Respecting Intertidal Life

seagull copyBeing a polite guest at the beach is your best approach to keeping intertidal creatures alive and well. Here are tips on how to be a good visitor while at the beach:

  • Walking carefully around tidepools and barnacle-covered rocks. Barnacles are living animals and your weight can crush them. Tidepools are important nurseries and safety zones for marine life, so stomping around in one—even if you don’t see anything—can also harm living things.
  • Using wet and gentle hands. If you pick up any sea creatures, wet your hands in seawater before you touch or handle them. You have oils on your skin that are foreign and may be harmful to sea life. Lifting them from their home may cause stress or wreck their home, making it impossible for them to protect themselves or hide from predators. Don’t pry creatures off of rocks, as it may kill them.
  • Replacing rocks. Looking under rocks and seaweed is part of the surprise and mystery of being at the beach. Be sure to lift rocks carefully, so you don’t crush anything underneath. Replace rocks exactly the way you found them, since many small organisms live under rocks and seaweed to protect themselves from air, sun, and predators. Leaving them uncovered destroys their home and possibly them, too.
  • Leaving plants where you find them. Seaweed, eelgrass, and other plants in the water and on the beach provide erosion control, food, shelter, places to spawn and lay eggs, and protection from heat and cold. When walking on the beach, wading along the shoreline, or dragging your boat or kayak into the water, try not to disturb or squash plants.
  • Protecting forage fish habitat. Forage fish are small fish like herring, sardines, and anchovies that provide food for other fish, birds, and marine mammals. They fill a critically important role in the food web and are important to the stability of salmon populations. We have six kinds of forage fish and three depend on local beaches for their survival. Surf smelt and sand lance actually spawn and lay their eggs on the upper parts of the beach during the higher tides experienced at full moon. Pacific herring rely on eelgrass beds to spawn in. Learn more about protecting eelgrass in Guideline 7.
  • Leaving seal pups alone. In the summer Harbor seal mothers usually give birth to one pup. She will leave the pup alone on the beach while she looks for food. She returns when she has finished her meal to nurse her pup with rich milk. While she is hunting, you may find the pup on the beach looking like it’s abandoned, looking at you with big, sad eyes and often crying for its mother with a sheep-like “ma-a-a”. If you find a seal pup, stay at least 100 yards away and make sure your dogs are leashed and do not harass the pup.

The shy mother may not return to the beach if she sees people or dogs near her baby. She might be forced to nurse the pup at night if people are around during the day. If you think the pup is abandoned, a minimum observation period of 24 – 48 hours is recommended before contacting NOAA’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network (866-767-6114). Harbor seals and all marine mammals are protected from harassment by Federal law under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.