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The Kooky and the Cool on Oregon Coast Right Now: Pryosomes, Ghost Forests

Published 03/24/2017 at 4:13 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

The Kooky and the Cool on Oregon Coast Right Now: Pryosomes, Ghost Forests

(Oregon Coast) – Spring break is definitely starting out in an interesting way. Orcas have been spotted already in the Yachats area, gray whale numbers are good along the entire central coast, and some weird stuff is showing up on these beaches. A strange and somewhat new face is popping up again with things that look like plastic tubes, and some ghost forests are – remarkably – still visible. But barely. (Above: pyrosome photo by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Those kooky pyrosomes have appeared again on Oregon coast beaches. Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium noted seeing more this week. They first showed in October, sometimes in great numbers, utterly confusing most beachgoers. Normally, they're rarely spotted on these sands. But this year has been an anomaly.

The small, tube-like creatures resemble plastic to some degree. The crazy thing is they are in actuality tiny colonies of hundreds of other even smaller creatures. Those washing up here are about a foot long or so, but they can grow to two feet. Their counterparts in other more tropical climates can grow up to 60 feet long.

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Each individual is about 1 cm long – less than a third of an inch. They are all connected by tissue and in turn form this colony.

“Pyrosomes, pelagic colonial tunicates usually found in temperate waters [as low as] 800 meters, have been washing ashore on Oregon's beaches,” Boothe said. “This colony of animals is comprised of thousands of individual zooids and moves through the water column by the means of cilia. They filter plankton out of the water for food and are known for bight displays of bioluminescence. In fact, their scientific name is derived from the Greek words pyro meaning 'fire' and soma meaning 'body.' “

Even cooler, as Boothe noted, they are bioluminescent: meaning they glow in their natural habitat.

Some ghost forests are still visible in tiny amounts around the central Oregon coast. A Coastwatch volunteer (the group which keeps an eye on beach changes) recently noted just the tips of a couple of ancient stumps were showing at Ona Beach, which is near Waldport.

Ghost forests are stumps of trees that are anywhere between 1,000 and 4,000 years old (depending on the beach), which were killed by getting covered up by sand and then preserved for millennia beneath that sand.

They were also spotted in recent months at Newport's Moolack Beach and the Thiel Creek area, as well as just north of Seal Rock and Lost Creek Beach near there. However, most – if not all – of those have likely disappeared. Still, it's worth your time to check. You may get lucky and witness something quite ancient on your spring break trip.

If you're heading to Neskowin, then you're in luck. 1000-year-old stumps are visible there year-round.

Yet what isn't well known is that Newport also has two giant ghost forest stumps that are visible the entire year. One is on display at Beverly Beach State Park, and the other sits immediately below the southern face of Otter Rock. You'll find it just beneath the cliff that's on the opposite side of the Devil's Punchbowl – at the famed surfing spot. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour

Pyrosome photos below courtesy Boothe/Seaside Aquarium. More photos of ghost forests below that.


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