If you are like me, you’ll take any chance you can get to head out on the water, with the faintest hope of spotting some rare marine wildlife. Almost anyone (minus those prone to sea sickness) have the desire to get up close and personal with the wildlife of the ocean, however most people don’t, seeing as the majority of people living near a coast don’t own a boat or have access to one. Turns out, as I learned this week at the Coal Harbour Marina in Vancovuer B.C., turning on the boat isn’t all that necessary. As long as you can find your way to the nearest public dock, a seemingly unseen world of marine animals awaits you.
Now I’m not promising you are going to see a pod of dolphins pop up between a moored boat. If fact it’s doubtful you will see any of the kinds of animals you are used to seeing at all. Here in urban marinas, exists a bizarre community of organisms most people have never heard of. This is because even the people who own their own boat or regularly walk along the dock side, tend to miss these animals from the typical person’s bird’s eye view. I suggest getting a bit lower, and leaning over the edge of a dock or boat (while making sure someone is holding on to your legs!). Just underneath these submerged structures is a neighbourhood of slimes, sponges, mussels, and even animals disguised as algae.
At first these critters might not look as striking as the friendly face of a harbour seal, but I think that is just from the public not being exposed to the everyday sights of these underappreciated species. Try pulling up a submerged rope or taking a scraping from underneath a boat, and you will see what I mean. Turns out the slimes are actually called Tunicates, an evolutionary group that functions as a link between invertebrates and vertebrates (us!). Here in Vancouver B.C., the Tunicates found on most docks or boats belong to the species Botryllus schlosseri. The animal you see below shows the intricate pattern created by each individual Tunicate grouping together in an organized colony.
This species has an interesting story as it is an invasive species, originally from the Mediterranean Sea. It was introduced to the Pacific ocean through shipping traffic and may be negatively impacting the rest of the native community of animals living under the docks. Without scientist first poking their heads under boats due to curious nature, this species may have not been detected in the first place. So now that you are running towards your nearest marina, make sure you grab a bucket and try not to be too modest as you collect some Tunicates for your next art project. Good luck with the smell…
For more info on invasive Tunicates go to: http://www.dfo-mpo.gc.ca/science/environmental-environnement/ais-eae/species/golden-star-tunicate-eng.html