Glass ball on a beach in Tofino

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Beachcombing in Tofino

By Jen Dart

Beach walking is a favourite pastime for Tofitians, who are often accompanied by their furry friends, as well as for visitors, who marvel as the long, pristine stretches of white sand easily accessible from town.

I particularly like beach walking with a couple of friends who are biologists -- it can be very informative to have them there to identify some of the lesser-known creatures you can encounter on any given day.

The new and varied sea visitors that come to shore point to the diversity of the ocean environment that surrounds us.

A few years ago a fairly large swarm of Velella vellela, also known as "sail jellyfish," were swept ashore. These by-the-wind-sailors (so called because of their body tissues that resemble sails) came ashore in droves during one spring when strong onshore winds and big waves combined to carry them in. They were stranded on local beaches and they quickly began to break down and decompose (the smell was hard to miss!). Such strandings only happen every few years and are largely dependent on weather conditions.

Weather may also have been the main factor in the mass strandings of juvenile Humboldt squid in 2009. Dozens of these fascinating creatures that normally stick to depths of 200-700 metres as adults, washed ashore at Chesterman Beach. Many of the squid spat out their black ink in the tide line, making for a strange looking beach.

Humbolt squid on the beach in Tofino

A Humboldt Squid lies on Chesterman Beach during in the 2009 mass stranding. Photo courtesy Wildside Grill.

Local biologists looked at similar events in Washington and California when large schools of squid chased their prey along El Nino currents into northern waters. They suspected the juvenile squid encountered colder water near the surface and stranded themselves.

Occasionally larger mammals such as sea lions and whales also become stranded on the beach. Most often it is only one perhaps injured or sick animal that gets washed ashore.

Beachcombers are always on the lookout for smaller treasures like sand dollars, as well as the vibrant sea anemones and sea stars that cling to rocks in tide pools. Although it's tempting to take a sea creature home with you as a souvenir, many are still alive and won't be smelling so great once you've had them in the car for a while. Add to that there are so many visitors to local beaches that if everyone removed a shell or sand dollar the rich habitat that exists would be seriously diminished.

In terms of beach debris, the holy grail of beachcombing around these parts is the Japanese glass float. These are most often carried in after big storms, but a visitor from Vancouver was recently lucky enough to find one on Chesterman Beach (much to the dismay of many a local who still don't have one!!).

Glass Ball on the Beach

The Holy Grail for Beachcombers: A glass ball used as a fishing float that has arrived from Japan. Photo credit: Jeremy Koreski

Walking along this popular local beach, you may also catch a glimpse of another type of interesting phenomena. During an extremely low tide you may be able to see the top of at least two vehicles that are still on the beach, slowly disintegrating. At one time it was perfectly acceptable, though risky, to drive your car on the beach. A few drivers weren't so lucky to get their cars off the beach and now the sand is slowly reclaiming them.

At low tide you may also see the remains of posts that reportedly were driven into the sand during wartime to prevent enemy planes from using the beaches as landing strips (these are also evident at Long Beach).

This is just a taste of what you might be lucky to see during your beach walk this summer in Tofino.

About the author
Originally from Barrie, Ontario, Jen is a long-time Tofino resident, although not quite long enough to be considered a full-fledged local. Jen has been writing professionally for the past seven years. In that time, she's worked for the Tofino-Ucluelet Westerly News as both a part-time and full-time reporter and photographer. Jen has been published in a variety of publications, including SBC Surf Magazine, the Native Journal of Canada, the Victoria Times Colonist and the Vancouver Sun.

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