Sunday, July 14, 2013

Christopher Charles Reardon/ Observations at the Barking Crab

Today our session was spent making observations of sea life in the field where we learned that just like with people, there is so much more than outer appearances that comprise a thing, that one must get below the surface with a critical and inquisitive mind in order to get to know what is really happening. 

Scientifically Loitering

We arrived at the edge of the Boston Harbor at nearly low tide. The winds were calm and the temperature was warm, probably 80°, when we started our observations. There were just a few wispy clouds in the sky and it was decidedly humid. We observed several species of creature in the intertidal zone, most notably, a seagull feasting on two green crabs. Attached to the harbor wall we saw long strands of dry and dark green rockweed. The rockweed has long arm-like tendrils with tiny "poppers" at the end of each strand. To me, the way that the rockweed splays seemingly randomly in various directions resembles the movement at the end of a mop scouring a kitchen floor. Since rockweed grows only in clean and nutrient rich waters, its presence is an indication that the harbor is thriving. We looked it algae growing on various surfaces. The algae was visibly dry, light green and very short, similar to the very short grass that might be found on a golf tee. Looking around at the different swaths of algae, it became quite noticeable that different portions of algae or the then dry harbor walls are at different stages of development. On the beach, we saw small rocks, sand, and sediment. Under the water, large growths of green seaweed were visible. On the beach, the seaweed looked dried-up seemingly dead. However, we learned that once the tide comes in, the seaweed will “come back to life." As we walked down the pier, we noticed some green seaweed that was very well developed. However, just a few feet away, some identical seaweed looked not quite so well developed, an indication that the sunlight helps the seaweed to thrive.

Good Morning

We enjoyed a great example of the activity below the surface when we saw people feeding striped bass with chunks of stale bread thrown down on the murky water. From a distance, the fish appeared to be roughly 18 inches long with three or four dark brown vertical stripes running from one end to the other end of the fish. The striped bass would come to the surface just long enough to snatch a piece of bread before, quite violently, plunging below the surface again.

On a small private finger pier and shortly thereafter at the Barking crab, we did our first hands-on observation where we got our hands wet. First we watched a rope being pulled out of the water which was covered with invasive crustaceans. This was the most colorful thing I saw all day as it was a jumble of sea life: some of that moving and some of it not. It looked like a great tangled mess of multicolored electrical cords and small pieces of brightly colored clothing. Attached to the pier pilings, a student with sharp eyes pointed out some Sea Stars. My eyes could just barely make them out but they appeared to be about the size of a saucer from below a teacup. They were light brown and attached to the piling: unmoving.

Team Lunch

Our team focused on several different life forms, primarily in the calm and relatively clear water surrounding the piers behind the Barking Crab. I could see clearly below the surface for the entire length of my arm.

The Blue Mussel: About one and a half inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Subtle ridges about 1/16” apart running along the length of the mussel from end to end. The muscle was closed and I made a mistake because I did not think to pull it open in order to see what lives inside.

Bay Barnacle: We studied two Bay Barnacles which were attached directly to the blue muscle. The barnacles have an ex cut through the top of each. The tops were open and folded back in triangles. The barnacles were off-white in color and coated in algae. The barnacles had a crusty hard texture, as one would imagine of a Barnicle. Each barnacle was about half the size of a Tic-Tac breath mint. 

Bushy Red Weed: We found what we believe to be Bushy Red Weed. Under the water where it was attached to the pier piling, it looked healthy and ever moving. The color was a dark purple. The weed consists of thousands and thousands of fibers that look like a disorganized spider web. While scrutinizing a photograph later in the day, I noticed some sort of creature living in the weed that I have yet to identify. It is gray in color and looks like it has a shell. I can see eyes on what would be its head and a spine running down the middle. I imagine that it is about ½ inch long. Perhaps it is a shrimp of some sort.

Golden Star Turnicate: We saw a fair amount of this invasive species coating many different things in our observation areas. We peeled it off on of our muscles. We also found it consisting of two different colors: a vivid orange and a more muted brown color. True to its name, the Golden Star Turnicate has hundreds and hundreds of tiny, almost microscopic, stars that may be best viewed with a magnifying glass. What at first looks like a solid orange mass is actually gelatinous looking and see-through except for where the stars are. On the underside of a portion of the Golden Star Turnicate we were able to see where it adheres to various species. It almost looks like little tiny barnacles on the underside of it. It is easy to see why the Golden Star sticks so well to whatever creature it sticks to because it looks very much like it has little suction cups all over the bottom of it.

Morton’s Egg Cockle: We found a small white shell with nothing inside of it. We looked through the book and tried to identify it. The shell is small and white. It is about the circumference of a nickel. It has ridges going across the entire surface. We looked through field guide and came to a consensus that it is the Morton’s Egg Cockle

Sea Lettuce: The sea lettuce was a fascinating thing to behold. It was bright green and lay out in ribbons somewhat like ribbon candies that one would find at Christmas. It was coated with insects or bugs of one form or another that we made a solid effort at identifying. We also found some red sea lettuce that at first we thought was a different species, however, it appeared to be attached to the green sea lettuce and merely a variant.

Sea Pill Bug: We believe that the inhabitant we found on the Sea Lettuce was the Sea Pill Bug. As described in our book, it was 3/8 of an inch long, and rolled up in a ball when we manipulated it. Through magnifying glass one could see dozens of tiny legs, antenna, and a tail. Its color was light brown and somewhat translucent.

Ascophyllum Mackaii (Rockweed): We saw an abundance of Ascophyllum Mackaii during our observations today. Near the Barking Crab, we found them attached to a blue hose. We found great long tendrils of this plant replete with poppers at the end of each strand, as well as some poppers midway. Upon closer inspection, each strand of the rockweed had a vein running down the center of it. This specimen appeared to be well developed, as there were multiple poppers at the end of each branch.

Below the Surface

It seems that our research could have gone on for days. Although we only focused on seven or eight different species, it became clear to our team that there are probably thousands of species around that dock. This observation gave me a new awareness of the richness that lies just below the surface of all things.

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