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Storms Deposit Oddities like Sea Cucumber, Velella onto Oregon Coast

Published 01/20/2020 at 3:25 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Storms Deposit Oddities like Sea Cucumber, Velella onto Oregon Coast

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(Gearhart, Oregon) – Big storms on the Oregon coast almost always make for big finds, and this has certainly been the case since the king tides two weeks ago and some subsequent wave drama. Various kinds of damage was reported, of course, but some unique creatures have popped up, including the famed velella velella and a weird little critter that looks like a worm but isn’t. (Photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Gearhart resident Jim Furnish spotted the oddity earlier this week and was puzzled by it. He’d never seen one before in spite of living here for decades. It’s called the burrowing sea cucumber (Leptosynapta clarki), and it’s stumped more than one longtime resident and expert on the north Oregon coast. Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium has been dealing with freaky marine life finds for about two decades now, but it wasn’t until almost 2015 that she spotted her first example of this wee puzzling beastie.

There’s a reason for that: they keep themselves hidden beneath the sands – but strangely just barely under the sands. Burrowing sea cucumbers are somewhat of a rare sight, as they stay well tucked away under the beaches, either a ways offshore or most commonly in bays and wetlands. However, they are quite common along the Oregon coast, said Boothe.

There have been some reports they were spotted down around Cannon Beach weeks ago, but so far no other reports of them on the central or south coast.

Burrowing into the mud, sand or gravel is how they make their homes, and there they feed on organic stuff surrounding them. When the ocean unearths them and brings them onshore, they resemble peanut worms and you may actually see them wiggling in such a way as they to burrow back into the sand.

Boothe said they're not like most other sea cucumbers, as they have no tube feet or respiratory tree. Instead, oxygen is exchanged through their body wall.

Part of the echinoderm family, they are related to sea stars, urchins and sand dollars. However, being related doesn’t make them a happy family: two of their biggest predators are sea stars and sun stars.

Sea cucumbers are found all over the Pacific Northwest and the west coast, from southern Canada down to Mexico. They are born in the springtime and immediately burrow into the sediment. By around August they reach their full size of about 35mm in length.

Also popping up around the coast are the velella velella, but the only solid reports of this are from the central coast between Lincoln City and Waldport. Clearly, west winds brought in tons of wacky stuff. These tiny creatures were generally found after being on the beaches for awhile, having lost their blue color and become translucent. The environmental group CoastWatch reported finding them at Roads End in Lincoln City and at the Alsea Spit in Waldport.

CoastWatch volunteers also reported a bevy of erosion and beach damage up and down the Oregon coast. On the south coast, one volunteer reported Sunset Bay had pavement that had been significantly broken up in some spots. In Newport, waves in one area crawled up the beach some 75 feet and ate at some of the sandstone, opening holes in the cliffs. More on these creatures below:

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