Edward Ricketts' Field Trips:
1929 to 1936

Compiled by
Robert 'Roy' Jan van de Hoek
Field Biologist & Geographer
Sierra Club

In the 13 years from 1923 to 1936, Edward Ricketts traveled widely on the Pacific coast between Mexico and Alaska, including Canada, Washington State, Oregon, and California. The five years from 1923 to 1928 are particularly difficult to discern where and when he went to various places on the Pacific coast. However, for the seven years between 1929 and 1936, Ed Ricketts included many small passages regarding his travels as small bits of knowledge that can be gleaned from a careful perusal of his book entitled: Between Pacific Tides. There are only two other ways to know what he did or to verify his travels from 1923 to 1936 and this is through his essays and through his collections with letters sent to various experts at universities and museums. Some of these taxonomic scientists thank Ed Ricketts for sending specimens of sponges, cnidaria, worms, snails, clams, sea spiders, and shrimp, by naming the species for him and then giving a description of the date and place where Ed Ricketts collected the particular marine organism.

All throughout Between Pacific Tides, Edward Ricketts discusses his various field trips for collecting marine life and for observing marine ecology. In the seven years that I have discovered quoted passages, we can find eloquent and beautiful passages on the geography of place and marine life of the Pacific coast. Interestingly, there is no mention of the years between 1936 and 1939, which I believe is due to the fact that the book was essentially completed in 1936, yet it took three years for Stanford Press to finally publish the book. Essentially, Between Pacific Tides, is a view of the ecology and geography of the Pacific coast from 1923 to 1936 but it is also a view into human society and psychology of a culture of seashore aficionados in California during the Depression years. Several political, psychological, and sociological statements are made by Edward Ricketts in Between Pacific Tides. These statments relate to a social mileu that existed in people living along the seaside of California, Oregon, Washington, Canada, and Alaska.

Here then are some selected excerpted passages of Ed Ricketts' travels between 1929 and 1936:

On page 177:
"On one Puget Sound beach, in the summer 1929."

On page 156, at southern Puget Sound at Whollochet Bay:
"In October 1931, however, we found the clams of all market species considerably depleted in the Sound country, partly, at least, because the prevalent unemploymnet had driven many more people than usual to digging clams for a living. In 1935 the depletion had become very marked; it was then difficult to find any large specimens."

On page 175, at Monterey/Pacific Grove:
"specimen taken during the summer of 1935."

On page 176:
"In lower Saanich Inlet, ... in the summer of 1935."

On page 205, regarding Fiddler Crabs at Ensenda in January of 1932:
"We got an inkling of why that should be, in January several years back, when we persistently dug out a burrow in the estuary south of Ensenada."

On page 95, regarding octopus in Los Angeles and Mexico in 1930 to 1932:
"In the metropolitan areas about Los Angeles and San Diego, octopi are no longer to be had in their former abundance, for, in addition to the many people who hunt them specifically, hunters of abalone and spiny lobsters capture them incidentally. Nevertheless a good many are still to be had, even in the areas mentioned, where it is probably safe to say that several thousand are taken for food every year. This observation is basedd on personal experience. For several years we have collected, observed, and photographed along the Corona del Mar shore at Newport Bay and in the region north of Laguna. On one such visit to Corona del Mar we questioned one of several crews who we had supposed wre collecting bait. It developed that they were capturing octopi, and their rather pernicious method, which we afterward watched, was as follows: Two men, armed with gaff hooks and carrying gunny sacks, station themselves quietly by a large isolated rock in a pool. Finding a hollow that indicates the probable entrance to an octopus's under-rock lair, one of the men pours into the water a bit of what he calls "lye" solution, probably chloride of lime. Usually within a minute the mollusk is forced to come out and seek less irritating water, whereupon he is promptly hooked and deposited in the gunny sack. These two men had captured thirteen octopi, totaling probably thirty pounds, and several other crews appeared to have had equally good "luck." The whole situation has been approximately duplicated on each of the dozen or more times we have visited the spot. So devastating a method of collecting as poisoning pools would be regrettable anywhere, unless the collectors were in genuine need of food. Along the coast of Lower California the octopi are more fortunate, for the Mexicans we have talked with along the shore are interested in abalone and spiny lobsters only and regard the eating of octopi with the same horror that most Americans do.

At various points between Tia Juana and Ensenada we have found octopi very numerous in April, May, and December for several years. In December 1930 they were so abundant that one could count on finding a specimen under at least every fourth rock overturned. Their clever hiding and and escaping strategies make them ...." Robert Roy van de Hoek will finish the quote later.

Concluding Remarks
Robert Roy van de Hoek

Naturalist, Marine Biologist, Field Biologist, Geographer

The many field trips of Ed Ricketts to various places in California and the Pacific coast of North America has never been compiled in its entirety. Those field trip explorations that he took before the fire of 1936 burned his marine lab are very hard to reconstruct. However, Between Pacific Tides recorded for posterity, numerous places and seasons of the year that Ed Ricketts explored for a certain marine organism. For example, it is possible to reconstruct several of his trips to the Puget Sound region of Washington state. Ed Ricketts' book was written and in manuscript form before the fire burned his laboratory and 13 years of field notes from 1923 to 1936 were lost forever. He saved the manuscript which became the book three years after the fire, it is possible to reconstruct many of his earlier explorations of the Pacific coast by a careful search of the pages of Between Pacific Tides. In essence, it is possible to turn his book into a kind of journal for 1929 to 1936. Only 1,000 copies of that 1939 edition were printed. The book becomes harder to find each year. Only certain libraries have the original 1939 book.

I particularly like the trend of decline of the clam in southern Puget Sound. Ed Ricketts compares the 1920s to 1931 and to 1935, to show a marked decline in abundance of the clam called the cockle. It is a gem of historic information that a marine biologist could demonstrate in his book, the marked decline within a few years from 1923 to 1936, a small clam, 70 years ago. Extinction and often rarity without ever really recovering without human assistance through restoration, is forever.