Low tides offer high adventure for kayakers

Posted: Sunday, September 10, 2006

KENAI - The last low tide cycle of the summer is just around the bend, and many a beachcomber may be eying up that clam shovel. But if your freezer is stocked with razor clams and you're looking for a new way to exploit the next low tide, you may want to dig up a sea kayak instead of a pile of sand.

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If you don't have a kayak buried in your garage, a kayak can be easily rented. So why should kayaking come to mind when water drops and sea creatures lay helplessly exposed on beaches or hanging from rock walls?

To the kayak thought, add Kachemak Bay State Park and the answer will quickly fall into place.

Sea kayaking in Kachemak Bay State Park, just a 20- to 30-minute water taxi ride from Homer, may be one of the best ways to see some of the richest intertidal zone wildlife Alaska has to offer.

Sea otters, blue mussels and an abundance of marine bird species are all common sights while gliding along the shores of the park. To that list you can add starfish, sea anemones, chitons and sea urchins when the tide is low.

Quietly paddle your way around the park's rocky shorelines and you never know when you might meet with an otter floating on its back in the sun, leisurely grooming its whiskers and face.

Or paddle when the tide is low, and you're likely to find colorful sea anemones hanging from rock walls like deflated balloons, their tentacles all tucked in as they wait for the sea to return.

Perhaps the most exciting sea creatures you'll find hanging on rock walls are the starfish. Not just one or two of them, we're talking piles. Red ones, blue ones, five-legged, 20-legged and while some may be as small as a tarantula, others look like they could weigh as much as a human head.

Some of the creatures you may find are a little less obvious. Watch carefully, for example, as you paddle past rocky beaches and you may see the tell-tale sign of the steamer clam. From between the rocks, the clams spout silver threads of water into the air. It can be a bit of a goose chase, but you may want to stop and hunt one or two of the white-shelled clams down for dinner. But unless you have a clam rake stowed in your kayak it may be difficult to reach more than one or two before your fingers become as raw as a shucked clam. Unlike razor clams, steamers don't bury themselves in soft mud or sand.

But Kachemak offers a more vulnerable prey, that will delight the taste buds of any true shellfish lover. Mussels cover rocks with their dark blue shells, attached by threaded beards extending from the hinge in their shell.

Intertidal mussels, like those found along the shores of the park, are touted as superior to mussels typically found in fish markets, which are usually raised on ropes in deeper water.

Bring a small camp stove and pot, and boil the thumb-sized shellfish in seawater and enjoy a delightful lunch break. As you eat the shellfish you may notice some have an orange tinge. These are the female mussels and considered the tastiest.

As with all shellfish, however, harvesters should be aware of the risks of paralytic shellfish poisoning, an illness caused by eating shellfish contaminated with toxic chemicals produced by algae blooms.



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