Go out to Newport Pier this week at low tide and you’ll see copious amounts of tiny clams.
Thousands upon thousands of them — glinting like upended jellybeans in pearlescent shades of apricot, violet, cobalt and gray — have turned the beach into a field of living pebbles among the kelp clumps and scallop shells that the tide typically leaves behind.
Bruno Pernet, a professor of invertebrate biology at Cal State Long Beach, identified the fingernail-size organisms as donax gouldii, or bean clams. He speculated that a particularly large clam baby boom could have led to crowding under the sand that pushed some closer to the surface.
Bean clams live just under the sand in the swash zone — where broken waves wash up on the beach — and are known to reproduce in boom-and-bust cycles and concentrate in dense patches. They are common to the area, Pernet said.
However, he hadn’t seen anything quite like the mass near the Newport Pier.
“That’s pretty stunning, actually,” he said when looking at a photo taken Thursday morning.
The clams appeared to be alive, based on their halves being connected and many jutting out of the sand vertically with their posteriors up. That’s their “life position,” Pernet said.
Aaron Berger of Newport Beach was walking along the sand Thursday with his 2-year-old daughter Blair, who loves to look at shells. She had plenty to study.
“I didn’t notice they were alive until I picked one up and saw the little tongue,” Berger said.
Surfer Rene Jordan of Tustin noticed the clams as he made his way toward the waves.
“They’re pretty amazing, aren’t they?” he said.
He pushed his feet into the gelatinous wet sand to demonstrate how the clams scoot back into place. He said he’s seen them before but “there seems to be a lot more than last year.”
Newport Beach lifeguard Capt. Jon Mitchell likened the clams to coquina clams commonly found along the shore in Florida. He said the clams seen this week show up several times a year in Newport Beach, mainly by Newport Pier.
“When you see clams like that, it’s a sign of a healthy beach,” he said. “If the water wasn’t healthy, you wouldn’t have little organisms like that around.”
Pernet said the bean clams are lively little mollusks. They jump to reposition themselves and take advantage of the wave action. They’ll poke their foot appendages out if shaken in a bowl of water.
“They’re pretty cool clams,” he said.
Staff writer Hannah Fry contributed to this report.