WSU Extension Beach Walker Tim Ellis helps Luna and Alia Rexwinkle, 3 and 5, respectively, identify creatures they found during the lowest tide in the girls’ lifetimes Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

WSU Extension Beach Walker Tim Ellis helps Luna and Alia Rexwinkle, 3 and 5, respectively, identify creatures they found during the lowest tide in the girls’ lifetimes Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Puget Sound’s lowest tides in years unveil a world of sea life

The moon’s wobble is responsible for the lowest tides in 13 years. There are more chances this week to explore beaches.

MUKILTEO — The lowest tides in over a decade drew amateur explorers of all ages to Mukilteo Lighthouse Park on Wednesday.

Unfazed by the cool temperatures and clouds, beachgoers searched for crabs, starfish and other marine life in tide pools and eelgrass beds normally covered by the cold waters of Puget Sound.

The extra-low tides are due to a wobble in the moon’s orbital plane, called the lunar nodal cycle. The wobble increases and decreases on an 18-year timeline. It’s currently nearing its peak, meaning greater differences between high and low tides. At Mukilteo Lighthouse Park, low tide was over 4 feet lower than normal just after noon Wednesday.

There will be more chances to check out exposed beaches. Thursday’s 1 p.m. tide is forecast to be almost as low, and Friday’s will hit nearly 3½ feet below normal just before 2 p.m. There will be a couple more negative tides Saturday and Sunday afternoon. Charts for local beaches can be found online.

This is the lowest the tide has dipped since January 2009.

Jonathan Robinson, coordinator of the Snohomish County Beach Watchers program, said the moon’s pull isn’t the only thing that affects the tides. He explained there are dozens of distinct factors that affect tides.

A tide-pooler takes a photo of a moon snail’s partial egg collar covered in sea stars during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A tide-pooler takes a photo of a moon snail’s partial egg collar covered in sea stars during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

“Tides are super complicated once you dig in past the surface level,” Robinson said.

Beach Watchers, run by the Washington State University Extension, trains enthusiastic volunteers to protect Puget Sound and the Salish Sea through “education, research, and stewardship.”

Clad in beige fishing vests, Beach Watchers helped curious Mukilteo visitors to identify their aquatic discoveries and make new ones.

Fred Benedetti has volunteered with Beach Watchers since the program began in 2006. A family watched closely as he flipped a dead crab over to identify its species. Judging by its white-tipped claws, it was a Dungeness crab.

Fred Benedetti opens up a Dungeness crab molt and shows how the creatures shed their exoskeletons Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Fred Benedetti opens up a Dungeness crab molt and shows how the creatures shed their exoskeletons Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

He warned of the dangers of picking up crabs improperly.

“I have all kinds of scars from pincers, because I was stupid,” he said.

Benedetti spoke about the importance of treating the environment with respect, something learned from the Native people and tribes of the region.

“The reason we’re teaching this stuff is because of how fragile this area is,” Benedetti said. “We’re all responsible for what we have.”

People venture toward exposed eelgrass beds during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

People venture toward exposed eelgrass beds during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Sydney Bell, a member of the Tulalip Tribes, brought her 17-month-old daughter Daisy to the beach for the low tide to introduce her to the marine ecosystem and life within it.

“We’re water people,” Bell said.

Spotting one of the trademark beige vests, Bell waved over volunteer Tim Ellis to help identify the squishy creature Daisy had found on a rock. It turned out to be an anemone.

“She loves the water,” said Bell, pointing to her daughter’s soaked socks as proof.

Robinson, the only paid employee of the Beach Watchers program, brought his son Isaac along for his fifth birthday.

“We’re hoping to inspire the next generation of marine biologists and stewards of the environment,” Robinson said. He spoke about the “awe and wonderment” kids experience while finding and learning about marine life.

Tim Ellis performs a “sniff test” on a crab he found while tide-pooling during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. Multiple WSU Beach Walkers said smelling a crab shell can help determine if the creature is dead or if it is just a molt. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Tim Ellis performs a “sniff test” on a crab he found while tide-pooling during the lowest tide in over a decade Wednesday at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo. Multiple WSU Beach Walkers said smelling a crab shell can help determine if the creature is dead or if it is just a molt. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Robinson still experiences that same sense of wonder. His most exciting find of the day was a brightly colored sea slug called an opalescent nudibranch.

“My favorite thing about being down at the beach is you never know what you’re going to see,” Robinson said. “There’s always something different.”

Natalie Kahn: 425-339-3430; natalie.kahn@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @nataliefkahn.

Want to go exploring?

The Beach Watchers are hosting low-tide explorations Saturday in Edmonds and Stanwood. To learn more about the program and how to support it, visit their website.

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