This Winter, Find Yourself in a Tide Pool with Birch Aquarium

Rock ridge at Dike Rock.

Rock ridge at Dike Rock, one of the spots Birch Aquarium will take you on a tidepooling adventure. Photo: Kate Jirik

 By Kate Jirik, Birch Aquarium naturalist

Dec. 12, 2012—Steel-colored clouds blowing toward the coast bring home the invigorating feeling that winter has arrived in San Diego. Fortunately, the impending rainstorm seems to be holding off, because today boasts one of the lowest tides of the year.

Only during winter does San Diego experience such extreme low tides during daylight hours. In dramatic fashion, the height of the ocean will fluctuate more than nine feet today, rushing from extreme high to extreme low. The curious beach-goer cannot pass up this chance to survey areas where the seashore is inundated most of the year. Waves are gently breaking; conditions are ideal for tidepooling.

Dike Rock, a tidepooling site near Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is a local favorite. One of its distinguishing features is a rocky ridge at the south edge, which must be traversed to explore the main tide pool. Footholds worn smooth in the rock are a physical memory of countless “explorers” who have crossed this threshold.

Spanish shawl nudibranch

Spanish shawl nudibranch (Flabellina iodinea). The name of this shell-less snail is inspired by its bright colors and flamboyant swimming style. Most nudibranchs attain their color from pigments in their food; in this case, hydroids (relatives of jellyfish). Photo: Kate Jirik

A chorus of crackling barnacles signals that the water has reached the extent of its retreat, tugged to extreme by a new moon. Eye-catching purple and orange Spanish shawl sea slugs attract much attention from tide-poolers. These visitors to Dike Rock are, in turn, being eyed by skittish Spotted Sandpipers teetering up-and-down on straw-like legs and calling out peet-weet! Nearby, wading shorebirds are busy inspecting seaweed mats for tasty invertebrate morsels. A stringy, green curtain of surfgrass shields an ochre sea star with amethyst-hued skin from crashing waves. ›

Tide pools are filled with little movements. Many of the animals here anchor in place (permanently or until the tide covers them again), or go to great lengths to hide. Recognizing the full diversity of life in a tide pool can be difficult because the human eye is attuned to movement. “That’s an animal? You mean it’s alive?” Knowing what to look for and moving thoughtfully opens this community up to you. Let the eye wander.

A Willet (front) and Whimbrel (behind)

A Willet (front) and Whimbrel (behind) stalk invertebrates among green surfgrass and red sea lace algae. Photo: Kate Jirik

Enjoying a tide pool is less like watching a dance performance and more like strolling through an art gallery. Slowing down is to your benefit. If you rush, you miss the experience.

Join Birch Aquarium at Scripps naturalists this winter for excursions to Dike Rock and False Point. Their knowledge and enthusiasm for these places will give you a richer perspective on the animals and seaweeds that call San Diego home. We look forward to making winter memories with you!

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  • Karyl C
    January 9, 2013 at 9:29 pm

    What a great post! Thank you for an interesting, well-written reminder to get out and enjoy our local treasures. Love the photos too!

  • Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego