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caption: Naturalist Susan Tarpley with children at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo
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Naturalist Susan Tarpley with children at Lighthouse Park in Mukilteo
Credit: KUOW photo/John Ryan

Low tides not as extreme as forecast but do not disappoint Puget Sound beachgoers

The promise of the lowest tides in more than a decade drew throngs to the edge of Puget Sound last week to see parts of our region only scuba divers usually see.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had forecast Wednesday’s low tide to be the lowest since 2009 and Thursday’s just 3 inches higher. Those tidal predictions are based on complex analyses of 38 different movements of the Earth, moon, and sun, including a 19-year wobble in the moon’s orbit that is nearing its peak in 2025.

But wind and weather often push tides higher or lower than those gravity-based predictions, and the week’s lowest tides came in (or went out, really) 6 to 8 inches higher than forecast, according to preliminary tide gauge readings in Seattle and Friday Harbor.

According to those preliminary readings, Wednesday’s tide (at -3.6 feet in downtown Seattle and -3 feet in Friday Harbor) wasn’t the lowest in a decade, but it was the lowest since a midnight tide in early December.

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A thick-horned nudibranch, about an inch long, glides inside a moonsnail shell near Shoreline, Washington, on June 14. The orange bits at the tips of the feathery “cerata” are stinging cells stolen from sea anemones the nudibranch has eaten.
Credit: KUOW/John Ryan

Children’s squeals of delight and crowds of beach explorers at water’s edge in Edmonds, Mukilteo, and Seattle suggested the tidal world did not disappoint. Even with the sea several inches higher than promised, tide pool-viewing conditions were undoubtedly much better on a warm afternoon in June than a dark December night.

“Oh wow, that’s crazy,” Destiny Benjamin of Marysville said after spotting a sea star clinging to the underside of a rock at Mukilteo's Lighthouse Park.

“The creatures, the smell of the ocean. It's nice,” she said.

Washington State University beach naturalist Susan Tarpley was on hand at Lighthouse Park to help visitors figure out what they were seeing and how to avoid damaging it.

“I think the overall experience is just amazement and complete joy,” Tarpley said. “This is a place that is absolutely chockablock full with living critters and plants.”

caption: A blood star clings to a rock in Edmonds, Washington, on June 18.
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A blood star clings to a rock in Edmonds, Washington, on June 18.
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan

More extra-low tides are predicted for Puget Sound July 11-16 and Aug. 9-12.

But, according to Washington Sea Grant oceanographer Ian Miller, the region isn’t expected to have another tide as low as had been forecast for Wednesday for four years.

caption: Beachgoers walk by an eelgrass meadow exposed by an extreme low tide on June 14 in Shoreline, Washington.
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Beachgoers walk by an eelgrass meadow exposed by an extreme low tide on June 14 in Shoreline, Washington.
Credit: KUOW Photo/John Ryan