1. THE SHORE OF THE SEA
The Seaweed Area
By the shore of the sea the zoologist means much more than the narrow zone between tide-marks; he means the whole of the relatively shallow, well-illumined, seaweed-growing shelf around the continents and continental islands. Technically, this is called the littoral area, and it is divisible into zones, each with its characteristic population. It may be noted that the green seaweeds are highest up on the shore; the brown ones come next; the beautiful red ones are lowest. All of them have got green chlorophyll, which enables them to utilise the sun's rays in photosynthesis (i.e. building up carbon compounds from air, water, and salts), but in the brown and red seaweeds the green pigment is masked by others. It is maintained by some botanists that these other pigments enable their possessors to make more of the scantier light in the deeper waters. However this may be, we must always think of the shore-haunt as the seaweed-growing area. Directly and indirectly the life of the shore animals is closely wrapped up with the seaweeds, which afford food and foothold, and temper the force of the waves. The minute fragments broken off from seaweeds and from the sea-grass (a flowering plant called Zostera) form a sort of nutritive sea-dust which is swept slowly down the slope from the shore, to form a very useful deposit in the quietness of deepish water. It is often found in the stomachs of marine animals living a long way offshore.
Conditions of Shore Life
The littoral area as defined is not a large haunt of life; it occupies only about 9 million square miles, a small fraction of the 197,000,000 of the whole earth's surface. But it is a very long haunt, some 150,000 miles, winding in and out by bay and fiord, estuary and creek. Where deep water comes close to cliffs there may be no shore at all; in other places the relatively shallow water, with seaweeds growing over the bottom, may extend outwards for miles. The nature of the shore varies greatly according to the nature of the rocks, according to what the streams bring down from inland, and according to the jetsam that is brought in by the tides. The shore is a changeful place; there is, in the upper reaches, a striking difference between "tide in" and "tide out"; there are vicissitudes due to storms, to freshwater floods, to wind-blown sand, and to slow changes of level, up and down. The shore is a very crowded haunt, for it is comparatively narrow, and every niche among the rocks may be precious.
Keen Struggle for Existence
It follows that the shore must be the scene of a keen struggle for existence—which includes all the answers-back that living creatures make to environing difficulties and limitations. There is struggle for food, accentuated by the fact that small items tend to be swept away by the outgoing tide or to sink down the slope to deep water. Apart from direct competition, e.g. between hungry hermit-crabs, it often involves hard work to get a meal. This is true even of apparently sluggish creatures. Thus the Crumb-of-Bread Sponge, or any other seashore sponge, has to lash large quantities of water through the intricate canal system of its body before it can get a sufficient supply of the microscopic organisms and organic particles on which it feeds. An index of the intensity of the struggle for food is afforded by the nutritive chains which bind animals together. The shore is almost noisy with the conjugation of the verb to eat in its many tenses. One pound of rock-cod requires for its formation ten pounds of whelk; one pound of whelk requires ten pounds of sea-worms; and one pound of worms requires ten pounds of sea-dust. Such is the circulation of matter, ever passing from one embodiment or incarnation to another.
Besides struggle for food there is struggle for foothold and for fresh air, struggle against the scouring tide and against the pounding breakers. The risk of dislodgment is often great and the fracture of limbs is a common accident. Of kinds of armour—the sea-urchin's hedgehog-like test, the crab's shard, the limpet's shell—there is great variety, surpassed only by that of weapons—the sea-anemone's stinging-cells, the sea-urchin's snapping-blades, the hermit-crab's forceps, the grappling tentacles and parrot's-beak jaws of the octopus.
Shifts for a Living
We get another glimpse of the intensity of the seashore struggle for existence in the frequency of "shifts for a living," adaptations of structure or of behaviour which meet frequently recurrent vicissitudes. The starfish is often in the dilemma of losing a limb or its life; by a reflex action it jettisons the captured arm and escapes. And what is lost is gradually regrown. The crab gets its leg broken past all mending; it casts off the leg across a weak breakage plane near the base, and within a preformed bandage which prevents bleeding a new leg is formed in miniature. Such is the adaptive device—more reflex than reflective—which is called self-mutilation or autotomy.
In another part of this book there is a discussion of camouflaging and protective resemblance; how abundantly these are illustrated on the shore! But there are other "shifts for a living." Some of the sand-hoppers and their relatives illustrate the puzzling phenomenon of "feigning death," becoming suddenly so motionless that they escape the eyes of their enemies. Cuttlefishes, by discharging sepia from their ink-bags, are able to throw dust in the eyes of their enemies. Some undisguised shore-animals, e.g. crabs, are adepts in a hide-and-seek game; some fishes, like the butterfish or gunnel, escape between stones where there seemed no opening and are almost uncatchable in their slipperiness. Subtlest of all, perhaps, is the habit some hermit-crabs have of entering into mutually beneficial partnership (commensalism) with sea-anemones, which mask their bearers and also serve as mounted batteries, getting transport as their reward and likewise crumbs from the frequently spread table. But enough has been said to show that the shore-haunt exhibits an extraordinary variety of shifts for a living.
Parental Care on the Shore
According to Darwin, the struggle for existence, as a big fact in the economy of Animate Nature, includes not only competition but all the endeavours which secure the welfare of the offspring, and give them a good send-off in life. So it is without a jolt that we pass from struggle for food and foothold to parental care. The marine leech called Pontobdella, an interesting greenish warty creature fond of fixing itself to skate, places its egg-cocoons in the empty shell of a bivalve mollusc, and guards them for weeks, removing any mud that might injure their development. We have seen a British starfish with its fully-formed young ones creeping about on its body, though the usual mode of development for shore starfishes is that the young ones pass through a free-swimming larval period in the open water. The father sea-spider carries about the eggs attached to two of his limbs; the father sea-horse puts his mate's eggs into his breast pocket and carries them there in safety until they are hatched; the father stickleback of the shore-pools makes a seaweed nest and guards the eggs which his wives are induced to lay there; the father lumpsucker mounts guard over the bunch of pinkish eggs which his mate has laid in a nook of a rocky shore-pool, and drives off intruders with zest. He also aerates the developing eggs by frequent paddling with his pectoral fins and tail, as the Scots name Cock-paidle probably suggests. It is interesting that the salient examples of parental care in the shore-haunt are mostly on the male parent's side. But there is maternal virtue as well.
The fauna of the shore is remarkably representative—from unicellular Protozoa to birds like the oyster-catcher and mammals like the seals. Almost all the great groups of animals have apparently served an apprenticeship in the shore-haunt, and since lessons learned for millions of years sink in and become organically enregistered, it is justifiable to look to the shore as a great school in which were gained racial qualities of endurance, patience, and alertness.