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A Proliferation of Spectacularly Puzzling Stuff Washing up on Oregon Coast

Published 04/10/2017 at 5:03 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

A Proliferation of Spectacularly Puzzling Stuff Washing up on Oregon Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Again, more wild and weird stuff is showing up along the Oregon coast. The mysterious pyrosomes keep appearing, and more of the velella velella are being seen in ever-increasing numbers. There's other stuff, however. (Photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium. Above: more tiny velella velella).

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium recently noted a lot of things keep happening on these beaches that used to be rare, but these days it's not.

“Itty bitty velellas are washing in,” Boothe said. “Keep an eye out for snail eggs, tube worm casings, and pyrosomes too.”

Among the new surprises are a recurrence of cellophane worm casings, which look like piles of tiny fillaments. Each is half an inch or less, and for awhile they puzzled even a lot of experts on these beaches last year when a huge run of them appeared.


These are actually the discarded casings that surround this particular kind of oceanic worm, which lives just below the surface of the sand. Their tubes get knocked off during high surf events and they pile up on the shore. The creatures themselves - known as Spiochaetopterus costarum - disappear back beneath the surface right after this happens.

They have not been normally seen on the Oregon coast over the years, but this year's and last year's scouring of sand was a bit unusual, so it left more out in the open.

Cellophane worms are about the width of hair. Once onshore they dry out into those filaments or fibers now being found.

They live just beyond the low tide line, where they sit near or just above the surface of the sand and suck in their food, a culinary scene dominated by tiny bits of formerly living matter from the ocean. When the tubes come off, they grow another by secreting a kind of goo that eventually hardens back into another tube.

Boothe noted another round of tiny velella velella are showing up again. These are tiny ones, clearly juveniles. Reports are coming in from all over the coast of these creatures, also known as By-the-Wind-Sailors or Purple Sails.

The recent run of storms, high seas and west winds continue pushing them onshore. With no real means of moving on their own, but a large sail-like structure up top, velella velella are essentially at the whim of the winds.

Earlier this month, Boothe told Oregon Coast Beach Connection the conditions seem ripe for another big run of them.

“I think that by Earth Day we'll have a ton of them,” Boothe said.

Indeed, that seems to be happening now.

The gelatinous creatures have that jelly-like feel in common with jellyfish, but they are much more closely related to salps, which are in turn like a gelatinous form of mammal. Or at least closer to mammals. They don't sting at all, but they are part of the same family as the Man-O-War – a kind of salp that does sting its prey and humans.


Still, the pyrosomes keep coming as well. These odd objects look like plastic tubes on the sand, but they are in fact a conglomeration of 100's of tiny creatures. What you're looking at is an actual colony of pyrosomes.

“Pyrosomes, pelagic colonial tunicates usually found in temperate waters [as low as] 800 meters, have been washing ashore on Oregon's beaches,” Boothe said. “This colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia. They filter plankton out of the water for food and are known for bight displays of bioluminescence. In fact, their scientific name is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning 'fire' and soma meaning 'body.' “

These weird little ones really have confused the beach-going public for a few months now, but d word is slowly getting out.

What's interesting here is that scientists have no clue why they're suddenly appearing in such large numbers. Normally, they pop up on the Oregon coast very rarely, though they are somewhat common a ways offshore. Where to stay for this event - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour



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