Stay Eat Events Weather Beaches

California Sea Cucumber Breathes Out of Its Butt: Weird Washington, Oregon Coast Science

Published 04/23/2020 at 6:54 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

California Sea Cucumber Breathes Out of Its Butt: Weird Washington, Oregon Coast Science

Latest Coastal Lodging News Alerts
In Seaside:
Includes exclusive listings; major specials when beaches reopen
In Cannon Beach:
Includes rentals not listed anywhere else
In Manzanita, Wheeler, Rockaway Beach:
major specials when beaches reopen
In Pacific City, Oceanside:
major specials when beaches reopen
In Lincoln City:
major specials when beaches reopen
In Depoe Bay, Gleneden Beach:
major specials when beaches reopen
In Newport:
Look for major specials when beaches reopen
In Waldport
New amenities offered; specials coming when beaches open
In Yachats, Florence
Big specials coming; lodgings not listed anywhere else

(Oregon Coast) – They are a true freak of the deep along the Oregon coast and Washington coast. The California Sea Cucumber is also known by the names Giant Sea Cucumber and Giant Red Sea Cucumber, and they’re a truly weird mix of alien movie and punk rock aesthetics. Fat, long and purple, they have these funky spikes all along their bodies, and they do a bunch of really oddball things in their daily life like breath out of their butts. (Photo above courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

That’s right, the California Sea Cucumber (Parastichopus californicus) is a butt breather. Not only that, it uses its anus as a second mouth, eating out of that orifice as well.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium said they have some on display at the facility right now, which everyone can go see when it opens back up. They’re found all along the Washington and Oregon coasts, from Baja, Mexico through to Canada and up to Alaska, actually. You’ll find them in the shallow waters off the beaches and sometimes in tidepools.

They don’t actually have lungs, but instead a set of long tubes going down either side of the body with multiple branches.

Photo above courtesy Seaside Aquarium

“California Sea Cucumbers, along with other species of sea cucumbers have a respiratory tree with is fed by the cucumber breathing through its anus,” Boothe said. “Their anus expands and contracts their muscular body wall in a slow rhythm with draws in and expels water. This is unique to sea cucumbers - no other echinoderm has a respiratory tree. Not all sea cucumbers breath like this. The skin breathing sea cucumber's body wall is so thin that it allows oxygen to pass through, hence its name.”

This spiky, slightly punk rock-looking critter is actually kind of hard to measure in the live environment as it has a habit of contracting and expanding, but they’re generally about two feet long. It’s known as the longest of the sea cucumber of the western coastline.

Also soooo punk rock – but in an alien way – is what happens with those pointy cones and how they deal with enemies. Those spikes can come and go, Boothe said.

“They have the ability to change the texture of their skin,” Boothe said. “They can make themselves look spiky or very smooth. The purpose for looking spiky is to deter predators. Another tactic they use to deter predators is to expel their internal organs. The idea is the would-be predator will take a bite out of the expelled organs which have a nasty bitter taste and leave the cucumber alone. The cucumber can regenerate the expelled organs in about six weeks.”

Again, with the Giant Sea Cucumber it’s all about the butt: it expels its organs that way.

Scientists call their breeding method “broadcast spawning,” meaning it’s an external method where the female fires off multiple unfertilized eggs into the water, and the male releases its sperm in great numbers. Hopefully the two meet and fertilize some eggs. Then, for their first four years the Giant Sea Cucumber is sexless, developing into separate sexes after that four-year mark.

The array of sea cucumbers along the Oregon and Washington coastlines is impressive.

"The Pacific Northwest has between 30 and 40 different species of sea cucumbers," Boothe said. " Most commonly seen is the California sea cucumber mainly because of size, it is the largest in the region.  We have California sea cucumbers (Parastichopus californicus) and burrowing sea cucumbers (Cucumaria miniata) on display at the aquarium."

Stranger still – though you’ve likely lost your appetite by now – they are edible and hunted for fisheries along the California, Washington and Oregon coasts.

In California, they’re sold fresh. They’re popular in China in soups or stews. Yet they don’t have much of a taste, apparently, and their meat is a somewhat unappealing gelatinous texture. When used in the culinary world, they’re heavily infused with other flavors, and they’re popular in some circles when they're deep-fried or pickled. Hotels in Astoria/Seaside - Where to eat - Astoria Maps and Virtual Tours

More About Oregon Coast hotels, lodging.....

More About Oregon Coast Restaurants, Dining.....


Oregon Coast event or adventure you can't miss


Coastal Spotlight

LATEST Related Oregon Coast Articles

Officials Seek Public Input on N. Oregon Coast Fish Passage Issues
Three culverts that failed on the northern half of the Oregon coast have triggered emergency conditions. Lincoln City, Tillamook, Manzanita, Nehalem
Pandemic Shutdowns Deal Hardest Blow to Travel Industry, Oregon Coast
Oregon had its tenth consecutive year of travel industry growth in 2019. Sciences
Almost Haunted Oregon Coast: Yaquina Bay Lighthouse Lore and Legends, Part 2
The town with two lighthouses has a rich history, and one of those lighthouses has quite the storied past. Newport, Yachats, Lincoln City, Depoe Bay
Landmarks and Legends of an Oregon Coast Lighthouse, Newport's Yaquina Bay, P...
A meandering history of the public struggles that took it from dilapidated to lauded. Depoe Bay, Waldport, Yachats, Lincoln City
Last of Oregon Coast Towns Set Reopen Date; Beaches Update
Astoria, Gearhart and Warrenton to resume operations June 5. News on state parks. South coast, weather
Oregon Coast Opens Up Crabbing to Everyone, Clamming Not Yet
Previously it had been restricted to only Oregonians. Sciences, South Coast, kids
Washington Coast Waters Open to Crabbing, Fishing May 26
Waters will reopen for fishing with crabbing on the Washington side of the Columbia River restarting that day as well
Oregon Officials: Stay Home for Holiday and Away from Coast; Camping Announce...
Stay close to home is the message, and this means keeping clear of other major attractions such as the Columbia River Gorge. Weather

Back to Oregon Coast

Contact Advertise on
All Content, unless otherwise attributed, copyright Unauthorized use or publication is not permitted

Oregon Coast Lodging


Events Calendar

Oregon Coast Weather

Travel News

Search for Oregon Coast Subjects, Articles

Virtual Tours, Maps
Deep Details