Kopachuk State Park – Sand Dollar Haven!

A wide view of the Kopachuk shoreline shows the expansive population of sand dollars is at the park. Most of these echinoderms are quite full of life yet easily accessible for close up viewing. Macro views of the sand dollar tube feet are amazing.

Washington State is home to a large number of beautiful and exceptionally interesting state parks. One of my favorites is Kopachuk near Gig Harbor. Comprised of 280 acres along Henderson Bay it is a great way to complete your day after cruising the shops in the city of Gig Harbor. Like most marine parks, however, low tide is the most fascinating time to visit. Kopachuk is a beautiful place with a lot of park benches and hiking trails at high tide but when that beach opens up at low tide it becomes a sand dollar spectacular! Huge areas of this sandy beach are densely studded with these amazing creatures. Our Northwest Sand Dollar, Dendraster excentricus, is an echinoderm related to sea urchins and sea stars. Unlike their echinoderm cousins, though, sand dollars have teeny tiny tube feet and move by “spinal” manipulation. Their little tube feet are used for feeding as the creature sifts through its sandy environment. Particle of food are swept up by the tube feet and aided by a uniquely named organ called Aristotle’s Lantern. The name comes to us thanks to the famous philosopher scientist himself who described the feeding organ of a sea urchin as looking like a “horn lantern.” It became known sometime later as Aristotle’s Lantern.

References:

Thanks to the Living Coast Discovery Center website for the bit about Aristotle’s Lantern

Kopachuk State Park website

Pacific Reef and Shore by Rick M. Harbo

Seashore Life of Puget Sound, the Straight of Georgia, and the San Juan Archipelago by Eugene N. Kozloff

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