Fog is a frequent visitor to Seattle and I usually enjoy it. Sometimes I take my camera and dash out before the fog begins to lift. On a recent December morning, I awoke to find pea-soup fog obscuring the view.
I decided to go down by the water, across from the downtown skyline. Only, this morning, there was no skyline! Imagine how it would appear, looking across Puget Sound to where the city is – or used to be!
The scene reminded me of a fond memory of taking a Zodiac in Scotland across a bay to the Isle of May. We started out in thick fog. We could not even see the island. But as we neared the island, the fog lifted and there it was.
Back to the foggy day in Seattle. It was a quiet, damp and chilly morning. Along with the fog, frost had covered some surfaces overnight. Shades of gray stitched together land and sea, with puffs of fog occasionally floating over the water.
A few distant lights broke through along the docks.
The only signs of life included a few cormorants, geese, and pigeons.
Humans included several determined anglers lined up on the dock, intent on hooking squid, and a few people boarding the Water Taxi for the commute over the water to the disappeared city.
I took a close look at one squid pulled out by an angler and placed on a bench. It was exquisite, still wriggling and struggling to live.
Its skin was surprisingly colorful and pearly, sprinkled with tiny colorful spots like confetti.
I could not imagine killing and eating these intelligent fascinating creatures, especially out of that heavily used port. But the fishermen were happily loading their buckets.
Last June, I roamed the shores of Puget Sound during a super low tide. I spent my time on the harbor side of West Seattle, facing downtown. The scene was memorable and photogenic, with blue sky and white clouds, reflections in pools of water.
This year I decided not to try to repeat those images and instead chose to experience the lowest tide around the bend to the south, where people go to look for marine life and volunteer beach naturalists are present to identify creatures.
I guess it’s the moon phase and summer tilt of the earth that produces these low tides. Lucky for us, that’s a better time to explore near the water’s edge than winter!
During these super low tides, I’d say the tide goes out at least twice as far as it usually does, if not more. This is when Mother Nature reveals the hidden world that exists beneath the sea, and hordes of people young and old come out to witness the spectacle.
I went down for a -3.4 ft. tide, and saw some exciting creatures. For the first time, I found a small fish, a gunnel.
Gunnels are long and narrow, similar to eels. This one was a saddleback gunnel, Pholis ornate, about four inches long, though they can get to about 11 inches long.
I learned that they are found close to shore areas, on mud bottoms among eelgrass and seaweed, and that they feed on small mollusks and crustaceans. The pattern on its skin made me think of a snake.
I searched for and found several chitons clinging to rocks, though their lovely shell shapes and patterns were completely obscured by coats of seaweed. A stunning find was a “gumboot” chiton, Cryptochitonstelleri, which reminded me of shelf fungi I see growing on logs.
If it grew above ground, you’d easily mistake it for fungus. Someone had spotted it way under a rock and asked a volunteer what it was. It was huge, as far as any chitons I have seen. In fact, it is the largest chiton in the world, reaching up to 13 inches in length. It has a reddish leathery exterior that covers its shell plates, unlike smaller chitons. How lucky was I to see it!
There were plenty of anemones, with the large bright reddish ones screaming for attention. They come in many shapes and sizes.
If you were going to make a horror film with sea creatures, anemones would surely be the stars. Remember the movie, The Blob? Exactly. With their slime-like glistening amorphous bodies, they stick to rocks and seem to ooze down to the ground.
The larger ones take on these stretchy shapes, while the smaller species are circular masses that can be easily overlooked among the wet sand.
Stars and Cucumbers
Also looking soft and squishy were the many bright orange sea cucumbers. They are not large, but easy to spot.
Another orange creature was the delicate looking blood star, Henricia leviuscula, with its narrow rays. It was much smaller than the beefy brown mottled sea star, Evasterias troschelli. This guy eats clams, shells, snails, chitons, barnacles and sea squirts.
Nudibranchs are among the most colorful of undersea creatures. Although the magnificent Opalescent sea slug can be found in Puget Sound, on this day, all we saw were bland beige ones of the genus Doris. They were like big flat worms.
