[Tweeters] Floating World

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Thu Jul 30 21:39:15 PDT 2015

Particularly over the past decade, I've amassed quite a bit of time observing life on the Floating World.
The "floating world" is my term for the world of floating docks, logs, or whatever other objects floating about (like a boat maybe) that offer a substrate unique assemblages of aquatic life.
There is a big difference between a pier and a float. A pier is supported with pilings which in Puget Sound, for example, can be arrayed with an interesting community of plants and animals which are organized on the piling according to the tides, which as they rise and fall expose the piling to some degree. Animals and plants that can handle some daily exposure to air are up the post (like barnacles and mussels) and the life that needs more submersion is low on the ol' pole. Kind of like a microcosm of the intertidal beach: some live high, some live low.
Floats float and ,because of that, sport lifeforms (never exposed to air) you might otherwise need to go diving to see. This provides opportunities for lazy people such as myself who also dislike being submerged in real cold water. All one has to do is to hang their head over the edge of the float, and check out whats living on it - at close range.
When I first started hanging out in Port Townsend last year I was excited to check out the Floating World in town. While PT does sport wonderful clear water shores with great marine life, the towns floats are not too exciting. Now, I'm not putting down PT but, in my naturalist opinion, they really blew it on their dock floats which are mostly clad with some sort of black plastic crud which I assume is meant to subvert the growth of marine encrustations. Well it worked because the floats in town aren't so interesting. But hey, I'm not a total float snob- there is always something on the floats.
However, Seattle floats (Shilshole, Elliot Bay Marina, etc), and those at Edmonds and Kingston marinas, have ol' Port Townsend whupped in the marine life friendly department. I've spent a lot of time at all those places, working on boats. I've seen wonderful things.
Last night I happened to be in Edmonds for business and had some time to kill - I am a well trained time killer- so I bopped down to the public floats in front of Anthony's and lay face down on a float for a look. Actually, I was on a mission in search of the fabulous Caprellid amphipod (AKA Skeleton Shrimp) - an old acquaintance.
Now, the Caprellid amphipod is one of the coolest marine creatures ever invented, in my opinion. Many of you may be familiar with "normal" amphipods, which are (sort of) a small shrimp- like crustacean. The super-abundant "sand fleas" or "beach hoppers" of the upper beach strands are an example of that. But the Caprellid's are real weirdoes .
Comparions are helpful to describe these animals. Some have compared them to being like a little marine Praying Mantis, with their similarly grabby forelegs. What I am always reminded of, watching their antics, are the "Worm" characters in the movie "Men in Black" - funny little aliens with appendages of highly unusual arrangement. These little ,sort of anorexic, amphipods also make all sorts of quirky movements. Once, in Seattle, I saw a group of them arranged evenly spaced on a substrate of yellow encrusting sponge growing on a float. As they swayed with their "arms" moving about, in sort of synchronized movement, it looked like a group of tiny people doing tai chi together on a park lawn - if the park lawn was lumpy yellow rubber that is. Just sayin'.
A whopper Caprellid around here might only be an inch long (or tall - they do sort of stand upright mostly) and the emaciated little things can be hard to spot, but I've gotten good at it, and spotted my first one within a few seconds on the Edmonds float. For some reason I've been unable to find one in Port Townsend yet, not for lack of trying.
This being Tweeters, I should note that you can see some cool birds at the Floating World. Several times I've seen marine birds (Cormorants, and once a Rhinoceros Auklet) cruise underwater right beneath me, and for close looks at Great Blue Herons, try the public dock at Elliot Bay Marina - the tamest herons I've seen around- they fish from the floats sometimes.

Jeff Gibsonfloating away inWhatever , WA

More information about the Tweeters mailing list