Hide and Seek: Anemone Edition

As Vancouver closes in on the winter season, temperatures are dropping in the air and in the water. Noses begin to run, scarves are being wrapped, and school terms begin to get hectic! So – like any other sane human – I embarked on an expedition to find some plumose anemones in the rain and wind; with a cold, I tried to forget about the massive pile of coursework beckoning me back home. My final term project was officially underway.

The adventure began in Deep Cove – close to home. Scouring the docks of the marina, I began to notice a lack of diversity this close to the shore. I decided to ask the marina manager as to whether or not they had ever seen anemones around there. His reply? He had never seen any on these docks and thought it could be due to the extremely high amounts of runoff from the mountains, making it a slightly less appealing habitat for the anemones – something I didn’t even consider! Barnacles and mussels have shells they can close up in to physically avoid low salinity conditions. Unfortunately for the little anemones, their slimy column doesn’t help in preventing water loss. So, on I went to next location.

Panorama Park in Deep Cove.  Photo Credit: Nicole Kellough

Panorama Park in Deep Cove.
Photo Credit: Nicole Kellough

Caulfield Park was next on the agenda; with a little known dock and relatively rocky shores it seemed like the perfect place to find all my squishy little friends. The rain continued to pour down. As I peered over the edge of the dock I only found mussels – tons and tons of mussels. After searching the rocky banks and tidal pools, I still came up empty handed. The extreme quantities of mussels could be due to a lack of sea stars, a keystone species, in the area, the effect of which is discussed by Amrit in a previous blog post found here. As a keystone species, sea stars disproportionately regulate the populations of mussels in a given area. Without the sea stars to consume all the mussels, the populations exploded in size! So as my sniffling and coughing continued, I thought I would try one more location on the North Shore.

West Vancouver Yacht Club was the last stop. With very little optimism, I was able to meander the docks searching for the anemones. The club manager informed me that he has only ever seen two anemones in the area and that they were only accessible during low tide. I thought I would give it a shot and low and behold, he was right. I gave up for the day and came home with a worse cold then I had started with.

Plumose anemones: healthy, happy, and beautiful.  Photo credit: Nicole Kellough

Plumose anemones: healthy, happy, and beautiful.
Photo credit: Nicole Kellough

Fast forward a few days later, armed with a box of tissues and a friend with longer arms then I do, and I’m back leaning over the docks at the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club in Coal Harbour. Twenty minutes in and no anemones found, I was getting discouraged, until I hear my friend yell “I THINK I FOUND ONE!” We were off to the races then. We kept saying, “okay we only need to find ten” and then we changed to, “it would be great if we found 15,” and then it was, “I can’t believe we found 20!” One anemone after another was popped off the dock and into ice cream buckets with rocks for transportation to the lab. Since the anemones tend to live in low intertidal regions, they can be transported out of water covered with wet paper towels to prevent extreme water losses. Within an hour and a half, 20 anemones had been found and my project had been saved. I was able to poke and prod, and to feed my plumose anemones to my hearts content. No anemones were harmed in this process; all were fed well and are currently thriving in our lab sea table. Now if only I could take them home as my new pets…

Plumose anemones preparing for experimentation.  Photo credit: Nicole Kellough

Plumose anemones preparing for experimentation.
Photo credit: Nicole Kellough

Additional information on solving the mystery of the sea star disappearance can be found on the Vancouver Aquarium’s Aqua Blog here.

Additional pictures, information, and identification tips on plumose anemones can be found here.

If you’re an avid scuba diver and want to see giant plumose anemones up close, a plumose garden is located at Whytecliff Park in West Vancouver. This Youtube video shows a sneak peak at its beauty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GoG_F2r-IsM – t=174

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