Thursday, December 4, 2008

Day 9: Eagle Harbor

How about a Superfund site to spice up a swim? Or a prehistoric fish not usually seen in shallow water? Today was a fantastic sunny day with light wind and good visibility most of the way. I used two wetsuits to hold out the cold, and some new gloves, and I stayed warm. Even though I felt like I was in a full body cast. It was a nice swim with some strange spotted ratfish, and one disturbing site...

I passed the partially cleaned Superfund toxic waste site where lots of oily goop was found seeping into the ocean as recently as 2006. Nice. It's Bainbridge's worst ocean mess, except maybe lucrative strip mining of shallow sand flats to catch Geoducks. The Wyckoff creosote plant resulted in millions of pounds of creosote contaminating our ocean at this beautiful little sandy beach with a fantastic view of Seattle. Ugh.

Even with all of this ugliness, the sand flats had a wild feel when I pulled around the corner into Eagle Harbor and looked around.

photo at left: Wyckoff Superfund site and Eagle Harbor, taken from the ferry.

photo at right: Bainbridge-Seattle ferry passing Rockaway Beach and entering Eagle Harbor.

air temp: 45F
water temp: 50F
Dec 4, 11:00 am sunny
wind from the NE, 0-5 mph
medium tide, falling
visibility 10-30 feet
today's distance: 1.00 mile
total so far: 8.81 miles

today's notables:
spotted ratfish
superfund site

I got in at the north end of Rockaway Beach, after stumbling down a steep grassy hill, next to an old landslide. I'm wearing my shorty wetsuit under the cracked and torn old full wetsuit. I also bought some new, thicker gloves and I'm wearing my thickest booties.

The bottom is mixed sand and gravel, and lots of shell litter from clams and barnacles, along with a few oysters. I expect Geoducks, but don't find any. Right ahead are the steel walls of the Superfund site, they contain the contaminated soil to limit seepage into the ocean. They make for a very inhospitable shoreline, 10-15 feel of vertical steel walls, for maybe 1/4 mile along the point at the mouth of Eagle Harbor.

I look around quite a bit, I'm close to where boat traffic comes in and out of the biggest harbor on the island. The big boats stay outside the channel buoys, so I stay inside, but I want to watch for small boats. I'm in fairly shallow water and I don't think anybody would come this close to shore, but I'm keeping a watch just to be sure.

Once I'm in the harbor, the bottom shifts to sand, and I wonder how much has been placed to "cap" the toxic sediments from the creosote plant. The "cap" is supposed to keep the toxic mess in place, it's cheaper than trying to dredge the mess and dispose of it, but the whole process is a bit dodgy and prone to problems like movement of the sand that forms the "cap." It's probably the right solution, but it's far from perfect.

Did I say yet that I'm staying nice and warm today? Two wetsuits oughta do it, even though it's hard to move in this body armor. Better than getting cold, I guess.

Further around the corner, I see some strange looking fish on the bottom in about 12-15 feet of water over the sand. I can't identify them from the surface so I dive down and see what looks like a deep-sea fish. Wow. I've never seen anything like them in shallow water, only out the window of a submersible (deep-diving sub), or caught in a deep trawl net. I've been lucky enough to dive down as far as 10,000 feet in the Alvin submersible, at a hydrothermal vent and other interesting deep sea locations.

They're spotted ratfish, also known as a ghost shark or chimaera. These fish have cartilaginous skeletons like sharks and rays, and are mostly found in very deep water. There are a few shallow water species, including this one. Very nice fish, they're copper colored with bright white spots and big eyes, and they're beautiful in today's bright sun. They don't startle very easily, and I can get a really good look. There are at least 10 of them, lurking on the bottom with their heads into the slight tidal current so they look like they're in loose formation. There's a nice picture and comments here, on

These ancient fish are closely related to fish that lived 200 million years ago (ore older), and they have unusual mating habits, including a grasping arm that comes out of the male's forehead and grabs the female like a velcro sticker. The male has "claspers" that trasfer sperm to the female for fertilization, and the female produces just two embryonic offspring that live inside a leathery egg case that eventually gets deposited on the ocean bottom.

I can't believe my luck in finding these fantastic fish!!!! Here's a YouTube video of some spotted ratfish from a nearby location in Puget Sound.

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click blue markers for notes on progress

1 comment:

Katy said...

Very cool! I'd join you but lack the getup ... Am interested to see where you get in and out going further north.