—John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez
This year, some of the lowest tides of the year will arrive just in time for Christmas. This "king tide" occurs during the new moon and peaks from December 21-23, but there will be low tides in the afternoon all week, starting on Wednesday, December 17, with a .65-foot low tide at 12:45 p.m. The lowest tide—minus 1.24—will arrive on December 23 at 4:30 p.m.
It can be hard to make time for anything extra—even mundane necessities like laundry—during the holidays, but an hour at the beach is a wonderful thing for restoring equilibrium.
Park visitors explore the rocky landscape revealed during a minus tide in November. December's new moon low tides should be even more revealing. This was a minus .44 tide. On December 23, the tide will be minus 1.24.
Visitors, and even locals, often fall into the comfortable pattern of picking a beach and sticking with it. The winter low tides are an invitation to step out of that habit and explore.
Leo Carrillo, El Matador, Point Dume and Surfrider all offer good opportunities for tidepooling. These are all State Park beaches, and while there are parking fees for the official lots there's always plenty of free parking near by on PCH or, in the case of Point Dume, along Westward Beach Road, where a half-mile walk along Westward Beach and up and over the Point Dume Headlands to reach the access stairs down to Pirate's Cove provides an opportunity to watch for dolphins and the first winter whales.
The most accessible tidepools in the Malibu area are at Leo Carrillo, where the intertidal zone starts just a few hundred feet from PCH. They are also some of the best. Despite its proximity to the road, this area is still home to an amazing array of marine life.
Empty California cone shells often wash up on the beach, or turn up in tidepools as the home of hermit crabs, but it's rare to get a glimpse of the live mollusk. This small sea snail is a veracious predator that feeds on a wide range of species, including purple olive shells and, believe it or not, fish, which the snail paralyses with a fast-acting venom. There are a number of tropical species of cone shell that are deadly to humans. This little snail is only a threat to other snails, worms, and tiny fish. However, cone venom shows promise as a pain medication for humans.
Humans aren't the only ones taking advantage of the winter minus tides. This great egret has just snagged a fish—probably a sculpin—in a bed of surf grass and is in the process of turning it right-way-round to swallow it.
It's important to remember that the reverse side of this week's minus tides are formidable 8-foot-plus high king tides. Beachgoers should double-check the local tide tables and plan to leave when the tide begins to come in. This is especially critical at beaches like Leo Carrillo, El Matador, and Point Dume, where the low tides provide access to sea caves or otherwise inaccessible rock formations that are rapidly reclaimed by the returning tide and can trap unwary visitors. That sounds preposterously melodramatic, but serious injuries—and the need for rescue—result more often than one would think.
It's a good idea to keep an eye on the surf report as well as the tide chart. Waves like this one at Point Dume on Sunday are great for surfers but less than ideal for tidepool explorers.
The website for NOAA tide predictions offers an easy to access, accurate online source for tides. Surfline is a good basic surf report site. This is their page for Point Dume. There are also dozens of tide and surf report apps.
See you at the beach!
15 December 2014
Looking for the perfect Christmas gift? A selection of cards and photographic prints from the Malibu Post is now available at Fine Art America.