Get Outdoors: Tide-pooling Along the Coast

With a lingering, wet spring behind us, humans and wildlife are ready to embrace sunnier days. Many of us will make our way to the coast at least once this summer to enjoy the ocean air and witness the power of the Pacific Ocean crashing along the coastline. But what happens when the tide recedes? A whole new world opens up for you to explore, in the form of tide pools.

Tide pools are pockets of water that get trapped in the intertidal zone as the tide recedes. The rocky coasts in the Pacific Northwest are prime territory to explore these mini-ecosystems that reveal themselves twice a day. But living in this intertidal zone isn’t easy–when the tide is out, inhabitants must deal with warming temperatures and lower oxygen levels, along with increased exposure to a variety of wading seabirds looking for their next meal. At high tide, crashing waves require a good grip to not get swept out to sea. So, what kind of sea creatures can endure this lifestyle? Read on to get a glimpse of some species you may find the next time you’re tide-pooling, as well as some suggestions for places to explore.

Intertidal Species to Spot

Ocher Sea Stars

These large sea stars can be seen in purple, orange, and a brownish-red color, though scientists don’t yet know how they get these colors. They like to eat barnacles, snails, and mussels, and can live for over 20 years.

Giant Green Anemone

These anemones are easy to spot and commonly reside in tide pools as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. They mostly eat small fish, crabs, and mussels and use stinging cells to capture their prey. Since these cells aren’t harmful to humans, you can gently lay a finger on top of the anemone and watch as the sticky tentacles close around your finger, exactly how they would catch their prey. It’s easy for us to pull away from their grasp, but you can imagine the difficulty for a small fish to get away.

Purple Sea Urchins

These spiny creatures are less common than anemones, but can still be spotted relatively often. They can control their spines, and can move surprisingly quickly when they’re not hanging on to rocks to feed. Tube feet not only work in tandem with the shorter spines near their mouth to help them to move, but are also part of their respiratory system allowing them to breathe. Their sticky feet help them capture their prey as well. Sea urchin feet sure can do a lot more than our human feet can!


A variety of crab species are found in tide pools, including shore crabs, sand crabs, and even hermit crabs. Though this is their home, hermit crabs can be difficult to find on the shore line since they are nocturnal.

When to Go

Tide tables can be accessed here to see the times for high and low tide in the North, Central, and South Coast regions. It’s best to go about an hour or two before low tide so there is ample time to explore before the water levels start rising again.

Where to Go

There are plenty of places throughout the state to explore, including Cape Kiwanda, Yaquina Head, Haystack Rock, and Hug Point to name a few. For a guided experience, a new pilot program now has volunteers roving the tide pools at the Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, Short Sand Beach in Oswald West State Park near Manzanita, Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, and at the Smelt Sands State Recreation Site near Yachats.

For a more accessible tide pool experience, the Seattle Aquarium houses and excellent tide pool touch tank exhibit.

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