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Bull Kelp
Nereocystis luetkeana  

Bull kelp is the fastest growing seaweed in the world. It can grow from a tiny spore into a 200 foot long plant in one Summer!

By winter, the kelp are dying. Storms and waves leave them on the beach, where they appear as brown "bull whips." The decomposing kelp provides food and beach shelter for scavenging amphipods and other animals.

"Of all the kelps and seaweeds that hug the shorelines
of Puget Sound ­ none is more spectacular, evoking
mythical sea monsters than the giant bull kelp."
Arthur Kruckeberg, "The Natural History of Puget Sound Country."

Kelp Beds: Food & Shelter

On almost any rocky shore along Puget Sound, clusters of bull kelp can be seen offshore, growing in the subtidal zone. Kelp beds provide a resting area for otters, gulls, herons, shorebirds, and waterfowl. Underwater kelp forests shelter snails, crabs, shrimp, starfish, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, brittle stars, sea squirts, and many other marine creatures.

Bull kelp, Salt Creek County Park, Clallam County.

Bull Kelp Facts

  • Grows Quickly
    Entire growth occurs spring to fall, up to 2 feet per day. Can grow to 200 feet in ocean waters, but in protected Puget Sound, bull kelp often reaches 20 feet.
  • Huge Holdfasts
    Attaches to rocks below low tide level with holdfasts bigger than your hand, up to 16 inches wide.
  • Gas Floats
    Bulbous float at the end is filled with gas containing carbon monoxide.

    Sea Otter's Cabbage

    Bull kelp goes by a number of colorful names; Bull whip kelp, ribbon kelp, bulb kelp, giant kelp, sea kelp, horsetail kelp, and sea otter's cabbage. Native people used dried kelp stipes to make fishing line. Kelp bulbs were used to hold fish oil. Today, kelp extracts are used in industry. Kelp extract (algin) thickens products such as ice cream, salad dressing, hand lotion, and paint.

    Kelp Reduces Beach Erosion

    Rafts of kelp help reduce beach erosion. Kelp forests soften the force of waves against the shoreline. This protection can be seen along the Strait of Juan De Fuca where large kelp beds form bay-like areas along the shoreward side. These bay-like waters provide feeding areas for loons, scoters, grebes, goldeneyes, and Buffleheads.

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