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Attack of the Beach Beasties! Well, Their 'Shells' Are Washing Up on Oregon Coast, Anyway

Published 05/21/23 at 5:22 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Attack of the Beach Beasties! Well, Their 'Shells' Are Washing Up on Oregon Coast, Anyway

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(Seaside, Oregon) – Some wacky stuff has been washing up on the Oregon coast as of late – and likely the Washington coast as well. Fields of almost-shimmering, silvery debris are being found along the shorelines, stuff that looks like little filaments, as if there's some giant dump of electronic pieces out there or something. (All photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

When it happens on the north Oregon coast, Seaside Aquarium usually gets wind of it pretty quickly. People start asking questions, and aquarium staff end up answering them either directly or through some visitor center in the area that gets them first.

And it's an interesting bit of Oregon coast science: these are the discarded casings of a marine life species called the cellophane worm (Spichaetopterus costarum).

Tiffany Boothe with the aquarium said they start appearing when their residences get disturbed. They live just below the tideline on sandy beaches, burrowing not very far down. When summer or spring comes, sand levels begin rising. If they go up quickly enough, the worms are taken by surprise if some choppy conditions hit. They get churned up in their new, higher real estate and tossed out onto the sands.

“Cellophane worms build and inhabit these seemingly plastic 'tubes,' which become encrusted with sand,” she said. “Currents and upwellings bring these tubes to the surface, eventually distributing them onto shore.”

The filament-like tubes get knocked off them, coming up onto the surfline.

This tiny critter has rings around it. When they're at home beneath the top layer of sand, the tubes sit near or just above the surface, allowing the cellophane worm to 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.

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

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

There are times the tubes are smaller and larger, hence the two looks you see here. The top two photographs are from the find in recent days.

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Andre' GW Hagestedt is editor, owner and primary photographer / videographer of Oregon Coast Beach Connection, an online publication that sees over 1 million pageviews per month. He is also author of several books about the coast.

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