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Monsters on the Beach? Cthulu Invading? Not This Time, Say Oregon Coast Experts

Published 09/29/23 at 6:27 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Monsters on the Beach? Cthulu Invading? Not This Time, Say Oregon Coast Experts

(Newport, Oregon) – Something soggy, slimy and a bit creepy-crawly has been invading some beaches on the Oregon coast. Like Agate Beach in Newport recently: these gigantic blob-like things with multitudinous tentacles are lying all over the sands. (Photo Roy Lowe, Agate Beach)

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Is this some Lovecraftian Cthulu invasion? What's their evil plan? Are the dogs safe?

Nothing wrong here – this time. Oregon Coast National Wildlife Refuges (OCNWR) recently posted the find.

“These are piles of a long, whip-like, dark brown alga called bull kelp,” the organization said.

They're extremely common here and on the Washington coast, but they don't always wind up in giant piles like this. These, tall, skinny freaks with bulbous heads have arrived en masse because of the winter-like storms we had recently.

“High tides and large swells in late September brought literal tons of it to Oregon beaches,” OCNWR said. “It's an annual plant and attains its large size in only one growing season. Even after bull kelp leaves the sea it remains a valuable part of the ecosystem by harboring small insects that are in turn food for snowy plovers, other shorebird species, and gulls. The decomposition of kelp also provides essential nutrients to the typically nutrient-poor beach sands.”

Photo Lowe

Seeing them in these piles fires up the imaginations of all of us.

Yet in real life, there are plenty of trippy aspects to them. They're not like any other plant you know.

Oregon Coast Beach Connection talked at length to Mitch Vance with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) about them awhile back.

“There are several species in Oregon, but bull kelp forms the major kelp forests offshore,” he said.

The term kelp is really rather broad with these things: it's used to describe any kind of macro algae. What you'll see in Oregon is mostly bull kelp.

Wacky Bull Kelp of Oregon Coast are Giant Algae - But What's That?

Getting 30 to 40 feet long, they live in upside forests right offshore.


“They are attached to the bottom of the ocean with a holdfast, attached to rocks on the bottom,” he said. “Then they grow up towards the surface with a float and then grow leaves – the fronds.”

Those giant bulbs are filled with carbon monoxide, which causes those head-like things to float. The bottoms of the plants don't absorb nutrients – it's the fronds along the stalk that do.

Bull kelp as a species will only take hold in certain areas that are in a fairly narrow range of water level. They have to exist in just the right depth between surface and rock so that the holdfasts can stick and they can still get sunlight.

People often mistake them for the bobbing heads of little seals, which is understandable. That's just what they look like in the water.

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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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