Rocky Shores


The Oregon coast is famous for its rocky shores. Our uniquely beautiful coastline is visited by millions of people each year and provides habitats to countless species of animals and plants. Twice a day at high tide, surging waves send cold seawater crashing onto the rocky cliffs and beaches to collect in pools in the rocks. At low tide, the rocks might steam dry in the sun but the pools remain, havens for a variety of organisms. In order to survive in this rocky intertidal zone, plants and animals must be adapted to survive both the cold water and the hot sun. While some animals keep cool and wet in the tide pools, other trap moisture in watertight shells or crawl into the damp shade under rocks or beneath the broken leaves of bull kelp.

As if exposure to water, wind, sun and waves weren’t enough, rocky intertidal life must cope with predators of all description – from seabirds to forest animals such as raccoons, skunks and otters. To deal with these challenges, many of these marine animals are covered in hard shells, have elaborate camouflage or are armed with stinging cells called nematocysts. When touring through this gallery, see how many of these defensive adaptations you can spot!

rocky-shoresThe centerpiece of the Rocky Shores Gallery is our touch-pool. Staffed by volunteers, this exhibit lets visitors gently interact with tide pool residents like sea stars, gumboot chitons and anemones. Other gallery highlights include a tide pool cut-away raked by waves and a deep pool in which a visitor-operated video camera has been mounted for close-up investigation. The Rocky Shores Gallery holds a total of 15 exhibits, including habitats for the fearsome-looking (but gentle) Wolf Eel, brightly-colored rockfish and a wide range of sea stars, limpets and other invertebrates.

What lives here?

Black Rockfish

Sebastes melanops

The Black Rockfish can be found at depths of up to 1,200 feet (365 meters) but prefer mid-water and surface dwelling. The fish often gather together in huge schools, sometimes with other rockfish species including the Blue Rockfish.

Box Crab

Lopholithodes foraminatus

Often hunted by octopus and other creatures that dwell on the ocean’s bottom, the Box Crab is a master of disguise. This crustacean’s descriptive name comes from its tendency to bury itself in the mud while pulling its legs in underneath its body and folding its claws in front of it – thereby appearing box-shaped.

Burrowing Sea Cucumber

Cucumaria miniata

Unlike the better known California Stichopus, at first glance the Burrowing Sea Cucumber may appear to be plantlike. They are related to other echinoderms including Sea Stars, Urchins, Sand Dollars and Brittle Stars, all of which are animals but are frequently confused for flora by the casual observer.

California Mussel

Mytilus californianus

California Mussels have large, blue-black shells (also called valves) with irregular growth lines. The shells are thick and pointed at the end attached to the rocks.

California Stichopus

Parastichopus californicus

It may be hard to believe that these strange-looking creatures (commonly known as sea cucumbers) are actually related to sea stars, sea urchins and sand dollars.

Canary Rockfish

Sebastes pinniger

As the name implies, Canary Rockfish are a stunningly colorful animal related to scorpionfish and thornyheads. They are usually bright orange and have three darker orange stripes across the head.

Christmas Anemone

Urticina crassicornis

The Christmas Anemone is so called because of its dark green body with red striations that run vertically along the column toward the head. Like other anemones, this species can unfurl or retract its tentacles as needed.

Flat Porcelain Crab

Petrolisthes cinctipes

Despite its name and appearance, the Flat Porcelain Crab is not a crab at all. In fact, it is more closely related to the lobster, but through a process known as carcinisation has evolved to look like a crab.

Giant Green Anemone

Anthopleura xanthogrammica

If you have ever had the pleasure of going “tide-pooling” on the Oregon coast, you have undoubtedly seen these beautiful marine animals clumped to the rocks. When living close to the sunlight, these invertebrates are usually a vivid green – a coloration often causes people to confuse them for plants.

Giant Rock Scallop

Crassedoma giganteum

Giant Rock Scallops have coarsely ribbed shells called valves. The upper valve is usually scallop-shaped but the lower valve takes the shape of the substrate to which it's attached.

Grunt Sculpin

Rhamphocottus richardsonii

Curiously shaped and colored, Grunt Sculpins are an interesting and amusing fish to observe. They have stout bodies and large heads. Their pectoral fins are broad with the lower rays separated into almost finger-like arrangements.


Ophiodon elongates

This predatory fish is a common in our Halibut Flats exhibit where it patrols near the sandy bottom. The lingcod is a striking-looking fish with mottled coloring in gray, brown, green and blue.

Hairy Hermit Crab

Pagurus hirsutiusculus

Hermit crabs protect their soft bodies by carrying snail shells on their back. If a hermit crab grows too big for its shell, it will find a new, better-fitting shell to move into. They rarely leave the security of their shell.

Monkeyface Prickleback

Cebidichthys violaceus

One glance and you will understand how this fish earned its unusual name. The adults have a large fleshy lump on the top of their head that looks similar to a primate’s nose.

Ochre Star

Pistaster ochraceus

Ochre stars may be yellow, orange, brown, reddish or even purple. Small white spines form a pattern across their backs. Most Ochre stars have five stout, tapering arms but they may have four or seven.

Purple Sea Urchin

Strongylocentrotus purpuratus

This urchin’s body and spines are typically bright purple. Juveniles are occasionally pale green or greenish with tinges of purple. They are domed above and flattened below.

Red Octopus

Octopus rubescens

Red octopuses are small, dull red or reddish brown animals. They have eight sucker-lined arms and rough skin. Like their octopus kin, red octopus can change their skin color and texture at will.

Sea Lemon

Anisodoris nobillis

It may be difficult to see typical animal features on the Sea Lemon and often they are mistaken for plants or inanimate marine objects by laypeople.

Sharp-Nosed Crab

Scyra acutifrons

This crab is named after the unusual shape of its carapace, which has a sharp, snout-like feature at the front and a broad, flat rear.

Stalked Tunicate

Styela montereyensis

Almost alien-looking, Stalked Tunicates (sometimes known as Sea Squirts) are often mistaken for a plant rather than an invertebrate animal.

Strawberry Anemone

Corynactis californica

This beautiful invertebrate is abundant on rocky reefs, ledges and pier pilings all along the Oregon coast. They are usually found on open shores or in bays and can be easily spotted at low tide.

Tiger Rockfish

Sebastes nigrocinctus

One of multiple species of rockfish to inhabit our Orford Reef habitat in the Passages of the Deep, this specimen is particularly colorful with red to black bands set against a pink or orange background.

Wolf Eel

Anarrhichthys ocellatus

Clearly, this animal is not a wolf... but is it even an eel? Although this fish may appear like an eel, the similarities are superficial – true eels do not have fins.