Results tagged “Goat Rock” from PlanetGreen.org

Tide Pooling In California and Oregon

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tidepools.jpgBefore we went to California, we'd never seen a tide pool. We'd been to Galveston, which had a lot of broken glass as well as some seashells. We'd been to Normandy, and seen mussels and sand dollars on the beach. We'd been to Cannes, and played on a beach where we'd seen crabs and gotten shells as souvenirs... but not in tide pools.

During our stay in California, we lived in the Coast Range in the middle of the wine country; to travel anywhere we had to drive through vineyards. If we drove for approximately forty minutes, we got to the shore. But just finding a beach we liked was difficult.

The first time we went beach-hunting, it was evening and growing cold. The wind was blowing, yet even on a not-so-nice day the beach was rather crowded. We had to turn around. Other beaches were either fenced off, private property, or, like one secluded cove of red seaweed, smelled terrible.

Finally, we were driving along the green-spotted, scenic drive Highway 1 and looking for a sign reading "Goat Rock." When we spied the wooden plaque, we turned onto a dirt road (potholes included) and drove for about half a mile. We parked in front of the huge boulder, wondering how the beach had gotten its wacky name. Here was the Rock part, but the Goat's origin was unknown. It could have been named because the explorer who named it saw a goat in the rock (like Stevenson, in "Silverado Squatters," who saw a lion in a rock). Maybe it was because goats used to live on the rock. It's possible that it was because the explorer's pet goat found the rock. Or that the explorer was just crazy about goats. It's hard to tell.

Whatever the reason, we frequently went to Goat Rock. Once, we walked to the beach's "end," the distant rocks with small pools of water in them. We couldn't find any life, however, except for some green, orange, and pink seaweed that looked like the giant kelp washed up on the shore in miniature. Another time, we found some beached bat stars, a species of sea stars (more commonly incorrectly called starfish). I didn't pick one up, but Katrianna dared to.

To see actual tide pool life, however, we swam against the tide of the school groups, going to a beach where no one but ourselves was tide pooling, unlike our Shell Beach experience, where even on a cloudy day a troop of kids were listening to a lecture about the animals found in the pools. Because of Mom's planning, we knew that Salt Point State Park's Gerstle Cove was supposed to be a good place to see tide pools.

It turned out that it was. Once we'd parked, we walked down the path, merging with a paved road that lead down to the cove. The tiny patch of sand was dotted with many cute little crabs scuttling in and out of their holes.

Looking into our first tide pool, a puddle in a rock, we viewed our first sea anemone. Climbing over a few rocks, we saw another tide pool with some hermit crabs, several crabs of various sizes that didn't have the snail shell that characterizes the hermit crabs (like the ones on the beach), a pickle-like sea cucumber, and a sea star.

I was scared by the huge, ugly insects called rock lice that crept around on the rocks. Mom said that they were a natural protection for the tide pools, but that did not make me think more highly of the prehistoric-like creatures, and I continued to scratch, thinking one was catching a ride on me.

We saw fish, sea stars that were purple with white polka-dots, a sea star that was orange, lots of crabs, two sea stars "kissing," a green sea star no bigger than a quarter, and many more anemones. Herring gulls flew about, swooping or perching on rocks. That was our best tide pooling experience -- we saw all of the creatures on the plaque except for the bat stars, which we'd seen at Goat Rock.

When we were on a trip to Oregon, we saw the ending point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, including where they'd climbed to a beach, now called Cannon Beach, to see a beached whale. While we were looking at the fish swimming around in the tide pools, the barnacles clinging to the rocks, and the green seaweed overhanging the pools and snapping pictures, a tide swept up. I ran to safety as quickly as I could and only the edge of my shoe got wet. Mom and Katrianna stood on rocks while the tide drenched them six inches up. At Goat Rock, a sign said to always be careful of berm tides.  Berm tides can be dangerous and even carry people out to sea, but this one preferred soaking people. That was our last tide pooling adventure... and by far the wettest.

Harboring Harbor Seals

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harborseal.jpgThere's a good reason why the harbor seal is also called the "common seal." They're found all over the northern hemisphere's coastlines, in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and throughout the North and Baltic seas. They are also the most widespread pinniped, a term which refers to true seals, eared seals (sea lions and fur seals), and walruses. (Neither true seals nor walruses have ear flaps, known as pinnas.)

Harbor seals are true seals. They have small flippers that do not rotate and consequently have a hard time moving around on land. They rely on layers of blubber for warmth, buoyancy, and extra energy. The blubber also allows the seal's skin to be the temperature of the water surrounding it, while their core temperature, or how warm they are inside, is 100° F. They have large eyes, but most scientists think that their color vision is very bad, if existent. Harbor seals have better eyesight than humans underwater, but worse on land. Since blind seals have been found with pups in the ocean, scientists believe that sight is unimportant to harbor seals. Although they usually stay closer to the surface and come up for air once in ever three to seven minutes, they can dive 1,500 feet underwater and stay submerged for 40 minutes! Mostly, these seals catch fish, but sometimes when they've gone that deep they'll eat shrimp, crabs, mollusks, octopods, and squids.

Harbor seals spend approximately half of their time in the ocean, and the other half on land. Although they typically stay in the water only when feeding, they have been known to sleep in the water, too. Places where they regularly rest on land are called "haulouts," and the process of a seal climbing up onto the land is called "hauling out." Unfortunately, if people repeatedly disturb them they will abandon their haulouts or even their babies. Sometimes, seals dart into the sea as soon as they see or hear people. That's why beaches often post signs warning people to stay at least 100 feet away from the seals and use binoculars or cameras. Goat Rock Beach suggests 150. The Point Reyes National Seashore website advises visitors to come no closer than 300 feet.

To attract a mate, male seals will form a group, put their heads together and call the females. It is thought that the females select the strongest males. Although they can be seen at any time of the year, the best time to view harbor seals in California is probably from February to April, when they are having their babies. In the Arctic, they may wait until July! Young seals are called pups and usually born with a spotted coat. If you see a pup with a white coat, called a lanugo, it was born prematurely. (In the Arctic, the pups are born with the white fur but molt soon afterwards.)

sealsgoatrock2.jpgHarbor seals haul out on many beaches. We saw them in February on California's Goat Rock beach. (The origin of Goat Rock's name is disputed. There is a very large rock connected to the beach by a thin strip of land, and the most popular theory states that goats used to be permitted to graze on the rock because they were the only species surefooted enough to climb it.)

The Californian or Pacific harbor seal is a subspecies of harbor seal found along the entire coastline of California. In the San Francisco bay, some seals appear reddish. This unusual coloration is thought to result from tiny quantities of elements, such as iron or selenium, in the water.

Some field guides make it sound like it is very difficult to tell a harbor seal from a sea lion, but it is actually very simple. Harbor seals are usually light gray, and sea lions are dark brown. The sea lion is able to flip its flippers forward so that it can walk on land. For the most part, the seals lie on the beach, while the sea lions sit up on their front flippers and grunt. Additionally, studying a photo of any animal beforehand will help you identify it in the field.

The worldwide population of harbor seals is five or six million. Hunting seals is illegal throughout most of their range, but certain subspecies are threatened. Besides people disturbing them on beaches, the seals are caught in fishing nets and hit by boats. They are endangered by chemicals dumped in the water or released by power plants. Diseases such as the phocine distemper also threatened them. And while it is illegal in the United States to hunt harbor seals, if a seal is thought to endanger a fishery it can legally be killed. Happily, however, the numbers of harbor seals have been rising on the east coast of the US, and some have even been spotted in Florida. With care, these seals will continue to haul out throughout their widespread range.

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