By Jenny Neyman
Some days, it’s just not good to be a clam. In Ninilchik, Nov. 17 was one of those days.
A winter storm lashed the sandy beaches at the mouth of the Ninilchik River with ferocious waves, powerful enough to uproot thousands of razor clams from their snug, sandy confines and toss them up onto the beach, beyond where they could dig back into the sand again.
“There was a winter storm event that loosened them up and stranded them high on the beach where they couldn’t re-bury themselves. The tide had gone out and subsequent tides were lower so the water didn’t get up to them again, so they died,” said Nicky Szarzi, area management biologist for lower Cook Inlet for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Sportfish Division. “The wind creates big waves that kind of emulsifies the sand to some depth or other, depending on how severe the storm is and what direction the wind’s coming from. That kind of stirs up the sand to liquid so the clams have nothing to hang onto, and the wave action just moves them around and they can’t get purchase again in the sand.”
Being tossed onshore doesn’t necessarily mean a razor clam will die, if the surf reclaims it soon enough. But in this case, the Ninilchik beach became a graveyard for thousands of clams that couldn’t bury themselves again.
“It was an automatic death sentence for the ones that got deposited up in the gravel. I don’t know how many were dug up that re-buried themselves, but there were sure a lot that were up in the intertidal area,” Szarzi said.
Her office in Homer got reports of the clam die-off on Nov. 17 and she went to Ninilchik to investigate on Friday. From what residents told her, many of the clams had already washed back out to sea, but there were still thousands left exposed on the beach.
“Winter die-offs happen pretty regularly. There have been events reported in the Lower 48, in Washington, with thousands of thousands of clams. I’ve never actually seen one, myself, in Alaska before, so I don’t know how significant this was relative to ones that have happened in the past, but folks in Ninilchik were reporting that they hadn’t seen anything quite that extensive before,” Szarzi said. Continue reading