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Eight Odd Things to Watch for on Oregon Coast Now That Winter's Here

Published 12/22/2016 at 4:53 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

a lancetfish found in Pacific City years ago

(Oregon Coast) – 'Tis the season for freaky finds along the Oregon coast, now that winter is really settling in. Big storms mean big rewards when the waves have calmed down, not only washing stuff out (like sand, thus revealing agate beds), but even more importantly it brings in wild and random blobs, shapes, rarities, critters and the slightly gooey. (Above: a lancetfish found in Pacific City years ago by Seattle's Jeff Thirlwall).

The technical term is detritus, but don't be fooled by that dry scientific term. That which washes in from the sea is full of surprises and maybe even treasure.



Whale Burps. These are puzzling objects that look out of place on the beach: they resemble small stacks of hay, or sometimes they show up as little balls. In fact, they are bundles of beach grass or sea plants from the deep that has compacted itself so much that it's practically rock hard.

Ocean Burps. The largest, broadest class of stuff you'll discover is called an “ocean burp.” It really refers to a large potpourri of things – and it's different every time. There are a few items found in it more often than not, but mostly what makes this jumble of stuff connected is the fact it often shows up as a massive, brownish pile of little bits. (At right, a typical ocean burp look, photo courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

It fairly frequently involves living specimens like live eggs from various species, or even glass floats from Japan.

“When the wind blows out of the west, it usually causes things to wash onto the beach,” said Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe. “It is possible to find ‘burps,’ egg casings, and even glass floats.”


Skate photo courtesy Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Skates, which look a tad like tiny stingrays, sometimes wash up as well. But usually it's their egg casings that pop up, and the eggs inside have sometimes hatched actual babies at the Seaside Aquarium.

Other occasional finds in years past include lightweight volcanic rock known as pumice, sea sponges, and starfish species rarely seen outside of the deeper surf zone – almost never on land. Even rarities like moon snail shells are sometimes found, with their attractive, intricate and swirling designs.


Japanese Glass Floats. Glass floats were for decades a steady and yet treasured find along the coast, but they largely disappeared in the '80s. A little known fact, however, is that January through March conditions are good for these to show up again. 2010 was actually an exceptional year for this. You've got to have patience and check the foredunes and beach grass carefully.


Photo courtesy Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Creatures on a Rope. When manmade objects spend a decent amount of time floating on or under the water, they usually acquire some kind of life form, which then remains on it if it winds up onshore. Sometimes, it's still alive.

On more than one occasion, Boothe's beachcombing expeditions have resulted in finding a large section of rope with live creatures still clinging to it. One several years ago had about 20 plumose anemones attached. The chunk of rope had probably sunk to the bottom of the ocean, falling into a bed of plumose, Boothe said. Sometimes, especially with the plumose, it can take a couple of hours to mere minutes an object to get populated.


Photo courtesy Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Mola Mola. The technical name for an Ocean Sun Fish is Mola mola, and it’s mostly found in tropical and warmer waters than those off Oregon’s.

“They are not uncommon to this area, however, because they live a ways off shore,” Boothe said. “We don't see them on the beach that often. They usually frequent the northern coast in the summer or fall when the ocean is a bit warmer, so for the Mola mola to wash in during this time of year is a bit odd.” Yet it's mostly winter storms that cause this to happen.

Lancetfish. They look like a barracuda, and they are definitely somewhat rare (or certainly sporadic). It's actually called a Longnose Lancetfish (Alepisaurus ferox), and they live as far down as 6,000 feet below the surface. Reaching up to six feet in length, most that are found on the Oregon coast are three or four feet long. Even though they are common off these waters, they live so deep it's considered an unusual event when one washes up.


Photo courtesy Boothe, Seaside Aquarium

Pyrosome. This is a bizarre and rarely-seen creature that has suddenly started washing up along the Oregon coast. It's called a pyrosome, and the ones found here are less than a foot. They are actually massive colonies of cloned creatures all connected together - and related to a kind of jellyfish called a salp.

Big winter storms have caused gobs of them to strand on the shores, found in all areas of the coast, even this past week. No one is sure why they are suddenly being seen now and practically never before.


Gobs of Bull Kelp. One of the more impressive but puzzling sights are giant piles of snake-like creatures of green or brown. These are bull kelp, and each individual can be several feet to twenty feet long. They exist in sizable kelp forests off the shoreline. You can see many of them from rocky shelf areas like those around Depoe Bay and Cape Foulweather, with their little brown heads bobbing in the ocean. For this reason they often get mistaken for seals. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

 

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