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Minus tides unveil the mysteries of the ocean floor

Shallow pools remain on the sandy bottom revealed by a minus tide at Winchuck Beach.
Shallow pools remain on the sandy bottom revealed by a minus tide at Winchuck Beach.

Tide pooling on the Southern Oregon Coast can be rewarding. A wide variety of sea-based animals and plants can be seen with little or no need for special training or knowledge.

In late spring and early summer, there are an unusual number of extremely low tides, known as “negative tides,” when features usually hidden deep beneath the waves are left visible and, sometimes, touchable.

•Sea stars, also known as starfish, are one of the most commonly seen creatures on the exposed rocks. There are many varieties, from the common ochre star that comes in orange, yellow, purple or red, to the giant, 20-armed sunflower star.

Do not pry stars from rocks, and do not take sea stars from the beach area where they were found. They die quickly and rot, leaving an unpleasant smell.

•Mussels and barnacles are the most common shellfish seen on rocks on the coast. Both species seal their shells during low tides, protecting themselves against the sun and dry air. 

Unless the beach is adjacent to a state park, mussels can be harvested. A shellfish or fishing license is required.  

Mussels can contain paralytic shellfish poison during certain times of the year. Call the Oregon shellfish safety hotline before harvesting clams at 503-986-4728 or 800-448-2474.

•Sea urchins feed on seaweed, and in turn are eaten by sea otters. However, since there is only one known sea otter on the Oregon Coast, in Depoe Bay, sea urchins are very common. They are sometimes trapped within tide pools.

Do not touch sea urchins. Urchins are the “porcupines of the sea.” In some species, the spines are venomous.

•Sea anemones exposed to the air look like gelatinous globules, covered with bits of shells, rock and sand.

However, underwater in tide pools, the anemone is a majestic, often brightly-colored, flower-like creature. Each petal-like tentacle contains a stinger, with which it traps prey, such as shrimp. Very large anemones can even catch sea stars.

The two most common species in Oregon are the brightly-hued giant green anemones, which can reach 10 inches in diameter, and the aggregating anemone, a smaller olive-green species that gathers in large colonies.

Anemones can be fed raw shrimp or other raw seafood.

•Seaweed is often found attached to rocks at the lowest levels of the low tide line. It can be seen in many shades of green, purple and red and comes in many shapes and sizes. Some species are edible.

•Fish and crab are occasionally caught in tide pools. They may bury themselves under the sand, or hide in a crack in rocks. 

Information on Oregon sea creatures and tide pools is courtesy the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. More information can be found at the OPRD  website, www.oregon.gov/OPRD/NATRES/RS_FAQ tide pools.shtml 

Best tide pools in Southern Curry County 

•Harris Beach at Harris Beach State Park

•Pistol River

•north end of Lone Ranch Beach

•south end of Sporthaven Beach

•Whaleshead Beach

•McVay Rock State Recreation Area beach


Tips for tide pooling

•Arrive 1-2 hours before low tide. Many tide pools are visible well before low tide is reached, and it is safer to be on the beach when the tide is going out, than when it is coming in.

•Stay alert for sneaker waves! Never turn your back on the ocean. Sneaker waves are considerably larger than the waves that come before and after, and can travel up beaches for long distances.

•Do not walk out on a long spit. The returning tide or sneaker wave can close up the path back to the beach.

•Don’t climb or walk on rocks with sea life on them. Shellfish can cause nasty cuts, which can become infected. Also, many sea creatures may be hiding under seaweed and can be crushed and killed, even by the weight of a child. 


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