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Trippy Finds of Winter: Get Ready for These Along Oregon, Washington Coast

Published 12/15/21 at 5:42 AM PST
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Trippy Finds of Winter: Get Ready for These Along Oregon, Washington Coast

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(Cannon Beach, Oregon) - ‘Tis the season of wilder and crazier weather along the Oregon coast and Washington coast, and that means bundles of surprises on the beaches, and plenty of puzzlement. (Above: shell of a Giant Western Nassa - all photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium, unless otherwise noted)

After those stormy waves you'll want to be looking down. Experts say those rollicking waves can toss a lot of interesting stuff onto the sands, and some of it could be considered treasure for some. Beachcombing will be a kick in the pants, especially if there's west winds going on.

It will be weird and wonderful, but you'll probably be scratching your head about some of it. Thus, here's a guide to figuring some of it out. Granted, this is just a sampling of the kooky, fascinating stuff. The blanket term for much of it is detritus, and it will be extremely varied. Yet individual objects have their own names, however.


Whale burp in Lincoln City - Oregon Coast Beach Connection

A small sampling of fun finds includes what is called “whale burps” - the nickname for rock-hard bundles of sea grass that have been compressed together. These often look rather squarish, not unlike hay bundles created on a farm. But it's a consequence of the ocean squishing all that stuff into one, hardened mass.

Then there are also “ocean burps,” a very loose term for bundles of sundry objects that get stuck together and tossed up by the tide. They often yield still-living specimens like live eggs from various species, or even glass floats from Japan.

“When the wind blows out of the west, it usually causes things to wash onto the beach,” said Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe. “It is possible to find ‘burps,' egg casings, and even glass floats.”

Upwellings also cause this: when wind-driven water from the top causes water below to come upwards, bringing with it all sorts of goodies and oddities. Look for vast chunks of brownish debris on the sands (picture above courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

These beach finds along the Oregon coast or Washington coast create some some dazzling opportunities for the crew at Seaside Aquarium, especially when they find live skate eggs. The facility has been able to show off living skates on and off over the years in their tanks, just from eggs hatched there that were picked up off the beaches.

Above: oddities embedded in the rocks at Sunset Bay, Coos Bay (courtesy Oregon's Adventure Coast). Sometimes more of these become visible in winter

Skate eggs can take as much as six months to hatch, said Boothe.

Other occasional finds in years past include lightweight volcanic rock known as pumice, sea sponges, and starfish species rarely seen outside of the deeper surf zone – almost never on land. Even rarities like moon snail shells are sometimes found on the Oregon coast and Washington coast, with their attractive, intricate and swirling designs.


Cockle clam, Seaside Aquarium

On more than one occasion, Boothe's beachcombing expeditions have resulted in finding a large section of rope with live creatures still clinging to it. One several years ago had about 20 plumose anemones attached. The chunk of rope had probably sunk to the bottom of the ocean, falling into a bed of plumose, Boothe said. It does not take long for an object to acquire such living creatures in the right conditions.

“Especially with the plumose, it can take a couple of minutes to a couple hours,” Boothe said.

The Seaside Aquarium suggests keeping your eyes open on the beaches after storms, or even if the storms are still brewing and you're feeling particularly hardy and don't mind a bit of wind and rain.

Keep beach safety in mind, however, and don't venture out if the waves are too big.

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