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What Exactly Are ‘Sea Pickles’ Washing Ashore in Oregon?

Hundreds of the finger-sized marine animals reportedly washed ashore along the northern Pacific coast.

Published Feb 20, 2022

 (Facebook/Seaside Aquarium)
Image Via Facebook/Seaside Aquarium

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As hundreds of sea pickles arrived along the Oregon coast in early 2022, media outlets reported their presence, further adding to the internet interest in these seemingly enigmatic marine animals. 

Also known as sea squirts, hundreds of the squishy, bumpy "pickles" were reportedly seen in Florence, Oregon, according to a Seaside Aquarium Facebook post shared on Jan. 16, 2022. 

Technically known as pyrosomes, sea pickles or squirts are pelagic tunicates and a part of the phylum Chordata, which also includes humans. In a NOAA blog, research assistant Samantha Zeman described the sea pickles as “tough and slimy to the touch with small, pronounced bumps” that use a net of mucus to filter the surrounding water to feed on small planktonic microorganisms. 

Pyrosomes aggregate in large clusters at the surface of the water and are known to wash up along beaches in large groups. As we reported in August 2021, when thousands of sand dollars washed ashore in Oregon, natural conditions like storm surges, high wave action, and stronger than usual currents can all influence or cause mass stranding events. Though P. atlanticum is typically found in tropical waters, the pelagic species have been found as far north as Alaska. 

“As the ocean currents change with the seasons, beachcombers have been finding an abundance of pyrosomes along the high-tide line,” wrote the aquarium. 

The species found along the Oregon coast is scientifically named Pyrosoma atlanticum and can reach lengths of up to two feet, but some grow to be more than 30 feet long. The bumpy animals can also create a bioluminescence light display for which they are named for; Greek for fire (pyro) and body (soma). 

“These totally tubular critters are actually known as a colonial tunicate, a mass of thousands of smaller organisms with a rigid notochord (a simplistic backbone),” wrote Seaside Aquarium. 

https://oceana.org/marine-life/giant-pyrosome/ 

Found around the world, each pyrosome is not one organism but made up of thousands of identical yet individual clones that allow the colony to regenerate injured parts or continue to grow even after suffering an injury. As the marine conservation organization Oceana notes, unless all individual clones die simultaneously, the colony can, in theory, live forever.

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Sources 

“A ‘Sea Pickle’? An Animal That Can Grow to 60 Feet Long Is Washing up on the Oregon Coast.” USA TODAY, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2022/02/01/sea-pickle-washing-up-oregon-beaches/9230497002/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2022.

Fisheries, NOAA. “Pyrosomes | NOAA Fisheries.” NOAA, 3 Feb. 2022, https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/science-blog/pyrosomes.

“Giant Pyrosome.” Oceana, https://oceana.org/marine-life/giant-pyrosome/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2022.

jruark@countrymedia.net, Jeremy C. Ruark. “Sea Pickles: Mysterious Creatures Showing up along Oregon’s Shoreline.” St. Helens Chronicle, https://www.thechronicleonline.com/news/sea-pickles-mysterious-creatures-showing-up-along-oregons-shoreline/article_576c71fc-7fa6-11ec-9d84-671c00be973a.html. Accessed 18 Feb. 2022.

“Why Did Thousands of Sand Dollars Wash Ashore in Oregon?” Snopes.Com, https://www.snopes.com/articles/365079/sand-dollars-wash-ashore/. Accessed 18 Feb. 2022.

Madison Dapcevich is a former writer for Snopes.

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