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Oregon Coast Red Blob Mystery Not a Mystery At All, Turns Out

Published 06/06/2017 at 8:53 PM PDT - Updated 06/06/2017 at 9:33 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Oregon Coast Mystery Red Blob Not a Mystery At All, Turns Out

(Oregon Coast) – Early this winter and even through spring, weird reddish blobs that appear to have tentacles were popping up all over the Oregon coast. The rather striking sights were puzzling some of the best of science experts in the area: even the Haystack Awareness Program in Cannon Beach and Seaside Aquarium staff didn't really know what it was. (Photo above: courtesy Haystack Awareness Program in Cannon Beach).

Then an interesting plot twist: it seems the mystery creature wasn't really a mystery at all. It's quite common here, but its odd shape while bunched up on beaches threw everyone for a loop.

Above: the moonglow anemone as it normally looks in a tide pool, photo courtesy Ken-ichi Ueda and

It turns out it's a red anemone, according to scientist Cynthia Trowbridge, with Oregon State University and Newport's Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Yet another small mystery happens here, however. Trowbridge said it's one of two types of red anemone, as it's hard to tell from the photos taken by beachgoers. But it's more likely that it's one kind than the other

“The more common one is the intertidal moonglow anemone (Anthopleura artemisia) which comes in many colors including red,” Trowbridge said. “It dwells on rocky shores inundated with sand and often gets detached. It can reattach on hard substratum if the water is calm enough. The other one is the subtidal crimson anemone (Cribrinopsis fernaldi). This is a bit far south for this species (based on its published range) but since Oregon Coast Aquarium has frequently displayed them, the range may well be wrong. Or the OCA may display out-of-range species.”

Not all are bright red, by any means. They're not even necessarily red. Trowbridge said they can also be a drab gray or green. Thus, it's possible people have been seeing more than one type laying about.

Trowbridge said these are very common on the Oregon coast, so she admits she was surprised to hear so many people stumped by what they were. She sees them every year. The fact they are laying around on a beach and slumped over – in a much different shape than when seen in tide pools – probably confounds even more educated observers, however.

“If you were to learn five Oregon anemones, this would certainly be one of them,” she said.

These anemones manage to get pushed around by nature in some interesting ways.

“The burrowing or moonglow anemone species is often on rocky shores that are periodically inundated by sand,” she said. “Sand often moves off these beaches during El Nino winters and then returns. The anemones stretch out taller and taller until they finally need to let go from the rocks (or be buried).”

This could explain why so many were seen in recent months. All the sand scoured out in winter has been returning steadily since February, dislodging these creatures.

Do they pose any health risk? No, said Trowbridge. But they could wind up irritating to dogs. (Note: you should never let your dog eat anything it finds on Oregon coast beaches).

“There are a lot of anemones, hydroids (e.g. by-the-wind sailors), etc. that wash in and all have stinging structures (nematocysts) on their surfaces,” Trowbridge said. “Letting dogs ingest them or walk across washed in accumulations of all such animals may irritate their mouths and/or paws. They are not dangerous per se as they are not known to have high levels of anti-predator chemicals. But they definitely could be irritants to dogs.”- More Oregon Coast Science - Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

Above: this shot of a beach-stranded anemone was found in Yachats by the owners of Deane's Oceanfront Lodge. Below: more from the Haystack Awareness Program. Below that more tide pool photos from the coast, courtesy Seaside Aquarium.

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