Our Beach Walks

One of my favorite things to do with the kids is to take them on a beach walk. Not only is it good Kid-Mom time, you never know just what you might discover. From finding petosky fossils in Michigan to rescuing sea life at the ocean, we seek it out.

Last week, we spent our spring break with Scott's parents at their beautiful beach house on Sunset Beach in southern North Carolina. The weather was perfect, we saw several dolphins, and even had a few adventures.

Something that amused me: it's spring and it was a new moon...which means one thing oceanside...mating.  Low tide was just littered with mounds of these cute little clamlike seashells (bivalves) called Coquinas- I reached in and grabbed hundreds of them in one handful- all spawning. Then I washed my hands with sand.

Low tide also revealed lots of cannonball jellyfish washed ashore. Perhaps post-mating? I am not sure, but it would explain this mass die-off. They pocked the beach with their bodies. We even got see one with it's little spider crab hitchhiker. (He tags along within the body of the jelly, getting a free ride, left over food, and protection from predators-crabs are not just yummy to us-  Clever guy.)

At high tide, there were 1,000 of tiny dark bubble-like things. Were they air sacks from algae? No...upon closer inspection, they were little tiny bugs which looked like a 1/2 roly-poly, but with wings. They were all washed ashore and were deposited at the high tide line- marking it with 1,000 upon 1,000s of bodies. Ew.

One low tide, the kids & I took off, armed with a bucket, to see what we could find. We needed to add to our collection of oceanic life, sorted into phyla: (I am in charge of this beach walk, and I let my nerd flag fly). We separate the echinoderms (sand dollars, sadly no sea stars or urchins), molluscs (snails/whelks/bivalves), and arthropods (crab remains-of which there were plenty-including  horseshoe crab pieces!).

We passed by jellies and hopped over bug bodies until we saw something up ahead in the water. We had walked more than a mile already, and it was nearing sunset, but we decided to press on and see what could have landed on the beach.

As we approach, we see that it's not a jelly. It's a skate (like a tiny manta ray). No way. I have seen one swim past me out here once, but now it was beached, and it was alive. I dumped out our shell collection, got some water and poured it over the skate. it flapped its wings. It's not dying, it must have gotten confused in the tide and beached itself.

I know it wasn't a sting ray, but still, all I could think of was the poor Crocodile Hunter. He was such an animal whisperer and knew what he was doing, and he gets killed by the barbed tail of a sting ray? So tragic still. So we stay relatively clear of this skate. Just to be safe.

As we are pouring water over him, another group comes up to see what we're up to. A man watches, then grabs him by the front of his wings, and sends him off into the sea again. We see him flap around for some time, seemingly no worse for wear.

The man told us they had chartered an airplane for a beach tour, and they saw thousands of skates mating just off shore. Spring break maddness, not just for co-eds!

Well, we thought that was the coolest thing ever, and when we got home, all three of us listed that beach walk as the highlight of our trip. Sweet.

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