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An Array of Sudden, Wild Beach Finds on N. Oregon Coast: the 'Ocean Burp'

Published 04/22/2018 at 5:26 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection Staff

An Array of Sudden, Wild Beach Finds on N. Oregon Coast: the 'Ocean Burp'

(Seaside, Oregon) – Nature does some truly wacky things. No where is that more true than the Oregon coast, where the ocean coughs up – or burps up – some incredible finds. One group in Seaside discovered just that this weekend: a massive debris field of wild, weird and fun stuff from the deep called an “ocean burp.” (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium. Above: an Alaska Hermit Crab).

It’s what Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe called a “beachcomber’s dream.”

“These small debris fields are usually composed of small bark chips, shells, large tubeworm casings, hermit crabs, algae, kelp, and sometimes even skate egg casings,” she said. “They usually occur because of a local upwelling.”

What’s an upwelling? In a fairly real way it is the ocean burping. It’s an oceanographic phenomenon where the wind drives colder, more nutrient-rich water to the surface of Oregon coast waters, replacing the warmer water that’s at the top, which is largely depleted of nutrients.


“This juggling of water from the bottom of the ocean to the surface often lifts debris sitting on the seafloor into the water column,” Boothe said. "As the tide comes in, the debris is cast onto shore. At the Seaside Aquarium, we fondly refer to these events as ‘Ocean Burps.’ "

What they found on this north Oregon coast beach is quite a kick in the pants.

First, notice how all the birds are exploring the debris field. The juvenile gulls spend a lot of time wading through the waves to pick at stuff. Boothe said they’re looking for food, and mostly they scarf down on dead or molted crabs.

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Then there are all the squid eggs.

“A super fun and unusual find were squid eggs,” Boothe said. “Each female squid will lay about 12 of these capsules. Each capsule contains 180 to 350 eggs inside.”

Boothe provides some closeups of the squid eggs, where you can see the insides of the capsules. They were still viable so Boothe brought them back to the aquarium, where they will incubate for the next few weeks and eventually hatch.

Skates lay egg casings look and feel much like kelp, Boothe said. They each have between four and seven embryos inside.

“Because squid eggs have no smell or taste they were not being eaten by the birds,” Boothe said. “In fact, one of the only critters known to consume squid eggs are bat stars.”

Squid eggs were only the beginning.

“Besides the masses of squid eggs, we discovered a huge amount of live cockle clams, hermit crabs, red rock crabs, live snails and many different species of snail shells,” Boothe said.

That included a few Lewis moon snails, big and black skate egg casings (the casings had already hatched out), large tube worm casings, and a tire.

“Don't worry, we brought the tire off the beach when we left,” Boothe said.

Also found were lots of live snails. The most abundant snail was the giant western nassa (Nassarus fossatus).

The cockles (above) were especially striking, each with their own unique shell colors and patterns. Boothe said you should still be able to find some of these for awhile on Seaside’s beach.

“The hermit crabs that we find in 'burps' are not the hermit crabs you'll find in the intertidal areas,” Boothe said. “They are species that live deeper. This particular hermit is called an Alaskan Hermit (Pagurus ochotensis - pictured at top). Easily identified by their large yellow eyes, these hermit can get quite large and prefer the shells of Lewis moon snails.”

Then there’s the orange hairy hermit crab. They stick to the softer portions of the sea floor with heavy silt, and they prefer to inhabit empty Oregon Triton shells. Oregon Coast Lodgings for this - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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