There are many kinds of sea weed along the shore, and one visitor even sampled one!
With all the commercial tanker traffic, ferries and other vessels, I’m not sure I’d eat anything from that particular body of water.
Always my favorite, a moon snail clung inside its beautiful shell. These gastropods have been called “voracious predators” of clams.
The snail envelopes the clam with its big foot and then drills a hole in the clam shell. Through the hole, it slowly sucks out the clam.
a bridge composed of several small spans for crossing a valley, dry or wetland, or forming an overpass or flyover. (Wikipedia)
a long elevated roadway usually consisting of a series of short spans supported on arches, piers, or columns. (Merriam-Webster)
Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct certainly was that. Unlike its more picturesque cousins around the world, this viaduct was not built of stone and did not have attractive arches. It was not a thing of beauty.
It was purely functional. Built of concrete and steel in 1953, it had two levels, one going north, and one going south. It stretched about two miles along the waterfront, affording very pleasant views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.
That’s the thing that will be most missed by drivers. The views.
The elevated roadway reached the end of its useful life, helped along by the Nisqually earthquake in 2001, which damaged the viaduct. Ever since then, the roadway was closed for a couple days every six months for safety inspections. It was slowly sinking, but every inspection gave the A-OK for it to continue to be used.
However, the debate about how to replace it spanned more than a decade. The final determination was that a tunnel would be built and the viaduct would come down.
After years of drilling the tunnel, the day of reckoning has finally come, a little behind the original schedule. The viaduct has been closed forever, and it’s three weeks till the new tunnel opens.
What are commuters and drivers to do? Take public transit and have a lot of patience!
Happily, I no longer have to commute. But two days into the new age, I ventured downtown by bus to have a look and take some pictures. What I found was a scene of tranquility. If it could only last.
The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise came to Seattle recently for a visit. The ship was touring the Salish Sea and working with the Puyallup Nation to raise awareness about a liquefied natural gas facility being built in Tacoma, the ancestral lands of the Puyallup. The LNG plant and the Trans Mountain Pipeline threaten the health of the Salish Sea, the waters that surround Tacoma, Seattle, and up into Canada.
Arctic Sunrise is one of three Greenpeace ships that ply the waters worldwide; the other two are the Rainbow Warrior and Esperanza.
While they take actions to protect our marine ecosystems, they also visit ports to meet local people, learn about their environmental issues and educate people about actions they can take to make their communities healthier and more sustainable.
Three years earlier, I had a memorable experience visiting the flagship of Greenpeace, the Rainbow Warrior, when it stopped in Seattle. So, I was excited to learn that the Arctic Sunrise was coming!
An ironic tale told by a crew member: the ship was once a whaling boat! It became available for sale, and Greenpeace eyed it for a new fleet addition. The seller refused to sell it to a group that fights whaling. Greenpeace set up a third party to buy the boat, and the deed was accomplished! Hurrah!
The ship is an icebreaker, has a “rounded keelless hull” (for those of you who like tech specs), and can land a helicopter.
From the Greenpeace website:
In 1997, The Arctic Sunrise became the first ship to circumnavigate James Ross Island in the Antarctic, a previously impossible journey until a 200m thick ice shelf connecting the island to the Antarctic continent collapsed. This was just one of the many signs of climate change which the Arctic Sunrise has helped document.
In 1999, a Japanese whaling ship rammed the Arctic Sunrise while Greenpeace was peacefully protesting its illegal whaling around Antarctica. Fortunately, no crew members were injured.
Aside from their own research, Greenpeace sometimes assists scientists with accessing remote areas.
In 2009, the ship supported a researcher from Cambridge University who was documenting changes in Arctic ice volumes and thickness, as part of climate change studies.
Greenpeace is known for hanging large banners at protests and confronting illegal whaling, but the staff is also respected for conducting serious scientific research. I volunteered in the Washington, DC, office many years ago, and I know how dedicated the staff is.
If you ever get a chance to visit a Greenpeace vessel, I highly recommend it!