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Quirky Pyrosomes Found Again on Oregon Coast, Mostly South

Published 02/05/21 at 5:56 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Quirky Pyrosomes Found Again on Oregon Coast, Mostly South

(Oregon Coast) – Those famous and rather infamous little pickle-like creatures are hitting the Oregon coast again: the kooky, puzzling pyrosome. There have been some sporadic reports last month, especially following the king tides of January, with verifiable reports coming from the southern coast. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium)

Pyrosomes really made a splash on the coastline back in 2016 through 2018, then tapering off to almost no sightings. The odd little tube-like creatures showed up in rather intense numbers on and off for two years, and rather mystified and even concerned regional scientists. Their overpopulation in the area could’ve well meant some ocean environment issue involving warmer-than-usual waters. These were native to the Oregon coast, but they’re more apt to live in warmer waters.

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Currently, it was environmental volunteers from the group CoastWatch that spotted the large amounts in mid to late January. According to CoastWatch reports, they were found in the Bandon area near Face Rock and in various areas around Battle Rock and Port Orford. Some brief mentions in social media have placed them in other areas of the northern half of the coast as well, but those are unconfirmed.

CoastWatch has a myriad of people “adopting” different sections of Oregon coastline and periodically checking on it. The intent is to look out for major beach changes and any issue that may threaten them.

Having many pyrosomes show up after the last king tides event is no surprise. All that storm action brought in a multitude of debris and small creatures everywhere along the beaches. It's even scoured enormous amounts of sand, resulting in more ghost forests found, especially on the central Oregon coast.

Three years ago, pyrosomes showed up in such large numbers they were clogging research gear and fishermen’s nets. Now, they’re just an occasional oddity on the beaches.

Pyrosomes are full of scientific surprises. According to experts like Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium or Rick Brodeur, a research biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, they are actually a mass of tinier creatures. They’re not one big creature, but a colony of hundreds of small beasties that are a form of tunicate, vaguely related to jellyfish.

Even stranger: they’re bioluminescent, meaning they glow. This won’t happen anywhere but their natural environment, which is deep underwater. Researchers that have gone out to sea to do population counts report the rather spectacular sight of seeing them wander past a ship’s camera all aglow.

Where to find the pyrosomes? They could be anywhere this time around, and it’s entirely possible all have washed away since the CoastWatch reports were filed back in January. Yet it’s still something to keep an eye out for this coastline and the Washington coast as well.

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