Animal associations

A “sea pickle”? Animal up to 60 feet long washes up on Oregon coast

Hundreds of animals nicknamed “sea pickles” have washed up on the shores of Oregon, and they’re causing a stir in Beaver State.

“It’s not the easiest things to describe,” Tiffany Boothe, administrator of the Seaside Aquarium in the state, told USA TODAY.

Although they are called “sea pickles” because of their appearance, the animals are actually a pyrosome. It’s a “colony” of multicellular organisms called zooids, which means individual zooids will clump together to form a larger version of themselves, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

National Geographic calls them the “roaches of the sea” and they are able to light up ocean waters.

According to Oceana, a non-profit ocean conservation organization, a single zooid is about the size of a grain of rice, but together these colonies can make the creature about 60 feet long and enough for a human to fit in.

In 2018, a pair of divers encountered a 26-foot-long pyrosome, and Boothe said he recently heard a diver took a photo of themselves riding one.

She added that since the creatures have a spine-like body part, they are more closely related to humans than similar-looking jellyfish.

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As terrifying as this creature may seem, it is not uncommon. “Sea pickles” are typically found in warm, open waters of oceans around the world, but strong currents can push them north. They first surprised researchers in 2017 when they reached the coast of Alaska, the first time they had been observed this far north.

Boothe said recent storms in the southern Pacific Ocean created these strong ocean currents where hundreds of people spotted pyrosomes all along the Oregon coast. However, it’s not all 60 feet long, with most being around 2 feet long.

Pyrosomes on Arcadia Beach along the northern Oregon coast.

“When someone who hasn’t met one on the beach meets one, it creates a lot of questions because they look so strange,” Boothe said.

So far, there have been no other reports of the creature from other Pacific states, but if anyone spots the creature, it encourages people to take a close look. If they wash up on shore, that means they’re dead.

“If you’re interested, pick him up and take a closer look. It won’t hurt you since he’s no longer alive,” Boothe said. “It’s just kind of an interesting creature to try to make you understand.”

As for how they feel?

“Some kind of jellyfish. Gelatinous, stiff and bumpy,” Boothe said.

Boothe said scientists are still trying to understand the impact that pyrosomes appearing so far north have by appearing in the north. Fish have eaten it, but since it has no known nutritional value, it’s unclear whether it’s good or bad.

“These large blooms could have implications in the marine environment that we just aren’t sure yet,” Boothe said.

Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Sea pickles are ending up in the hundreds on Oregon beaches. What are they?