Strand Line Buffet

With the wild wind we have had in the Comox Valley this week, there are bound to be some interesting things washed up in the strand line along the beaches at Point Holmes and Goose Spit and other beaches on Vancouver Island.

Earlier this week I was out at Point Holmes looking for some last signs of the herring spawn. The spawn is a fairly fleeting phenomena: the fish arrive, they spawn, the herring fleet moves in, predators gather, and then they move on. With a little effort you can find plenty that tells you that the fish were there. Sometimes you find other things washed up in the strand line as well.

Gulls Gathering
Large flocks of seagulls gather on the shore at Point Holmes, resting between feeds.

At Point Holmes, the most obvious sign that something was going on was the huge flocks of seagulls gathered along the shore. At this time of year, gulls mean food. The herring spawn is a major food source and attracts gulls and other birds and mammals to the coast of Vancouver Island. I tried to search through the thousands of birds for something a little different like a Glaucous Gull, but I have to admit that gulls challenge me. I can identify the more common species pretty easily, but throw in a couple of non-adult 2nd years or hybrids and my eyes start to glaze over.

Dead Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi)
A whole dead Pacific Herring (Clupea pallasi). The strand line was littered with fish and roe.

I tend to look for the smaller parts of the bigger picture when I am out walking and so I turned my attention to the strand line, the flotsam and jetsam that ends up on the beach marking the highest reach of the day’s tide. Here the line was rich with herring roe and dead herring. The gulls must have been well fed since this easy food source seemed mostly untouched. Whole herring nestled in their death beds of washed up herring eggs. Sheer numbers ensures that some of the eggs that remained attached to seaweed in the intertidal zone survive. The ones that wash up on the beach provide food for numerous creatures, as do the dead fish.

Pacific Octopus
Closeup detail of a short section of Pacific Octopus tentacle.

The strand line always produces surprises as well: I found parts of a Pacific Octopus tentacle amongst the eggs. No sign of the rest of the body, just a few short inches of suckered flesh. A mystery, but part of the magnificent buffet served up by the sea.

The next time you are down at the beach lower your eyes to the sand and follow the line. Turn over some seaweed, poke a dead fish. You never know what you are going to find.