Sunday, June 15, 2014

Minus tide brings wildlife up close

Crabbers at Sequalitchew beach with Anderson Island in background.

Spring and summer on Puget Sound bring opportunities to see creatures normally far away or underwater. Although I grew up 45 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, I don't remember anyone talking about "minus tides" the way people do here in the Northwest. A feature article in The Olympian (Olympia, WA) in early June detailed special beach presentations by area naturalist and marine biologists.

Shore crabs and barnacles
A minus tide is an unusually low tide. Yesterday, there was a -3.4 ft. tide - so low, it looked like you could walk across Puget Sound to Anderson Island.

Thousands of tiny shore crabs - most no larger than 1 inch - scrambled from quickly drying beach pebbles to small tidepools. Starfish (sea stars), tube worms, whelks, limpets, mussels, and baracles emerge from water that's normally several feet deep.

Great blue herons, bald eagles, and seagulls - normally not in each other's company - are all present for the minus tide feast.

Bald eagle, seagull, and great blue heron

Minus tides are about the only times it's possible to walk east to the Nisqually delta from Sequalitchew Creek trail in DuPont. If you're a photographer, though, what's challenging is getting back to higher ground before the tide comes back in. We did pretty well, but still managed to slog back up the trail with wet hiking boots.

There are lots of springs that feed Sequalitchew Creek and trickle into Puget Sound from the hillside. It makes for slow careful walking over watery and seaweed-slicked rocks.

Beach walk at 1 p.m.
Tide coming in about 3:20 p.m. Cement barge wreck in background.

Creatures normally underwater didn't have to wait too long. A nearly 15-foot high tide was expected after 8 p.m. Two hours after the minus tide peaked, the water level was rising to once again submerge the resident sea stars.

Several images from minus tides in the past can be viewed in my Low Tide Gallery.


  1. Very nice Kate, great back story to go with the photos. I love being able to get out to places many people don't go. It is such thrill to see things you've only heard about.

    1. Thanks Rob. I suspect the Chesapeake was like Puget Sound once upon a time.