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Little Oregon / Washington Coast Critter Looks Like Either Space Alien or Bubble, Video

Published 01/17/23 at 11:20 PM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Little Oregon / Washington Coast Critter Looks Like Either Space Alien or Bubble

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(Seaside, Oregon) – From the final frontier to the deepest reaches of the deep blue, the universe has a very trippy way of echoing or reiterating itself. It's amazing how many vast, inconceivably massive structures out there can resemble the tiniest of creatures here along the Oregon coast and Washington coast. (All photos Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium. Above: like the sea walnut)

Some even look like space aliens from the entertainment world. Take the comb jelly, for example. One commonly found here is often known as a sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachia pileus). Another is the sea walnut (or Mnemiopsis leidyi). That is quite possibly the type pictured up top – although Oregon Coast Beach Connection has not yet absolutely confirmed that.

Ever played the video game Crysis? Seen the movie Skyline? Some forms of comb jellies will feel quite familiar here, with photos by Tiffny Boothe of Seaside Aquarium. She captured a wide variety of these little freaks from the deep.

Sea gooseberries

Yet on the beaches, they're often mistaken for little bubbles, smaller versions of the sea foam bubbles you find on Long Beach on the Washington coast or Nesika beach on Oregon's southern coast. It's easy to pass them by and not realize there's life there.

There are over 100 different types of comb jellies – the sea gooseberry is the most common in this region.

Sea gooseberry on the beach

Luckily, these little lifeforms are not as hostile as their sci-fi look-a-likes, but it is truly astounding how once they get into water they suddenly transform from barely noticeable objects in the sand to these elegant creatures with a hint of a glow.

There are, in fact, not even jellyfish, but a form of life called ctenophora. They are gelatinous and maybe somewhat related to jellyfish, but the odd thing about ocean life is there's a lot out there that is jellyfish-like but they are not jellyfish.

galaxy J082354.96 and a comb jelly
At left: galaxy J082354.96, courtesy Hubble Telescope

Some ctenophora are bioluminescent on top of all their other wowing qualities, while others only seem like it. Among them, the gooseberries and the sea walnuts have a kind of glow to them while in their natural, oceanic world.

“The body of a sea gooseberry is virtually transparent and the many cilia refract the light, producing rainbow-like colors that can give the false appearance of bioluminescence,” Boothe said.

Comb Jelly Beroe forskalii

Posted by Seaside Aquarium on Saturday, October 24, 2020

That movement of those little cilia, hair-like things causes those “lights” to pulse – straight out of some UFO flick.

However, some kinds of ctenophora are actually bioluminscent, nature's way of attracting prey so they've got something to eat.

When they're on the beach they're often about 3 cm in circumference. However, drop one into a tank and they fill out. Boothe has found numerous live ones on the beaches of the Oregon coast, taken them back to the aquarium, and they come back to life.

The videos and photos she's obtained doing this are downright startling in their beauty.

Comb jellies only live a few months. During that time, they're known as pretty aggressive hunters, even feeding on similar species larger than themselves as well as being known for cannibalism. They're native to the Americas but in other parts of the world they're an invasive species that gobbles up way too many other things.

Boothe said comb jellies can release up to 1,000 eggs per day, which results in massive increases in population.

How to find one on the Oregon or Washington coast? They may not always be out there, and even then you have to look closely. It's only wise to do so with very calm conditions so you're safe from the raging waves of winter or whenever weather gets moody out here.

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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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