Attack of the Giant Green Anemone!

Anemones living in caves are not as bright green as those living in sunnier areas.

This could be a somewhat believable title for a cheesy horror movie. After all, Giant Green Anemones are carnivorous. Not to worry! The sting is harmless to humans.

These beautiful flower-shaped creatures feed on small fish, newly molted crabs, sea urchins, detached mussels, and bits of marine plants. Some fish have developed protection against the anemone’s sting by covering themselves with mucus.

Little Giants

Even though Giant Green Anemones carry the name ‘Giant’ most only measure between seven and 12-inches.

They live a solitary life, and sometimes congregate in small groups (less than 14). These small groups create what looks to be a beautiful underwater floral arrangement. They will change color depending on the amount of light they receive. Different types of anemones will have other colors.

A Deadly Crown

Giant Green Anemones sport an oval crown of six or more rows of tentacles. These tentacles have stinging cells that help protect the anemone from predators. The tentacles also stun prey and help pull the prey into the anemone’s mouth.

Predators include seastars, snails, sea spiders, and fish. Some predators feed on the tentacles and others feed on the column.

Finding Them

Giant Green Anemones stay in the same location most of their lives. They can slowly walk around and swim to escape predators or when detached. These little giants are found in intertidal zones from Alaska south potentially as far as Panama.

Intertidal zones are areas that are above the water level during low tide. Anemones prefer areas where water is present most of the day such as tidepools and relatively shallow harbors.

Low tide will sometimes expose Anemones clinging to pilings and rocks, or even on the beach. When exposed, the anemone will ‘droop’ or close up into its green and brown stem while waiting for the incoming tide.

The fragile, yet harsh Intertidal zones are a challenging place to live but does provide some predation protection. Water conditions can be challenging. While the tide is regular, the shore may not pool the water. The water may be salty one day and diluted by fresh rain the next, and hard wave action can carry one out to sea. Still, many species, like the Giant Green Anemone, thrive there.

Amazing Factoid: A compound from the Giant Green Anemone is used by the pharmaceutical industry to create a beneficial heart stimulant for humans.

REFERENCES:
–Wikipedia Anthopleura xanthogrammica and Intertidal zones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthopleura_xanthogrammica)
–About Giant Green Anemone, Monterey Bay Aquarium (https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/animals-a-to-z/giant-green-anemone)

Mother and calf surfacing for air. www.unsplash.com

Approximately 18,000 Gray Whales migrate twice each year just off the Oregon coast. Approximately 200 Gray Whales hang out year around near the central coast area. This makes them relatively easy to see.

Gray Whales are the most common of the 10 species of whales, dolphins, and porpoises that reside on the Oregon Coast. The Whale Watch Center in Depoe Bay reports seeing as many as 50 whales per day during December – January and again in the spring.

Where are they going?

The whales migrate south to breeding grounds in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico and north to Alaska shortly thereafter. Gray Whales make the longest annual migration of any mammal on earth of over 12,000 miles round trip.

How to spot a Gray Whale

One might think that spotting something so common and the size of a city bus should be easy. Gray Whales can weigh up to 80,000 pounds and reach 50 feet in length. That doesn’t mean that they are easy to see all of the time. The mottled gray color, along with barnacles and whale lice, can make even the large adults swimming just a few miles from shore a challenge.

The easiest way to find them is to grab binoculars and find a high view point on a calm morning. Look for a bushy puff of white on the water. This spout or blow, which should be visible for about five seconds on a calm day. The blow can rise up to 15-feet and occurs as the whale exhales warm, moist air when surfacing.

Finding spouts

Gray Whales typically blow three to five spouts in a row, about 30 to 50 seconds apart as they swim. You may need to move the lens slightly to account for them swimming. Move left (or south) in the winter, and right (or north) in the spring.

Keep watching and you may see the whale use its tail to dive to the sea bottom for three to six seconds. It will then return to the surface to repeat the spouting breathing rhythm.

What is the whale diving for?

Grays fill their mouths with mud from the sea bottom. The mud is strained through a filter-feeding system, called baleen, on the upper jaw of their mouths. Baleen is keratin which is the same substance as human fingernails and hair.

Water and mud is pushed out through the baleen trapping krill and small fish. Many whales have baleen, but not all use it in the same manner. Grays only use only one side of the baleen which is unique in the whale community.

There are several places to learn more about the Gray Whale. Here are a few ideas:
Visit a Visitors’ Guide to Whale Watching on the Oregon Coast (https://www.coastexplorermagazine.com/display.php?url=a-guide-to-whale-watching-on-the-oregon-coast)
–Visit the Whale Watching Spoken Here program (https://orwhalewatch.org/) that has information on best places to see whales, volunteer training, and more.
–Visit Oregon State Parks, Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, (https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=183 ) which has videos of spouting whales, and more.

REFERENCE:
–Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (https://myodfw.com/wildlife-viewing/species/whales-dolphins-and-porpoises)
–Shoreline Education for Awareness, Inc. Friends of the Southern Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges (https://sea-edu.org/2019/11/25/whale-migration-is-upon-us/)
–Wikipedia, Baleen (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baleen)

Some people just live large. Jedediah Smith was one of those people.

