A Treasure Trove in Tidepools

Take a trip with us to Titlow Beach in Tacoma and see what tidepool organisms we find.

What are tides?

Ocean with waves, cliffs and a dead tree.
Incoming tide at Rialto Beach, Washington.

What are tidepools?

Purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus), sea belt (Saccharina latissima), Polysiphona, and California mussel (Mytilus californianus) shells in one tidepool.
Purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus), sea belt (Saccharina latissima), Polysiphona, and California mussel (Mytilus californianus) shells in one tidepool.

Where are tidepools?

Figure 1: This graph shows the different tide zones on Pacific Northwest coastlines and the types of animals you may find in the four different zones (splash zone-low tide zone). Pelagic means open sea and abyssal means deep sea.
Figure 1: This graph shows the different tide zones on Pacific Northwest coastlines and the types of animals you may find in the four different zones (splash zone-low tide zone). Pelagic means open sea and abyssal means deep sea.

What kinds of intertidal life am I likely to find in Washington?

The magenta color on this rock is coralline algae. You can also find many other species in this picture including purple, red, and tan sponge, chitons, sea stars and more.
Gooseneck barnacles are commonly found among California mussles. In the upper right, you may also spot a black leather chiton (Katharina tunicata)
Gooseneck barnacles are commonly found among California mussels. In the upper right, you may also spot a black leather chiton (Katharina tunicata)
You may see giant green anemones clustered together, or as individuals in tidepools.
An ochre sea star shows off its tubular feet while walking across aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima)
Ochre sea stars come in purple, red, and orange.
Sea lettuce along the shoreline of Puget Sound. Credit: Shannon Point Marine Center, Western Washington University.
Purple algae and sponge with oval shaped chitons.
Lined chiton (Tonicella lineata) and Mossy chiton (Mopalia muscosa) graze on coralline algae. This rock also has purple sponge (Haliclona permollis).
A Western gull (Larus occidentalis) captures a red rock crab (Cancer productus)during low tide.
A Western gull (Larus occidentalis) captures a red rock crab (Cancer productus) during low tide.
Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) are found in intertidal zones. Their long, strong beaks can be used for prying mussels and barnacles open and getting in to hard-to-reach crevices.
Black oystercatchers (Haematopus bachmani) are found in intertidal zones. Their long, strong beaks can be used for prying mussels and barnacles open and getting in to hard-to-reach crevices.
How many species can you count in this picture? We count at least nine!
A Western gull parent and chick sit over a tidepool. Tidepools provide food for a variety of avian species.
If you’re really lucky during tidepooling, you’ll get to see a species like this wine-plumed spiny dorid (Acanthodoris nanaimoensis) nudibranch. Nudibranchs are sea slugs that come in all colors and shapes.
If you’re really lucky during tidepooling, you’ll get to see a species like this wine-plumed spiny dorid (Acanthodoris nanaimoensis) nudibranch. Nudibranchs are sea slugs that come in all colors and shapes.

Health and safety

  • Don’t leap, skip, or jump across rocks. They can be slippery and sharp.
  • Wear waterproof and sturdy shoes with good grip; algae and seaweed make rocks slippery and barnacles can be sharp!
  • Never turn your back to the ocean. Sneaker waves and incoming tides can be a hazard.
  • Make sure children are familiar with tidepool etiquette and dressed appropriately.

Tidepool etiquette

  • Remember you are visiting another’s home. Be respectful of the plants and animals who live in tidepools. This includes picking up any trash you may drop or find, not picking up or removing creatures from their homes, and returning rocks to the position you found them in so that animals don’t die by exposure to the sun.
  • Keep dogs and other pets at home. Sharp mussels and rocks can be dangerous for pets. Additionally, pets, no matter how well trained, may accidentally harm intertidal life.
  • Make sure your hands are free and clean of chemicals like sunscreen, lotions, and hand sanitizers if you decide to touch any tidepools animals. These chemicals can harm marine and intertidal life.
  • Extreme heat events (over 95 degrees Fahrenheit) add extra stress to the survival of intertidal species. Remember tidepool animals already live in constantly changing conditions so any added stress may reduce an animal’s ability to withstand the already rugged environment. During such heat waves, be mindful of these impacts on tidepool life and plan your day around a different coastal activity.
  • Before heading to a tidepool, make sure you know the area’s rules and regulations. For more information, check out this tidepool etiquette list from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Resources for tidepooling:

Other spots to tidepool around Washington include:

  • Dash Point, Tacoma
  • Constellation Park, Seattle
  • Richmond Beach Saltwater Park, Shoreline
  • Mukilteo Lighthouse Beach
  • Seahurst Park, Burien
  • Double Bluff Beach, Whidbey Island
  • Saltwater State Park, Des Moines
  • La Push beaches

Share your outdoor adventures for a chance to win outdoor gear!

  1. Visit WDFW’s Life Outdoors webpage from now through December 2021 to find out the outdoor recreation theme for the current month.
  2. Submit pictures of you, your friends, or family participating in the month’s featured outdoor recreation theme on WDFW’s website.
  3. When submitting your photo, select #LifeOutdoorsWA in the category section. In the description area, tell us a little about your experience!
  4. On the last Friday of the month, a winner will be selected and featured on WDFW’s Facebook and Instagram. Winners will also be contacted via email to receive their prize.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

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