Oregon Coast Answers: What Are Those Snake-like Tubes or Whips?
(Oregon Coast) – What are those big, weird snake-like tubes you find on Oregon beaches? Or perhaps they look like big whips that you're finding in the sand? Or perhaps you're wondering about those huge piles of alien-looking bulbs and whips on the beach?
It's a seaweed (or a large algae) commonly called Bull kelp – or Bull Whip Kelp or Ribbon Kelp. The scientific name is Nereocystis luetkeana.
|Photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium|
According to the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Bull Kelp are a large, brown algae that grow in "forests" near the shore. These kelp are annuals, completing their life cycle in one season, and can grow up to 20 meters (60 feet) in one year.
They grow in enormous fields just offshore and in areas too deep to be affected by tides, but you can sometimes see their roundish bulb heads bobbing in the ocean. Bull kelp are comprised of a single stalk (called a stipe) which attaches to rock on the ocean bed, while at the top is that large bulb and numerous ribbon-like blades. The bulb is filled with carbon monoxide, which is what causes it to float upright in the ocean.
What causes these things to show up on Oregon coast beaches? Usually storms pull them off their rocky anchor points and they wind up in those big, surreal piles.
Most of the ones you see on the Oregon coast are a few feet long to maybe 20 or 30 feet long, but they can grow up to over 100 feet in length. About half the time, they are piled up in enormous bundles, all wrapped up around each other like something out of an alien sci-fi movie.
Often, bull kelp are seen bobbing in the ocean and their brown bulbs can be mistaken for the heads of seals just hanging out offshore – as seals sometimes do.
The Hatfield Marine Science Center says they form an intricate aquatic habitat that is vital to the survival of many coastal species. Those blades coming off the bull kelp are leaves in a sense, and they are fed via photosynthesis that is made possible by the big bulbs that keep them afloat.
Interestingly enough, bull kelp off the Oregon coast are quite edible, though you'll want to harvest them fresh from their strand in the ocean, which means don't go trying to gobble them off the beach when you find them there.
They are said to be quite delicious and tender when cooked or marinated. More about Oregon coast science here.
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