hosted by Jeff Renner.  Tickets are $25 per person/$20 Aquarium Members/$10 students. Click here for more details and to register.

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