Using Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest

Searching for Species

We have spent many enchanted hours sightseeing among the undersea wonders of the Northwest Coast and readers may enjoy an armchair version of the diving or beachcombing experience simply by browsing the index or contents of this book. We hope our work will serve to spread appreciation of this region’s remarkable marine life far and wide. However, we also intend it to serve a more specific function in helping readers to efficiently identify organisms they encounter. Here are some simple steps to follow:

1. If you already know the name of the organism you wish to identify, or can make a good guess, the quickest way is to use the "Search Marine Life of the Pacific Northwest" box on the right of the homepage with the scientific or common name of the species.

2. If you do not know the exact name of the organism you wish to identify but know the general group it belongs to, go to the Table of Contents and look for the scientific or common name of the group, then click to go to the appropriate section.

3. If you are unable to find an exact match, it is possible your specimen is not among those we have catalogued. Keep in mind, though, that there are few omissions among seaweeds and invertebrates likely to be encountered by the non-professional, and the reader should examine all possibilities in this book. The one category in which coverage is not intended to be exhaustive is that of fishes. More complete reference for these species may be found in Coastal Fishes of the Pacific Northwest by Andy Lamb and Phil Edgell (Harbour, 1986) or Pacific Fishes of Canada by J.L. Hart (Fisheries Research Board of Canada, 1973).


We have organized the species in this volume by scientific category. Each organism is placed in a phylum, which is described briefly. We have not divided these phyla into lesser ranks, such as classes and orders, but have arranged species more informally, following external similarities. The phyla are arranged from simple to complex, with some general headings, such as Chitons and Crabs, to indicate familiar subgroupings.

One significant exception is the polychaete worms, which are introduced by family. This book features the first extensive treatment of these species for the general audience, including a new taxonomic system and description of common characteristics that define family groupings.

A Further Reading list notes additional information sources.


Each organism has a scientific name, consisting of a genus and a species, which can vary considerably. The initial name (in boldface type) listed for each species is the most widely used or the most current. That name is followed by alternatives, including those that have been misspelled or used incorrectly, for cross-referencing purposes with other books, scientific papers and local usage.

Established common names are also listed. Where no common name exists, we have assigned one, marked with the symbol <>. We hope these newly minted names will provide a bridge between experts and other interested people, encouraging the exchange of more information on the organisms. For some species, the Scientific Committee for the Establishment of Common Names has assisted in this process. We believe that this consistent dual tracking system not only enables easier engagement with Pacific Northwest marine life, but also facilitates more communication by all concerned.

Some species illustrated here were previously unknown. Others, while already “found,” present such formidable challenges to classification that formal designation is still pending. Where the genus (first name) of such an organism is known but the species (second name) is not, the genus is followed by the abbreviation sp. or spp. Less precisely identified organisms are presented in a more narrative form. We have included them to indicate what information we do have, and to encourage all students of marine life to gather more data.

Numerous species in certain groups, such as sponges and bryozoans, cannot be identified readily without access to sophisticated instruments and jargon-laden scientific keys. In an effort to be inclusive rather than exclusive, we present such organisms with a basic name and letter, such as sponge A or sponge B.

Maximum Sizes

Maximum sizes are referenced from scientific literature combined with the authors’ field observations (also noted by the symbol <>). Species that grow in an irregular mat or carpet-like fashion, such as encrusting sponges, bryozoans and compound tunicates, are difficult to size precisely. In such instances we provide approximations or descriptive comments. Measurements of some species may have been documented from preserved specimens; therefore, dimensions shown are likely smaller than the living organisms’ true maximum sizes—particularly for soft-bodied forms. Optimally justified metric/imperial equivalents are supplied for this and the following categories.


We have made our best effort to provide accurate geographic and vertical ranges for all species, drawing on published records and direct previously undocumented observation (again noted by the symbol <>). Information may be approximate due to several factors. Imprecise depth estimates have sometimes entered the literature because sampling equipment was limited or tide level was not considered. As more naturalists study with ever-improving technologies, documentation will improve. Amateurs can contribute to this process as well as professionals, and all are encouraged to make accurate observations and place them on record.


In addition to brief biological descriptions, entries include incidental information, usually on behaviour and ecology, to aid identification.

Photograph Locations

Each entry concludes with a line noting where the organism in the photograph was encountered. These locations were taken directly from nautical charts or topographical maps so that readers can pinpoint sites.

A Changing World

The information in this book is current as of 2005, but like everything else under the sun, the marine world is subject to constant change. As we were going to press, a non-indigenous tunicate, Didemnum sp. (CH43), was spreading rapidly in the Pacific Northwest. This adaptable species, which originated in Europe, was first found colonizing the Atlantic seaboard, and then was recorded from Puget Sound, Washington, in 2004. Less than a year later, we were shocked to find it carpeting extensive areas of rocky subtidal shoreline in Agamemnon Channel, 200 kilometres (120 miles) to the north. It is difficult to keep up with such fast-developing phenomena, but we have tried to provide information current at the time of publication.

About the Photography

Several generations of cameras, strobes and housings were used by Bernie Hanby in the 25 years during which the photographs included here were accumulated.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, photographs were taken using a Canon F1 camera with 50 mm macro lens in an Oceanic housing. Lighting was provided by Oceanic 2001 and 2003 strobes. Successive systems included both Canon F1N and Nikon F4 cameras in Aquatica housings combined with Ikelite 200 and 225 strobes, as well as a Nikonos V system. More recently a Nikon F90 camera in a Sea & Sea housing with YS 350 underwater strobe was also used.

Most images were captured with Nikon F4 systems using 60 mm macro lenses and 25 ASA Kodachrome film. As a result of the “digitizing” of photography, Kodak recently discontinued this excellent film, whose consistent and true colour rendition, together with outstanding archival qualities, made it a favourite of many professional and amateur photographers for more than 40 years. As the project neared completion, Kodachrome 64 ASA film was substituted. Wide-angle photographs were taken primarily using Kodachrome 200 ASA film. For some intertidal subjects, including many smaller species, a Nikon ring light and extension rings augmented the equipment.

All of Bernie Hanby’s images have been reproduced without digital alteration.

The close-up images of seaweeds contributed by Dr. Michael W. Hawkes were produced using a Contax camera with Zeiss 60 mm macro lens. With the aid of a Bencher copy stand, these subjects were placed in shallow, seawater-filled Plexiglas trays, which were illuminated from below with quartz halogen lights. The film used was Ektachrome EPY 50 ASA Tungsten.

During this project, Andy Lamb evolved into the role of photographer’s assistant—a necessity considering the number of species recorded, many of which presented special challenges. Our photographic adventures would likely provide the basis for another book!