Boring sponges will knock your (calcium carbonate) socks off!

Amanda loves tide pools

by Amanda Kahn

First things first, what is a sponge?  Check out one of my former blog posts that introduces you to a few important background facts: 1) sponges are animals, and 2) sponges are filter feeders.  They can grow up as big masses, taking on the shape of spheres, blobs, vases, tubes, or plates.  Alternatively, they can encrust, or grow over, rocks or sediments.  One group of sponges follows a different strategy.

In the picture below, these animals are growing on what looks like an old abalone shell, and overgrowing that shell is Ophlitaspongia pennata (the orange sponge).  There is another, yellow, sponge in this picture, but it has tubes that project out while the rest appears to be below the surface of the substrate.  What’s going on here?

Cliona californiana (yellow) and Ophlitaspongia pennata (orange)

Cliona californiana (yellow) and Ophlitaspongia pennata (orange). Credit: Jackson Chu

The answer is: the yellow sponge is a boring sponge (Cliona californiana, to be precise).  Let me clarify what I mean by “boring sponge.”  I do not mean that this is a snoozer of a sponge (One of Urban Dictionary’s definitions of boring is, “Like sleeping but with eyes open. When your [sic] tired and everything’s quiet and not fun.”  Instead, I mean the OTHER definition of boring:

“Boring – to form, make, or construct (a tunnel, mine, well, passage, etc.) by hollowing out, cutting through, or removing a core of material.” —

Boring sponges are known from back in the 1800’s, when New Jersey fishermen called them Bay-pumpkins (Leidy, 1889).  Fishermen and scientists at the time observed that boring sponges excavated the shells of oyster and scallops, and later research found that boring sponges secrete chemicals that eat away at calcium carbonate over time.  They can bore through mollusc shells, coralline algae, and even non-marine substances!  In an article from 1879, John Ryder wrote:

“In 1871 a vessel laden with marble was sunk in Long Island sound, and according to Prof. Verrill, the boring sponge has penetrated the exposed parts of the blocks for a depth of two to three inches from the surface.”

Statues at Buckingham Palace

Good thing these marble statues aren’t underwater, or they’d fall victim to boring sponges as well! Credit: A Kahn 2011

The sponges tunneled two to three INCHES–about the length of a credit card–in solid marble!  In spite of boring into calcium carbonate, these sponges are filter feeders like most other sponges.  Boring sponges are found throughout the world, and are a common sight on the shells of live and dead molluscs in and around Bamfield.  Keep an eye out for their bright yellow oscula protruding from tiny pores in the shells they grow on!

To learn more about boring sponges, check out this webpage from the Chesapeake Bay Program, and if you have questions or have more fun facts to share about boring sponges, leave them in the comments section below.

Leidy, J., 1889. The boring-sponge, Cliona.  Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia 41, 70-75.  Accessible at:

Ryder, J.A., 1879. On the destructive nature of the boring sponge, with observations on its gemmules or eggs. The American Naturalist 13, 279–283.  Accessible at:

Intertidal golf

by Susan Anthony

What is it? Well, golf in the intertidal!

Also, it’s a Bamfield Volunteer Fire Department fundraiser that occurs on a low low tide every year in the summer. Costumes are a must, and prizes given out for the best team costume. Check out the creative costumes in the photos below.

Lest you think it was all wet and grey, the sun came out (you can almost see it). Now the only obstacles are the massive amounts of Fucus. Credit: N Webster

Last year’s ball, now a loving limpet home. Credit: N Webster

Everyone meets at the Bamfield Inlet mudflats and gets a wedge (no drivers and putters necessary); then the whacking commences. The whole course is one big mud, water, and sand trap.  With additional obstacles such as rocks, trees, clams, algae, etc., this course requires you to  hone some skills that you wouldn’t require on any other course.

It’s not a rare occurrence to see someone whacking away at a ball while standing ankle deep in water, nor to hear someone shouting “FORE!” as a ball goes way off course towards another team.

Just adding to the fun, mud, mud, and mud. Especially around the “hole”. This means that even the most seasoned professional golfer has a challenge. Kind of levels the playing field. Credit: L. Palmer

Thermal image of hands. Credit: N Webster

It’s all for fun, and the money raised by the event goes to the Bamfield Volunteer Fire Department for new equipment.  This year, the money raised allowed them to purchase a thermal camera, which uses infrared to detect left-over hot spots from a fire.

Once you’re done batting around fruitlessly, racking up strokes, you hand in your score card (doctored or not) for comparison with others, and maybe buy a burger at the beached skiff starting area.  Erica won the ‘most honest’ award, for the second time in a row, while BVFD experts won with the fewest strokes. Best costume went to the Demons – Siobhan, Sara, Dane, Ross, Caroline.

Three Demons hiding in the woods! Credit: P. Demontigny

The day doesn’t end there, your intertidal golf ticket also gets you entrance to a delicious salmon BBQ for dinner: fresh local salmon cooked with three different sauces – Thai, herbs, and BBQ.

Finally, to round out the day, a performance by Chumbucket (featuring graduate student Greg McCullagh). They rocked until 1am, and are always a great time!  SO great in fact, we have no photos of the event.  Sorry.

Can’t wait for next year! Start dreaming up costume ideas that go well with gum boots!

Leys Lab (and friends) dressed up like a temperate rainforest. L-R Jasmine (thimbleberry), Pam (log), Brian (eagle), Nelson (ferns), Danielle (banana slug), and Sally (ferns) crouched in front. Credit: L. Palmer

The Palmer Lab. Dressed as Rich Palmer. L-R Suz (Rich Palmer), Nicole (Rich Palmer), Rich (Rich Palmer), and Jared (Rich Palmer). Jared is also sporting the lovely hat that comes with admission. Credit: L. Palmer

Tight living spaces for life in the intertidal zone of Tapaltos Beach

Amanda loves tide pools

By Amanda Kahn
Sometimes, students may feel like they’ve had to share close quarters, sharing apartments or dorms or rooms with multiple roommates and generally feeling like there just isn’t enough space.  Animals, plants, and algae that live in the intertidal zone have to deal with that feeling all the time!  Below is a photo of the “mussel zone” at Tapaltos Beach.  Can you count how many blue-black mussels there are in that photo?!  I count at least 70, and it looks like there are even more white, scaly-looking gooseneck barnacles!

Intertidal organisms of Tapaltos Beach

Intertidal animals and algae compete for space at Tapaltos Beach. Credit: D Ludeman 2011

I guess we humans have another advantage beyond the tighter quarters the animals have to share…at least when sharing an apartment, it’s arguably all one species sharing the space!  How many different animals, plants, or algae can you recognize in this picture?