Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Rockland Breakwater

If there were seven wonders of Maine, the Rockland Breakwater surely would be one of them.  Last weekend, I dragged my folks out the end of it for a look at Autumn in Penobscot Bay.  And what a view it was.

My parents, who never bargained on raising a nature lover.  Their fatal mistake? Sending me to summer camp.
Of course, it took me a long time to get to the end.  With so much to look at, I had to stop and check out the happenings along the way.  Biologically, the Breakwater is fascinating.  We were there just before low tide (always the choice time to visit the coast).  There was distinct zonation on the Breakwater, as I would expect -- a nice wreath of barnacles around the top, then Fucus and Ascophyllum, then red algae.  The barnacles on the more exposed east side rose higher than those on the protected side -- a result of greater splashing from Penobscot Bay; which cools the substrate and reduces desiccation.  

More interesting was the relationship between the gulls and the seastars and sea urchins.  All along the protected side of the Breakwater, gulls were foraging.  Their quarry:  seastars.  I can't imagine there's much to enjoy about eating a seastar, but obviously they're worth the effort, or the gulls would have moved on.  Seastar after seastar was plucked from the rocks, turned over and over in a beak (it's hard to swallow something that's all arms), and gulped down.  

Bon appetite!
Lucky for the seastars, it seems sea urchins are the tastier of the two.  As we turned back and headed for shore (and lunch) the gulls got busy on the green sea urchins we saw earlier in the subtidal zone.  I guess for seastars and urchins it's a fine line between moving as far up as you can to forage, while avoiding desiccation and predation.

This guy was still moving his spines.  Apparently he didn't know he'd been eaten.

Removing the hook carefully, to try to get the bait back from this hapless cunner.

Gulls weren't the only ones foraging.  A family was busily gigging for cunner amongst the boulders on the Bay side of the Breakwater.  Cunner specialize in intertidal life; their big, sharp, nasty, pointy teeth are used to pluck barnacles, mussels, small arthropods, and any number of sessile organisms off rocks and pilings.  They're quite the delicacy it seems, and this family was going to have a feast from the looks of it -- in five minutes they'd pulled in three small cunner.

I'd  never been to the Breakwater before, and just about hit myself on the forehead and yelled "doh!" when I saw what I've been missing.  I mean, what more could an ocean lover want?  An easy stroll out into the heart of Rockland Harbor; spectacular wildlife all around you; and great people watching to boot.  Plus, there's the Breakwater itself.  For its time, this must have been a true marvel of construction.  This thing is massive -- 7/8 of a mile long, sixty feet wide at the base, with massive blocks of granite fitted into an amazing puzzle of a walkway. Thinking of the labor that went into building the Breakwater -- especially in the 1800's -- is mind boggling.

So go the Breakwater.  Walk to the end.  Spend some time watching the ocean world around you.  And let me know what you see -- you know I'll be interested!

Oh yeah, the dog stayed home.  Someone had to keep the couch warm.

To get there:  From Rockland, take US 1 north.  Turn right onto Waldo Avenue, go 1/2 mile and turn right onto Samoset.  Drive to the end; there is parking there.  Wear good walking shoes and bring some water.

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