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A Beach Of Cellophane, Other Oddities, On Central Oregon Coast
(Newport, Oregon) - It's more proof of how much weirder real science is than science fiction, although some of these creatures found recently seem straight out of a sci fi book.
The beaches of Newport saw some interesting action last week, according to resident and naturalist Terry Morse. Besides the discovery of a seal carcass, the Nye Beach area was briefly covered in a densely packed layer of worm tubes, and some jellyfish made an onshore appearance as well.
Morse said the worms - known sometimes as "cellophane worms" - live in a kind tube, and these tubes have been washing up around Nye Beach a bit in late June and early July. More showed up around July 11. The worms themselves do not wash up.
He described the tube field as being quite broad and extensive, going on for a ways. Then, if you looked closer, you’d see how densely packed together they were.
"They were particularly dense on Nye Beach in late June and early July this year," Morse said. "They're called 'cellophane worm' because of their soft, membranous tube coated with sand grains. The worms live on sandy bottoms in the protection of their tubes and feed on particles of food collected with a net made of mucous. Waves sometimes wash masses of tubes up on the beach."
The actual name of the worm is a polychaete worm, specifically Spiochaetopterus costarum. The tubes are secreted by the worm itself while under the sand, then that becomes their protective outer shell. They live just beyond the low tide line, and lots of low tides - like the ones we’ve been experiencing lately - can chuck the tubes up onshore. The worms themselves remain in their tidal habitat.
Sadly missing this year, however, have been the annual dumping of velella velella on the beaches of the Oregon coast. This type of jellyfish is sometimes called a purple sail, and gets blown in by west winds usually in early summer. They strand in great numbers, filling the beach with purple spots, and then becoming clear as they dry. They eventually start to stink with an incredible fishy smell.
But last week, Morse said that changed. "This has been an unusual year in that very few jellyfish, comb jellies, or by-the-wind sailor hydrozoans (Velella velella) have stranded on Oregon beaches, including Nye Beach," Morse said. “That changed today, with a minor stranding of penicillate jellies (Polyorchis penicillatus). I counted an average of one jelly washed up per 10 meters of swash line.”
Last October, Morse collected some stranded penicillate jellies from the beach, then put them in a tub of fresh sea water. Remarkably, they revived.
“I tried the same thing today, but only one of four jellies showed any sign of life, and that was very weak,’ Morse said. “If you look closely, you can see a ring of tiny red eyes at the base of the jellyfish’s bell.”
Much of this info and all the photos came from Morse’s website, which features interesting oddities he finds on the beaches.
Morse also spotted two turkey vultures and a crow feeding on the remains of what appeared to be a young northern fur seal on the beach at Yaquina Bay State Park.
Later, Jim Rice of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network collected the fur seal carcass and made the determination that it was a juvenile female Guadalupe fur seal, not a northern fur seal.
Finding a Guadalupe fur seal in this area is pretty uncommon. But Rice told Morse they’ve been found with increasing regularity during the last few summers.