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When the Ocean Burps on Oregon / Washington Coast - It's Beautiful

Published 01/27/22 at 6:36 PM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

When the Ocean Burps on Oregon / Washington Coast - It's Beautiful

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(Long Beach, Washington) – Bleeechhh. That's not the sound you normally like to hear (unless you're watching comedies like The Simpsons or some seasons of Trailer Park Boys). Yet on the beaches of the Oregon coast and Washington coast it's a coveted thing – ocean burps, that is. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

The term "ocean burps" is a common synonym for what is really known as a field of detritus, or debris from the ocean. It refers to the ocean “coughing up” a lot of stuff, caused by a combination of currents out there and the phenomena of upwelling. The latter is a complex mechanism where the ocean surface gets hit by winds in the just the right direction, causing streams of cold water to come upwards from the bottom and then dragging all sort of cool stuff with it.

What to look for is unassuming at first glance: large patches of brown stuff lying around the beaches of any Oregon coast or Washington coast sandy spot, such as Coos Bay, Copalis, Secret Beach near Brookings, Lincoln City or up around Cannon Beach or Long Beach. They can happen anywhere – and these dreary-colored drab spots contain treasures.

Wood bits and pumice are found in this batch

These create unique beachcombing possibilities, said Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium, and it means the ocean did something interesting out there.

“These small debris fields are usually composed of small bark chips, shells, large tubeworm casings, hermit crabs, algae, kelp, and sometimes even skate egg casings,” Boothe said.

Get closer and you'll start to see the varied colors and textures – and the curios.

Moon snail shell

Among the fascinating finds you may make with these blobs of detritus are moon snail shells, which are rarely found, except for these circumstances. They are dazzling with their intricate, swirling designs, and can be about the size of a baseball.

Also possibly on the beach are cockleshells and somewhat rare rock finds. In the past, the folks at Seaside Aquarium have found bits of the lightweight volcanic rock pumice.

“This juggling of water from the bottom of the ocean to the surface often lifts debris sitting on the seafloor into the water column,” Boothe said. “As the tide comes in the debris is cast onto shore. At the Seaside Aquarium, we fondly refer to these events as ‘Ocean Burps.' “

It is not possible to predict these events along the Oregon coast or Washington coast. However, folks at the Seaside Aquarium say if two happen in close succession, there's a good chance another one or two upwellings of these objects will happen again.

“They usually occur because of local upwellings,” Boothe said. “An upwelling is an oceanographic phenomenon that involves wind-driven motion of denser, cooler, and usually nutrient-rich water towards the ocean surface, replacing the warmer, usually nutrient-depleted surface water.”

Periodically, some of the stuff found is still alive. Over the last two decades, Seaside Aquarium has found live skate eggs or squid eggs and rescued them, able to bring them back to their facility where they are born. Then, the little miracles go on display for the public.

This kind of beachcombing fun lasts well into spring, maybe sometimes occurring in summer as well.

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Cockle living in the Seaside Aquarium

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