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Sometimes Those Little Bubbles On Beaches Aren't Bubbles: Funky Oregon Coast Science

Published 05/01/23 at 4:52 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Sometimes Those Little Bubbles On Beaches Aren't Bubbles: Funky Oregon Coast Science

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(Oregon Coast) – You don't need to walk for very long on any beach in Oregon to find something surprising – especially if you know how to look correctly. (Photo Oregon Coast Beach Connection)

Next visit to the Oregon coast or Washington coast, especially now that it's spring, you need to look down and concentrate. Just about always, you'll find little surf bubbles beneath you. However, one of them may look different – odd compared to the others.

Primarily found in spring and summer, you may be looking at a thing called the sea gooseberry (Pleurobrachi bachei), otherwise known as the comb jelly. They're hard to spot among all the other bubbles, but this one will look uniform, even possibly smaller. You'll notice it's more of a clear, tiny ball than a bubble – bubbles are almost always just showing the upper half. These little critters are more completely round. Normally about the size of dime to maybe a quarter, they're teensy weensy.

Sometimes Those Little Bubbles On Beaches Aren't Bubbles: Funky Oregon Coast Science
Seaside Aquarium / Tiffany Boothe

Seaside Aquarium runs into them periodically and with facilities like that, they can do something special with these see-through beasties. They can drop them into their tanks, and if they're alive, you get to see the comb jelly in full form. Most of the time they're not alive when discovered on an Oregon coast or Washington coast beach, but crew from the aquarium – such as Tiffany Boothe – know what to look for.

Yes, there's a hint of Frankenstein here: reanimation.

Seaside Aquarium / Tiffany Boothe

In their natural environment, they're spectacular and rather alien-looking. In the current vernacular: amaze-balls. With a graceful, minimalist outline, they appear at times to almost be a drawing of sorts.

“The Sea Gooseberry is a type of comb jelly which belong to the phylum Ctenophora,” Boothe told Oregon Coast Beach Connection. “Animals that belong to this phylum have one distinct feature: their ‘combs,’ or groups of cilia that they use for swimming.”

The comb jelly doesn't live for very long after having getting dropped back in water. But catch it in the right light, and it looks like the creature is bioluminescent. They are not, however.

Boothe said they're almost completely transparent and its many cilia refract the light, making for rainbow-like colors. That can look as if they're glowing all their own.

In the wilds of the Oregon coastline or Washington's waters, they only live about six months, Boothe said. There's no issue with keeping up their population, however. Comb jellies can release up to 1,000 eggs per day.

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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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