The Tallon family came to Titlow Beach around 10.30am Wednesday looking for a live octopus.
Three-year-old Declan was especially eager to see one. His 5-year-old sister Parker and mother Madelyn had spotted a sand dollar-sized octopus and a larger one eaten by a seagull during a previous shore walk they both had done ; but neither he, nor his father Mitch, nor his 5-month-old brother Bennett had ever seen an eight-tentacled sea creature in the wild.
“That’s what he’s been talking about all morning,” Madelyn said. “He tried to see one.”
The family, like others in Pierce County, decided to travel to Titlow when they discovered that a unique lunar position in the moon’s 18.6-year orbit around Earth would lead to abnormally low tides in Puget Sound Wednesday morning and afternoon. As a Lakewood resident and Tacoma native, Madelyn knew that this particular beach would provide her children with plenty of opportunities to view marine life.
“I grew up here off Sunset, and this was the beach we went to all the time,” Madelyn said. “It’s just rockier and there are more natural tide pools.”
Parents arrived over the next hour with curious children looking for surprises. The Tallon children wandered along the shore, spotting bright red crabs and clams squirting water above their heads. But neither they nor their parents spotted an octopus.
Then, around 11:30 a.m., News Tribune photographer Tony Overman and I were walking north when Overman suddenly stopped and said, “Look at this!” Right next to us, about 30 feet inland from the shore, lay a sprawling translucent octopus. Knowing the Tallons had been looking for an octopus all morning, we called them to take a look at the sea creature.
“Can you see its tentacles, Parker?” Madelyn said as her daughter looked at the animal. “They are afraid of us, remember.”
To prevent the octopus from being eaten, Madelyn and Mitch decided to bring the animal back to the water. Madelyn pushed the creature into a bucket of neon green plastic sand, which stuck her hand to one of its tentacles.
“I don’t know how to get him to go now that he’s got me,” Madelyn said. “He’s kind of giving me a high-five, I think.”
Even in the bucket, the octopus remained attached to Madelyn’s hand until the family reached the edge of the sea. Once in the water, Madelyn, Parker and Bennett each made gentle attempts to release it. in water. The creature, no longer attached to anyone’s hand, remained in the bucket for most attempts, but eventually chose to return to the Sound.
For Madelyn, tidal experiences like Wednesday’s are both a reason to be grateful for a shared family memory and a warning about the impact humans have had on the Sound’s marine life.
“I notice a lot less wildlife,” she said. “Like we used to come and there were sea anemones everywhere.”
As climate change, pollution and invasive species threaten the Sound’s biodiversity on a macro level, Madelyn knows that individuals can also harm animals. It’s one of the reasons she and Mitch taught their children how to interact with wildlife before they came to Titlow.
“Kids grew up learning the rules of whatever you turn over, you put back in to maintain the environment and maintain their space,” she said. “We try to take advantage of it but let it.”
Pierce County residents had another opportunity to see the Sound’s exceptionally low tides on Thursday afternoon. According to Tide-Forecast.com, the waters were expected to recede throughout the day until bottoming out around 1 p.m.
For families who were unable to participate in this week’s low tides, these organizations will be providing free opportunities to interact with local marine life throughout the summer:
Tacoma Ocean Festival
▪ Beach walks led by marine biologists (tours will meet near the Ocean Fest flags).
▪ Saturday, June 18 beach walk: 2 p.m.-3 p.m. at Dash Point Beach.
▪ Sunday, June 19 beach walk: 3-4 p.m. at Titlow Beach.
“[The marine biologists] actually did a lot of education and are just fabulous not only at spotting hard to spot creatures and identifying them but also at attracting people and making them very curious and passionate about learning what’s on the beach and what’s going on in the ocean,” said Rosemary Ponnekanti, Tacoma Ocean Fest Director.
Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium and Metro Parks Tacoma
▪ Explore the shoreline at Owen Beach. Friday June 17 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Friday July 15 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and Friday August 12 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
▪ Tiptoe around the tidal pools of Titlow Beach. Saturday June 18 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday July 14 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and Thursday August 11 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“We’re really excited to be looking for octopuses,” said Zachary Hawn, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium’s conservation engagement coordinator. “They’re usually a little lower in the tide line, so we’re hoping for octopuses, moon snails, and other fish that are a little harder to see when the tide is higher, like mossy-headed warbonnets and the north own fish.”
Tacoma Public Library
▪ Wednesday, July 13 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Jack Hyde Park in partnership with Harbor WildWatch.
▪ Saturday, July 16 from 12:30 p.m. to 2 p.m. at Titlow Beach in partnership with the Tacoma Nature Center (registration required before July 15).
“It’s a perfect tie in with the theme of this year’s summer reading club at the Tacoma Public Library, because the theme is an ocean of possibilities,” said Maria Shackles, director of Neighborhood Services at the public library. from Tacoma. “We know this topic is something that really resonates with our visitors, and we’re thrilled to be working with these two nonprofit groups who are truly focused on education.”
This story was originally published June 16, 2022 5:00 a.m.