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Looking Back at the Mystery of the Unusual Gooey Beach Balls Along Oregon, Canadian Coast

Published 01/14/21 at 9:06 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Looking Back at the Mystery of the Unusual Gooey Beach Balls Along Oregon, Canadian Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Mysteries abound on the Oregon and Washington coast, especially if you’re simply walking around these beaches. The average beachcomber glances at all sorts of stuff they don’t know what to make of, and some make note of it while others don’t. (All photos courtesy Haystack Rock Awareness Program)

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When someone pipes up and asks a question to one of the many experts along these coastlines, especially on social media, it’s then that a mystery may be born.

“Just what is it?” some ask. There are plenty of times, however, the experts get stumped initially. One such particularly fun mystery played out in public not long ago.

In April of 2018, Cannon Beach’s Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP) spotted something even its experts couldn’t explain. It was weird, it was puzzling and it was kind’a gooey. Volunteers in the north Oregon coast town had discovered mysterious “beach balls” - little blobs of gray that were soft. In some ways they resembled East Indian sweets.

Looking Back at the Mystery of the Unusual Gooey Beach Balls Along Oregon, Canadian Coast

HRAP wasn’t alone. There had been reports farther north, around the British Columbia coastline. All these sightings caused Canadian researcher Jackie Hildering to investigate. It turns out, there had been sightings for about two years in Canada and other spots, even Oregon.

Finally, Hildering happened across the research of another colleague who had examined them under the microscope and figured out they were likely egg masses from a kind of sea worm called the Pile Worm (also known as the Clam Worm). Technically: a polychaete worm by the real name of Nereis vexillosa. Other marine brains chimed in and confirmed.

A multitude of eggs combine to create these blobs, in case you were wondering.

The beach ball mystery was solved.

Except, why were they just showing up now? Oregon Coast Beach Connection received an intriguing answer from Hildering.

“There’s nothing out there in the ocean that was causing them to come in,” she said. “They’ve probably been coming in all along. It’s just now that humans are noticing.”

So just what are these pile worms / clam worms? They’re creepy-looking little worms that live on the ground floor of the ocean, and they get to as much as six inches long. They’ve got many leg-like little structures, and its segment body parts wave like banners and move it along.

You can see a picture of them at the NetartsBayToday site.

Like a cross between Alien and something in Stargate SG1, they have a jaw that protrudes outward with serrated edges so it can gnaw on algae.

Thank goodness they’re not very large. Yikes. They do, however, serve a very useful purpose as bait for fishermen along the Oregon coast and Washington coast.

More photos below:

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Photos below of Haystack Rock



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