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Pacific Rim National Park Reserve of Canada

The Species of the Sandy Beach

Dungeness Crab (Cancer magister)

A pair of Dungeness crabs burrowing into the sand
Dungeness crab are commercially harvested within the Park boundaries
©Parks Canada / B. Campbell, 1978 / E-25

Recognize this crab? It may have been on your dinner plate, since it's often found in restaurants.Given the choice though, it much prefers to live in offshore sand bottoms, occasionally venturing inshore to moult (shed its shell). To get out of the old shell, the crab backs carefully out through a slit in the shell covering its abdomen. People often see these cast-off "clothes" at the tide line and mistake them for dead crabs.

When this park was designated in 1970, the commercial harvest of dungeness crab was grandfathered in; this means that the crab harvest continues today, and is an example of how local economic issues can affect national parks.

Razor Clam (Siliqua patula)

The foot, siphon and shell of a razor clam
An exposed razor clam is a rare sight
©Parks Canada / E-17

A small "volcano" on the sand may betray the presence of an elusive razor clam underneath. As the name "razor" might suggest, these clams have a long, streamlined, and sharp form. The razor clam is an amazingly fast digger and has been known to completely bury itself in only seven seconds.

This inhabitant of hard packed, exposed beaches thrives on the plankton-laden foam you can see coming in with the surf.

Bloodworms (Euzonus sp.)

Tiny holes give away the presence of bloodworms hidden beneath the sand
Bloodworms are a valuable food source for many different species of shorebirds
©Parks Canada / W. McIntyre, 1982 / E-22

Mazes of tiny pinholes below the debris-strewn high-tide line indicate the presence of small red worms; bloodworms. Their name and blood-red colour comes from hemoglobin, the same molecule that carries oxygen in your blood.

In some ways, bloodworms are the earthworms of the beach, eating the sand to digest the bacteria and algae encrusting each sand grain. Find the pinholes, drag a finger through the sand, and you'll discover multitudes of these tiny bloodworms. If you see shorebirds or crows stabbing at the sand, they are probably feeding on bloodworms.

California Beach Hopper (Megalorchestia californiana)

Beach hoppers resemble king sized fleas
Beach hoppers resemble king sized fleas
©Parks Canada / E-25

Some think they're king-sized fleas, but these madly-hopping beach hoppers aren't insects, they're amphipods. Amphipods are in the same class or group as crabs and shrimp; they are all crustaceans.During the day, they burrow into moist sand near the high-tide line. At night their long antennae help them feel their way around as they come out of hiding to eat debris washed ashore by the tides. Look for the many pencil-sized holes around washed-up kelp; they are probably the temporary burrows of beach hoppers.

Bull Kelp (Nereocystis luetkeana)

Bull Kelp is a common sight washed up on the beach in the Park
A tangled mess of bull kelp provides food and shelter for many small organisms
©Parks Canada / W. McIntyre, 1981 / I-4

"Bullwhip kelp" is another of the names also given to this plant and in the summer, children can often be seen snapping this so-called whip to make their parents jump. Kelp doesn't grow on the beach, but storms dislodge it from its offshore home and bring it to the beach. Underwater, a cable-like formation known as a "holdfast" anchors the bull kelp to boulders. Meanwhile, its buoyant stem-like "stipe" and bladder (bulb) bring the fronds closer to sunlight, so that they float on or close to the water's surface. This remarkable plant attains a length of 5-25 metres in less than six months.Washed up on the beach, it becomes food and shelter for thousands of small organisms. Look closely at a pile of twisted kelp and you'll find creatures hopping, crawling and slithering about.

Purple Olive Snail (Olivella biplicata)

A Purple olive snail tracks its way through the sand looking for food
The shell of this snail often provides "housing" for hermit crabs after the snail has died
©Parks Canada / B. Campbell, 1978 / E-16

Drag your finger a short distance in wet sand, and leave a dollop at one end. What you've made resembles the track of the purple olive snail. This snail plows along just under the surface of the sand looking for tiny bits of nourishment. A rolled-up portion of its mantle acts as a snorkel so that it can breathe while buried under the sand.Olive snail shells are beautifully glossy but please don't collect them. Even after the snail dies, the shells are still needed as homes by hermit crabs.

American Sea-rocket (Cakile edentula)

American sea-rocket grows in the beach sand
American sea-rocket acts as an sand anchor in the formation of sand dunes
©Parks Canada / F-57

The sandy beach is a difficult place for plants, but one that manages to survive just above the high-tide line is this annual. Each year, it is the first land plant to grow on the beach, holding down sand so that small dunes begin to form around the American Sea-rocket.

Winter storm waves and high tides wash away this plant, but its large hardy seeds get buried by those same waves and sprout in the spring.

Dog (Canis familiaris)

Free roaming dogs are dangerous to humans and wildlife
Please keep your dogs on a leash at all times
©Parks Canada / K. O'Brian, 1984 / V-1

It may sound funny, but on the beach a dog can be dangerous. In the park, free-roaming dogs may prey on or disturb many wild creatures. Even if dogs do not catch and kill an animal, they can disturb them. This added stress can be the difference between life and death. Shorebirds, waterfowl and small mammals are especially enticing to dogs. Remember it is not just your dog, but your dog plus many other dogs on the beach over the course of a day that potentially affect wildlife.

In a national park, dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

River Otter (Lontra canadensis)

A pair of river otters sunbathing on the rocks
Rivers otters can be found in fresh and salt water
©Parks Canada / J. Brown, 2002

Ready to be confused? In this national park, we have the sea, and we have otters, and you might even see otters in the sea, but the otters that you see are probably not sea otters!

There's no rule that says river otters have to stay in rivers. In this park you might see them swimming in the crashing surf, scampering down a beach, slipping into a stream, or disappearing into the forest. Then again, you might not, because although river otters are sometimes active in the day, they are most active at night.Otters like to play. They wrestle, they chase, they toss and dive for rocks, and they find slippery slopes to slide down.

Sea otter are rarely seen in the park
A sea otter lunching on a sea urchin (their favourite food)
©Parks Canada

If you are very lucky, you might see the sea otter (Enhydra lutris). This rare marine mammal is larger than the river otter and lives its life in kelp beds close to rocky shores. The sea otter has difficulty moving on land so it will rarely leave the water.

A few years ago, transplanted sea otters were released at the north end of Vancouver Island. That population has been slowly expanding and moving southward.