Know your beach—this week from the beach

#3 in the 2019 series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.

Photo of Aquarium and salmon walkway


Did you know that there is an amazing beach to explore at low tide in downtown Seattle, just a 20-minute walk from the Seattle Aquarium? The Olympic Sculpture Park pocket beach is one of my favorites. It may be small, but it’s packed with life, and I always see wonderfully unique animals there as well as our common intertidal superstars. As you walk south to the Sculpture Park pocket beach, notice the translucent bricks in the sidewalk along the way. These let light in so salmon can feel safe and welcome underneath your feet. That’s right, there may be salmon swimming below you along the way. How wonderful is that?


Habitat bench


In 2007, this little park underwent a big renovation. Shoreline armoring was removed, a shallow beach was created, native plants were planted and a habitat bench, pictured above, was built. All these changes were made to return this shoreline area back to a more natural habitat to help juvenile salmon, kelp, forage fish and other fish and marine invertebrates. This site has been monitored ever since the renovation, and it has proven to be a great success. That in itself is enough reason to love this little beach on our downtown waterfront. Then there are the unique critters you might encounter at low tide...


Berthella pleurobranch


This beauty is a Berthella californica. Related to nudibranchs, these pleurobranchs have their gills on the side of their bodies as well as an internal shell. I’ve never seen them on any of our other beaches.


Spiny pink scallop


You can always find beautiful spiny pink scallops at the pocket beach. These lovelies can swim by clapping their shells open and shut. If you’re lucky, you might get to see one open up and show you its iridescent eye spots. It pays off to slow down and observe animals for a while to see what they do.


Chiton on a rock


You can find all kinds of chitons at the pocket beach, but this is one of my favorites. This is a Merten’s chiton. They are small and pinkish in color, and they have the coolest, art deco-style plates at the end of their bodies.






Although it looks like a clam, this animal is completely unique! This is a transverse lamp shell. Their inner anatomy is totally different than a clam’s. They have a horseshoe-shaped feeding tube, with a crown of tentacles, called a lophophore, tucked into their shell plates and a “stalk” they use to attach to the rocks. They have been around for millions of years and they live right here in downtown Seattle!




If you look closely at the rocks, you might find some colonial tunicates. These animals are more closely related to us than any other animal on the beach! They have a larval, “tadpole” stage where they have a primitive nerve cord, just like us vertebrates. When they find a place to settle down, they attach their head to the surface and absorb their nerve cord to help build their permanent home.




The Olympic Sculpture Park pocket beach is the place to find sea urchins. They love to tuck into the rocky shoreline.


Lion's mane jelly


There are always jellies to be found at the pocket beach, big and small. This rather large lion's mane jelly was swept into the tide pools at the habitat bench. This species is one of the largest in the world, capable of growing a bell over six feet in diameter!


Salt and pepper cucumber


There are loads of orange burrowing sea cucumbers at this beach, but it’s the salt and pepper sea cucumbers that steal the show. This is another animal that we don't normally see at our other beaches.


Keyhole limpet


You will find a variety of snails from small to large. This keyhole limpet was sporting an extra-fancy, barnacle-encrusted shell.


Beach naturalists on the beach


We get very excited about sharing all of these wonderful animals with people who visit us on this beach from all over the world! I’ll leave you with more photos of some other animals you might encounter on a visit to the Olympic Sculpture Park pocket beach. Make sure to keep tagging your low tide finds on social media with #beachnaturalist and #seattleaquarium! Can't wait to see you on the beach soon.


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