Beach eggs - Salish Current
August 23, 2023
Beach eggs
Wendy Feltham

Many people are familiar with fish eggs enjoyed by humans — caviar, sushi roe; and many fish eggs provide valuable nutrition for seabirds and marine invertebrates. Even experts can’t identify all fish eggs just from a photo, including this cluster of orange eggs nibbled on by two Sanderlings near Point Wilson. (Wendy Feltham photo)

August 23, 2023
Beach eggs
Wendy Feltham

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This article which appeared in the Aug. 17, 2023, issue of Rainshadow Journal is reprinted here with the permission of the author.

Tidepool sculpin (Oligocottus maculosus) eggs

Tidepool sculpin

Here are some bright yellow eggs laid by a tidepool sculpin among barnacles on a large boulder. I’ve also found them in an unlikely spot — among the spines of a purple sea urchin.


Sculpins and allies (suborder Cottoidei)

Sculpins and allies

A marine biologist wasn’t able to accurately identify these multicolored clusters of fish eggs on a much larger boulder. He said the best one could do is to say they’re from “sculpins and allies,” so possibly the tidepool sculpin. He was delighted by this photo of so many colors of eggs.


Tubesnout (Aulorhynchus flavidus)

Tubesnout

The tubesnout is the only fish in its genus, and it’s a lovely fish with a long, thin body and a very long “snout.” It’s only found in shallow waters off the Pacific coast of North America, and I’ve seen them swimming by the dock at the end of Taylor Street. One spring day on the beach at Cape George, I found many clusters of these golden eggs laid on seaweed, actually a non-native seaweed called Japanese wireweed.


 Plainfin midshipman (Porichthys notatus)

Plainfin midshipman

The plainfin midshipman is the most amazing fish I’ve ever seen, and I wish I could hear it one day. The first one I found was from my kayak. Unfortunately, it was dead, floating on its back, displaying its gorgeous design of bioluminescent photophores. You can’t see the photophores here in this male who’s guarding eggs under a rock at low tide by Dabob Bay. One male can mate with a few females and then would have to protect up to 1,000 eggs! The plainfin midshipman’s other common names are singing fish and humming toadfish because some males create loud humming noises from muscles on their swim bladders. It’s such a loud noise that houseboat residents of Sausalito, California, once couldn’t sleep because it got as loud as an airplane engine at full throttle. Peter Bahls, a biologist and executive director of Northwest Watershed Institute, showed me this fish. He was contacted last year by David Attenborough’s team as they’re working on a special about sound in nature. Peter found bidshipmen for them, and we may be able to watch the program in late 2024. Meanwhile, here’s some fun history about The Humming Toadfish Festival.


 Big skate (Beringraja binoculata) egg case

Big skate

The big skate is one of only two skate species that has more than one embryo in its egg capsule, usually three or four, but up to seven. The large, leathery, oblong egg capsule, often called a “mermaid’s purse,” is the largest egg capsule of any skate. I found this one, almost a foot long, washed ashore on the beach at Cape George. Years ago volunteers and visitors to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center delighted in observing the embryos develop in an aquarium tank.


For more photos and stories of beach eggs, see Wendy’s Beach eggs: Part 1 and Beach eggs: Part 2. And watch for the final photo essay in this series, a grand finale with more remarkable beach eggs!

— Contributed by Wendy Feltham

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