Dealing with the Dead, the Living and the Alien on the Oregon Coast
All photos Seaside Aquarium
(Seaside, Oregon) – The north Oregon coast town of Seaside is full of a wide range of activities and distractions for all sorts of tastes. But it's also home to a vast array of life forms other than human.
Since the Seaside Aquarium is the north Oregon coast's arm of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, it's their job to deal with various living things that have washed up onshore – even if they aren’t quite alive anymore. But aside from those not so pleasant tasks, staff at the famed Oregon coast facility are also showing off some new creatures in their own building – some of them downright beautiful and freaky.
Being part of the network means recovery of dead creatures that have stranded onshore, as well as making sure the public doesn’t touch something still alive, such as a seal pup.
All that came to the fore in the last two weeks with more such natural occurrences, just as the aquarium added some new beasties, just in time for spring break.
The seal in Manzanita - about 25 miles south of Seaside - was the usual fare for aquarium staff: make sure the public doesn’t touch that one and haul it away for future necropsies or research.
It was the same scene with a harbor porpoise that showed up in Seaside in the cove area on Monday.
“It was in pretty good shape, but looked as if some birds had been feasting on one side of the face,” said the aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe. “We bagged it up and the Marine Mammal Stranding Network will do a necropsy on it in a few days. The animal was just about 4.5 feet long. “
More fun is the stuff the public can go see, like the new additions of sea life at the Seaside Aquarium: from the rarely seen basket stars to the ferocious looking wolf eels.
“We have recently put on display the basket stars, golfball crabs, and sea pen,” said Boothe. “All of which are a treat to any aquarium visitor. The basket star is probably one of our more unique animals on display.”
Boothe says these complex-looking creatures are extremely sensitive and can’t be exposed to air. So it’s hard to see them at any other time other than diving.
Such an environment would help explain the wild appearance, like something out of a sci-fi movie. Indistinct in shape, they have dozens of branch-like appendages meandering out of them in a puzzling, seemingly nonsensical bundle of different directions at once. Essentially, these are arms.
They are a form sea star – although they look like they’re from the stars of outer space. There’s even a weird fractal element to their physical design.
“They feed on small planktonic creatures by catching them with small hooks located on their branched arms,” Boothe said. “If you look closely, you will see that the basket star has only five arms which branch and branch and branch again. They are hypnotizing when the move.”
Then there are the new crabs, some of which look nothing like crabs at all.
“People often walk right by the umbrella crabs without noticing them,” Boothe said. “One of our more beautiful crabs is the Puget Sound king crab. Though ours is still a juvenile, it is the biggest crab in the Northwest, growing to 12 inches. We also have a heart crab which has a heart shape on its carapace, which is its shell."
For spring breakers wanting a little more of the alien-looking freakishness, there are three giant pacific octopus on display. There's little so strangely intimidating like staring at that large, pulsating brain at the top of those eight arms – one that seems like it's staring right back you, maybe even reading your mind (like in the B movies).
For more lighthearted fun, the Seaside Aquarium is, of course, known for its rambunctious seals, which will do just about anything to grab the attention of anyone with food. They, too, have their B movie element: they don’t so much bark as they make zombie noises. Sure, they’re cute and amusing. But some of them groan in this guttural manner that evokes the walking dead from old Boris Karloff flicks, or even the “Night of Living Dead” cult classics.
They’re way more interested in fish than eating your brains, however.
There are some fun science surprises lurking even with these adorable splashers.
“The eldest is Drexler, who will be 26 years on May 29,” Boothe said.
He’s actually outlived his life expectancy by several years.
“Our youngest is Shireen; she is only three,” Boothe said. “All of our seals have been born here. They are third and fourth generation, and there is likely to be a little seal pup joining our family in the summer.”
Ah, if but only they were a bit more famous. The TV tabloids would be crooning about “baby bumps” on the seals. Seaside Aquarium is on the Prom in Seaside. 503-738-6211.