Abalone Cove Tide Pools - January 2013

I hadn't been to Abalone Cove in Rancho Palos Verdes since November 2011 and I needed some time near the ocean so my friend V and I headed out there on a Friday around noon. The low tide (-1.7 feet) was at 3:30pm giving us plenty of time to stop by the Point Vicente Interpretive center and check in on the annual whale count there before heading down to the tide pools. Here's where we were:

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After we planned our day I read that something called "King tides" was also happening that day - the highest tide of the day was over 7 feet which was one of the highest tides that will happen this year. To learn more about King tides and how they might affect us differently due to climate change check out the California King Tide Initiative.

In any case, I was interested to see if the tide pools would look different after a super high tide. Would it have washed up more sea creatures? Or battered the rocks to the point where many more creatures would be carried back in to the ocean instead of remaining in the pools?

Our first stop in Rancho Palos Verdes was the Point Vicente Interpretive Center. They have an annual whale count and I'd heard that more whales than usual had been spotted so I hoped to see some. The Los Angeles Chapter of the American Cetacean Society has a lot of information on their website including this summary of the 2011-2012 count.

We didn't end up seeing any this time (honestly, we didn't stay long enough to make a good effort!), but it was nice to wander around their little museum and gift shop before heading down to Abalone Cove. The view of Catalina Island and the lighthouse is beautiful. It was a clear day.

When we got to Abalone Cove it was great to see that we were some of the only people there. We parked in the lot for $5. You can enter the lot until 4pm, 7 days a week and leave after sunset. V had never visited tide pools before so she was excited to see what I'd been gushing about for years and she wasn't disappointed. While not as densely packed with sea life as my last trip to this area, there was plenty to see.

We saw (many, many) purple and red urchins, ochre sea stars in orange and purple, starburst anemone, hermit crabs, California sea hares, giant keyhole limpets, small fish, and even a black sea hare and knobby star (neither of which I see often).

Whenever someone new comes to the tide pools with me they bring up more questions about what we're looking at. This day the one that stuck with me was "How long does a sea urchin live?" which made me start to think about the life spans of all of these creatures and how anyone would ever really be able to know that. It's not like you can tag a sea urchin to track its movements!

Anyway, research suggests that the California purple urchin can live as long as 70 years! We'd seen a very small one and thought it might be a juvenile, but I learned later than juvenile urchins are normally light green or greenish tinged with purple. 

Tiny California Purple Urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus)
 We also saw very small California sea hares (about 3 inches long when the ones I normally see are 6 inches or longer) which made me wonder about the sea hare lifespan. Sea hares live for about 1 year. They are hermaphroditic, acting as male and female simultaneously during mating.

Smaller than I've ever seen California Sea Hare (Aplysia californica)

Knobby Star or Giant Sea Star in the center (Pisaster giganteus). You can pick them out because there are bright blue circles around the spines.
Starburst Anemone (Anthopleura sola). I love when you can see the "trunk"!
 Even though I've been to this spot and the neighboring Sacred Cove 6 or 7 times before, the land felt strangely different to me - the waves coming in at a different angle than I remembered and certain areas not easy to reach although the tide was very low. The land is constantly shifting in this area (think seismic activity!) so it's entirely possible that the geography had changed.

As we were leaving, the sun was about to set and we saw 3 or 4 dolphins feeding or playing in the water close to the beach so we watched them for a while. It was a great day away from "the city" catching up with a friend. As always, I highly recommend making the trip out there. It is about an hour drive from Los Angeles.

Check out more of my photos from this location in my Flickr set.