He had three ambitions which were to:

Serve his God 
Provide for his family, and
Become a great American Explorer

He succeeded at all three and much more. He lived large. He changed Oregon.

No roads, no path. (Image Royalty free Unsplash.com)

You might wonder how a person, who lived back in the 1800’s, might have impacted our lives today. Let me tell you a short story about Jedediah Smith.

Oregon didn’t achieve Statehood until 1859, and we might not have if it wasn’t for explorers like Jedediah Smith. Smith was one of the first, and maybe the most important, trapper/explorer back in the 1820s.

Hearing the stories

He was born in 1799 and at 13 worked as a clerk on a Lake Erie freighter learning the basics of business. Smith undoubtedly had heard the tall tales the trappers brought back from their trips.

Jedediah most likely did what every normal 13-year-old would do… hang on every word and develop an intense interest in wilderness trade and nature. This interest was kindled even further by friend of the family Dr. Titus G. V. Simons, a pioneer medical doctor.

According to legend, Dr. Simons gave Smith a copy of Lewis and Clark’s journal from their 1804-1806 expedition to the Pacific. Smith carried this journal throughout his travels to the American west.

The Lewis and Clark journal demonstrated what Smith needed to do to be a successful explorer. He needed to report what he saw, draw maps, write letters, and create a journal of his own.  

As it turns out, Smith’s journals, maps, and letters were key to kindling interest in the new Oregon Country. A place few Caucasians had ever traveled to, that almost fell into the hands of the British.  

Shared occupation

The Treaty of 1818 allowed joint occupation of the Oregon Country between Britain and the United States. The region was dominated by the British’s Hudson Bay Company (HBC) at Ft. Vancouver on the Columbia River.

At this time, the British Chief Factor at HBC was responsible for one-quarter of the North American continent. Smith and company represented the American contingency.

From 1823 to 1828, Smith traveled extensively between South Pass in Wyoming to the Oregon Country, and twice south into Mexican California and back.

There was a lot of unrest on the west coast and conflicts between explorers, British and American, and Native Americans in 1826.  Smith noted that beaver were becoming scarce in the region.

The 1828 trip from California to Oregon was fraught with escalating mistrust and violence between the explorers and Native Americans. Coastal tribes closely monitored the arrival of all newcomers to their region and were very wary of visitors. Violence was common.

The Umpqua Massacre

The story goes that Smith and company camped on the Umpqua River. Smith and three others left camp to scout the trail north.

A scuffle began when one of the Natives stole an axe from the Smith camp. Some of Smith’s party treated the Umpqua very harshly to get the axe back.

The violence erupted in the early morning of July 13. Coquille (Na-so-mah) tribesmen murdered the remaining 15 members of Smith’s group, and stole furs, horses, and gear.    

Smith learned of the massacre and headed north to the HBC in Fort Vancouver for shelter and respite. In the fall, he mounted a rescue mission and was able to bury the dead, and recover 700 beaver skins, 39 horses, and journals.

In gratitude, Smith presented the HBC with a copy of his master map of the west which he had created over the years. (NOTE: This map was rediscovered in 1953 and subsequently published a year later.)

Smith was well connected and authored many letters describing his travels and observations. In 1830, Smith wrote then Secretary of War John Eaton of his concerns that the British were alienating the indigenous people against the Americans. He also felt that the British were attempting to establish a permanent settlement in the Oregon Country.  

The last trip

Smith returned to St. Louis with hopes of drafting detailed maps and going into the mercantile business. That goal was not to be. An associate convinced him to take a load of supplies to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The company did not take adequate water supplies from St. Louis and was not able to find water along the way. Scouts were sent out in search of water each day.

Smith was scouting for water on May 27, 1831 when he was killed by a Comanche hunting party. He was 32 years old.

The story is not over

In 1836, President Andrew Jackson launched a Federally funded expedition. The expeditions goals were to explore the Pacific Northwest and lay claim on the Oregon Country previously explored by Smith.

This is not a story about how a brave explorer survived three massacres and a horrific grizzly bear attack or of how he explored and mapped much of the Rocky Mountains, American Southwest, American West Coast, or discovered the first east-west crossing of the Great Basin Desert. It is about the key role that Smith played in the development of Oregon as a State.

Without his work documenting and mapping Oregon we all might be drinking British tea right now. Would Oregon have become a State without the fur trade and emigration routes? Would there have been an Oregon Trail without Smith’s work describing the South Pass?

Tipping the balance of power

Jedediah Smith almost singularly tipped the balance of power to the United States leading to the permanent settlement of the Pacific Northwest and later to Oregon’s statehood.

His was not an easy life. It was harsh and full of danger, challenges, and wonder.
Fortunate for us, it was large.

REFERENCES:
–Oregon Encyclopedia (https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/smith_jedediah/#.X06bDO-SmUk)
–History (https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/commanche-kill-mountain-man-jedediah-smith)
–Wikipedia, Jedediah Smith (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jedediah_Smith)