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'Mermaid' Purses Found on Oregon Coast Lately Could Yield Life

Updated 10/31/20 at 5:41 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

'Mermaid' Purses Found on Oregon Coast Lately Could Yield Life

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(Yachats, Oregon) – A run of reports of something unusual has numerous beachcombers puzzled lately on the Oregon coast – or at least it was happening earlier this month. Sizable, dark brown purse-like objects have been reported in some areas (according to one notice from the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve), just lying around the beaches, certainly in the Yachats area. (Photos Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe).

You’ll also, of course, find them along the Washington coast.

Sometimes they’re called mermaid purses, but mostly their real name is skate egg casings and they’re roughly about a foot long. Stranger still, they can actually have live eggs left inside, little white blobs that will one day hatch into actual longnose skates. These are long, sleek creatures that get about two or three feet long (known as Raja rhina), and their dried bodies periodically wash up. Sometimes it’s the casings of Big skates which are found (Raja binoculata).

Skate egg casings are made of thick collagen proteins and to the average person they’ll likely feel like plastic. Inside, they have two to seven egg embryos, although most of the time if they’re found on the beaches of the Washington coast or Oregon coast they’ve dried out or been tossed around too much to be still living.

When the right one is found by the right agency, these can hatch. Seaside Aquarium has been picking them up periodically since the early 2000s, and several have hatched into baby skates over the years, which have then been put on display.

“They probably have about six months before they are ready to leave their protective casing,” said Tiffany Boothe with the Seaside Aquarium. “Until then they cannot be on display. Their eyes are sensitive to light at this stage.”

Skates tend to reproduce later in life than many species, Boothe said.

“Adult female skates will drop these on the ocean floor, where the casing will drift for nine to twelve months,” Boothe said. “During that time, the embryos feed upon a yolk sack that they are attached to. When the babies are developed enough to be self-sufficient, one end of the casing will open up and the baby skates will emerge.”

The Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport has had some luck bringing these to life as well. In early 2019, a visitor brought an egg casing by and biologists immediately noticed there wasn’t the telltale, dead fishy smell. They cut out a section and saw some movement in the embryos. They later replaced that cut-out section with an acrylic window so they could watch the embryos’ development, and placed it in a tank. Four months later, four male skates were born.

This happened several times over the years at the facility in Seaside.

West winds bring these unique, pointy sacks onto beaches, among other things, and late August saw a small rush of other creatures and objects as well. However, normally it’s winter or spring that creates the “ocean burps,” which is the name for when the ocean tosses a large variety of debris and marine life onto the sands. A late summer run of this is a bit unusual.

It's further proof that you should continue looking down while at the beach. You never know what you'll find. Oregon Coast Hotels for this event - Where to eat - Map - Virtual Tour

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