Project Nature Blog

Up Close with Sea Creatures of the Pacific Northwest

Living in Washington State, we are lucky to have endless miles of coastline in thanks to the Pacific Ocean and the Salish Sea. The Salish Sea is the inland sea that encompasses Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the waters off of Vancouver, BC. Spanning from Olympia in the south to the Campbell River, British Columbia in the north, and west towards Neah Bay.

These beautiful coastlines contain thousands of sea creatures from Mussels to Orcas, Starfish, Northern Clingfish to the infamous GeoDuck. Grab a bucket, rain boots and your camera along with an adventurous spirit and head out to discover PNW sea creatures. Make sure to check the tide tables before heading out in order to find the best tide pools.

Tide pool exploring on Vancouver Island, B.C.

Northern Clingfish

This fish hangs onto the underside of rocks with a suction cup on its belly. The suction cup is incredibly strong and can lift more than three hundred times the fish’s weight. This strength helps the fish stay on their rock during rough waves. Northern clingfish also have a secret power–they can breathe air.

Shore Crabs

Beachcombers are certain to find shore crabs along the beach, especially when the tide goes out. Crabs breathe through gills and are covered in exoskeletons. Crabs grow new exoskeletons and leaves their old ones on the beach.


These two shelled creatures (or bivalve mollusks) attach themselves to rocks with hundreds of threads of special glue. This glue is stretchy which allows them to move back and forth with the ocean’s waves. Mussels can be found all over rocks in tide pools and under piers on the beach alongside barnacles.


The Geoduck (pronounced “gooey duck”) is of no relation to an actual duck. They are the biggest clam on the beach and can live for more than 150 years. Weighing in at up to 8 pounds, the Geoduck digs under the mud, with its siphon stretched up to the surface for seawater.  

Aggregating Anemones

These creatures can usually be found in patches on rocks, creating a carpet like appearance. They reproduce by either sending eggs and sperm into the water or cloning themselves by splitting in two. Most anemones are green due to the algae living inside them.

Purple Sea Urchin

This prickly creature moves along on tube feet and can rub at a rock with its teeth and spines to create a hollowed out hideout. Finding one of these on the beach is a good sign of clean water as sea urchins are the first to suffer from polluted water.

Purple Sea Stars

The sea star uses the water’s motion to move around the beach. During low tide, they cling to rocks with their hundreds of tube feet. Leave them alone if you find them clinging to a rock as they suction on extremely tight and can painfully leave their feet behind if ripped off a rock.


Spotting an orca pod is an unforgettable sight! These large mammals travel in large groups and consume lots of salmon. They spend their summers in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington where they bulk up with lots of fresh seafood.

Great Blue Herons

These impressive birds can stand as tall as three feet with a six-foot wingspan. Their croak sounds like an inexperienced saxophone player. They can be spotted standing in the water, waiting to catch a fish and nest in trees in large colonies of up to 500 birds.

By Rebecca Mongrain