Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 23: West Port Madison

An interesting day and a fantastic new find for me, sea butterflies (see photos at right). Hard to believe they're real, these little molluscs are less than an inch long and they flap around slowly like lazy gelatinous butterflies of the sea.

It's Corolla spectabilis, the spectacular corolla, a type of sea butterfly or pteropod. The wing plate is flapped down in the upper photo and flapped up in the lower photo (right).

Pteropods have been much in the news lately, the subject of fears that they'll dissolve in our future acidifying ocean. They're essential food for salmon and other ocean animals, and their shells are likely to suffer from CO2 causing ocean pH values to lower (becomming more acidic).

A real reward for splashing through some choppy water. Here's a photo of a spectacular corolla and a description

air temp: 46F
water temp: 44F
March 29, 12 noon, mostly sunny
wind 5-10 mph from the n
medium tide, falling
visibility 5-15 feet
today's distance: 1.19 mile
total so far: 25.42 miles

today's notables:
sea butterflies (spectacular corolla-a pteropod which is a type of swimming snail)
crabs, one eating a moon snail
laughing loon
harbor seals

Strange weather today, it was calm at the South end of Bainbridge Island, and when I get up to the north end where I want to swim I find a nastly little onshore wind of 10 mph creating choppy whitecaps and roiling the water. I'll go into the water anyway, despite less-than-ideal waves beating on the shore.

Access is difficult up here, there are no shoreline roads that go from where I'm getting it to where I'm getting out. I have to rely on walking the shore which is nice if it works. Halfway along, I can tell I'll make it to the entry point. This is a fine sandy beach, it should be fun to swim back.

I find a nice field of worms on the beach, little tubes sticking up out of the sand. At low tide they're uncovered and visible to a person on shore(right).

Walking to get in, I scare 6 harbor seals off a floating dock, wonder if I'll see them again later?

I get in the water at the entrance to Madison Bay, and start pounding into the small waves. The slapping and pushing of the waves makes me work to keep rhythym and progress, catching my arm sometimes and stopping progress or splashing water into my snorkel. It feels like the 4-wheel drive version of ocean swimming. Big swells are easier, chop is a pain. Some of the time I duck my head a bit underwater, put my arms at my sides and just kick and work my body to drive through the waves. It seems almost as fast as a crawl stroke.

I hear a loon laughing at me and I keep looking around but never see the darn bird. Is it laughing at my plight swimming like a clod in this choppy water?

It's animal-eat-animal day here in West Port Madison. I see a crab eating a moon snail (left), I didn't know they could do that. Later, a literature seach confirms that big rock crabs can crack open the shell of a moon snail.

And...again and again I find crab debris, the dismantled remains of big crabs (right). Is it the seals?

Here's a truly lovely giant plumose anemone, fully unfurled. It's standing alone, over a foot tall (left).

Finally, as I'm getting out, I see more and more sea butterflies (pteropods). They're small but amazing little creatures, flapping away with their wing plates looking like little...well...butterflies in the sea. Amazing, I've never seen them before and today there are hundreds swimming around me.

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