Whatcom tidal pool enthusiasts can rejoice: exceptionally low tides caused by a swing in the moon’s orbit mean large numbers of sea creatures will be more visible than usual on Wednesday June 15 and Thursday June 16 June.
Low tides at this time of year typically hover around -2 to -3 feet, anything below that is considered ‘extreme’, said Casey Cook, facilities coordinator at the Marine Life Center at Bellingham Port. .
Wednesday’s low tide in Bellingham at 12:22 p.m. is expected to be -3.71 feet, and Thursday’s low tide at 1:11 p.m. is -3.56 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It doesn’t seem like a big difference, but it’s a lot,” Cook said. “It will expose animals that we don’t see as often and more.”
This includes sea cucumbers, starfish, snails, crabs, shrimp, fish and the chiton, an ancient type of marine mollusk that Cook describes as “essentially living fossils”.
Friday’s low tide at 2:01 p.m. is forecast to be -3.03ft, with Bellingham’s low tide returning to normal on Saturday at -2.17ft.
The tides are influenced by the moon’s orbit around Earth, and the cause of this week’s exceptionally low tides is that the 18.6-year lunar nodal cycle is approaching the bottom of its cycle in 2025.
Tidal Pooling Tips
Fairhaven Marine Park is a prime spot to embark on a tidal pooling adventure during these exceptionally low tides, Cook said. She recommends beachgoers head left along the shore facing the water, following the railroad.
The park is home to an eelgrass estuary, making it an ideal nursery for salmon, Dungeness crab, and flatfish like plaice. There are also clams that can squirt water up to three feet high.
“This time of year, a lot of things are laying eggs on the eelgrass,” Cook said.
There are currently spawning pipefish in the seagrass of the marine park. This cousin of the seahorse is “very charismatic” and loved by children, Cook said. Tidal poolers may also see the gunnell, an eel-like fish, and the midget plainfin.
“They’re named that because they look like they have shiny buttons, like a vintage midshipman,” Cook said.
Sea creatures left exposed by exceptionally low tides will attract more birds to beaches. The marine park is next to Post Point Heron Colony, the only known heron nesting site in Bellingham, and there are a pair of bald eagles living in the conifers above the park, Cook said.
There are also thousands of sand dollars at the marine park, she said.
Other prime locations for the tidal pool include Semiahmoo Park in Blaine, where Cook said a number of local school classrooms were heading on Wednesday, as well as Birch Bay, which has at both sandy and rocky areas to explore.
Another option is Larrabee State Park, where beachgoers can often find large families of starfish.
“It takes extreme tide to see things in Larrabee,” Cook said.
For the best experience, hopeful poolers should arrive at the beach one to two hours before low tide, Cook said. The waters rise quickly after low tide and many animals do not want to be caught in the returning tide as it can make the water cloudy with turbidity.
People should be gentle with any sea creatures they find and leave everything as they found it, Cook said. Walk around eelgrass beds rather than crossing them, she recommends. Eelgrass is a plant, and once it’s uprooted, it doesn’t just come down and take root again.
While it’s not illegal to bring rocks and shells back from Washington beaches, they create important habitat for sea creatures. When old shells break down, they inject calcium back into the ecosystem, allowing the next generation of animals to build their own shells, Cook said.
“You’re stealing the animal’s chemistry for its biological needs,” she said.
The weather forecast for the next few days is ideal for tidal pooling: cool, but no driving rain. When temperatures are too high at low tide, it can kill intertidal organisms unable to survive such heat. But too much rain can send critters retreating to deeper, saltier waters, where they’re harder to spot.
“It’s the perfect week to have those low tides,” Cook said.
There’s a lot of plankton in the water this time of year, which can attract jellyfish, and Cook recommends people avoid swimming. She recommends wearing rain boots or closed-toe sandals to protect against sharp barnacles.
If people are wearing sunscreen that could wash off in the water, it should be reef-safe, Cook said.
This story was originally published June 15, 2022 12:20 p.m.