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Odd Oregon Coast Finds Puzzle Visitors: Mystery Solved and It's Like an Alien

Published 03/04/2018 at 2:35 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Odd Oregon Coast Finds Puzzle Visitors: Mystery Solved and It's Like an Alien

(Oregon Coast) – Something wacky this way comes.

Another find on Oregon coast beaches has visitors puzzled aplenty in recent days, with various officials - especially Seaside Aquarium – getting questions about a run of tiny objects that look like filaments. They come in blobs just lying around the beach, looking like jumbled masses of high tech material, or maybe even something alien. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium snagged these shots in in the last week, showing what are the former shells of a marine life called the cellophane worm. In fact, there is something rather alien about these kooky critters.

“Tube worm casings have been washing in and quite a few people have been asking us about them,” Boothe said. “These casings, produced by the cellophane worm (Spichaetopterus costarum), often wash ashore in masses along the Oregon coast.

“Living just below the low tide line of sandy beaches, cellophane worms build and inhabit these seemingly plastic ‘tubes,’ which become encrusted with sand. Currents and upwellings bring these tubes to the surface, eventually distributing them onto shore.”

These creatures are tiny, about one to two two centimeters long – which makes those blobs of them a little more remarkable.

The cellophane worm has rings around it. They exist just below the surface of the sand and they are encased in a tube. The cellophane worms' casings get knocked off of them during high surf events and pile up on the shore. The creatures themselves disappear back beneath the surface, however.

Incidents of them piling up like this don’t occur too often, but when it does happen it comes down to the creatures being taken by surprise by the way sand levels can build up suddenly, then they get bounced around when their new real estate abruptly turns out to be too close to a raucous surface.


CoastWatch’s Fawn Custer told Oregon Coast Beach Connection in 2016 the creatures are there all the time, it’s just that certainly conditions unearth them and scatter them onshore.

“They feel like hair,” she said. “They're very pliable. You can squeeze them.”

Cellophane worms live just beyond the low tide line, where the tubes sit near or just above the surface of the sand and suck in their food, which is tiny bits of formerly living matter in the ocean. When the tubes come off, they grow another by secreting a kind of goo that eventually hardens back into another tube.

About two years ago, this unusual sight had even a lot of expert eyes confused. Members of CoastWatch, and environmental group that has volunteers keeping an eye on beaches, were getting stumped back in February of 2016. Where to stay in these areas - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours

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