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Surprise Science About the Lowly But Delish Scallop of Oregon / Washington Coast

Published 05/03/21 at 5:45 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Surprise Science About the Lowly But Delish Scallop of Oregon / Washington Coast

(Charleston, Oregon) – They may be a tasty treat in Oregon coast and Washington coast restaurants, but they’re also kind of trippy. The lowly but delicious scallop along these shores comes in a few varieties and with more than a few surprises. (Photo courtesy Charleston Marine Life Center)

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Case in point: scallops have a lot of eyes. That means when you’re checking them out at aquariums in Seaside, Newport, Charleston or maybe Westport, Washington, they’re probably checking you out too, but a lot more intensely.

The Charleston Marine Life Center on the south coast recently talked about this on their Facebook page (though the facility is closed to the public at this time). They and the Seaside Aquarium made known some freaky facts about this yum-o-rama bit of seafood when it’s not headed for the breading section of the kitchen.

“Scallops have dozens of eyes,” the center wrote. “One of ours was showing off its eyes today. Scallop eyes have pupils that dilate like ours. And while light also passes through a lens, it is thought that a mirror made of crystals behind the two retinas (yes, two) is what focuses the light back onto the retinas (rather than the lens).”

So what’s it like when they’re looking back at us?

“Research is ongoing into what these eyes are able to see, but at minimum they can sense a shadow or object passing by and send neural signals to close the scallop's shell.”

A pink scallop, photo courtesy Seaside Aquarium / Tiffany Boothe

Along the Washington and Oregon coastline, there are essentially three main kinds of scallops you’ll find that can be harvested: rock scallops (Crassadoma gigantea), pink scallops (Chlamys hastata) and the Weathervane scallops (Patinopecten caurinus). However, just about all of this takes diving in the sea so it’s not a widespread activity for the average beachgoer.

In some Washington inlet waters there is the singing pink scallop, which recently made a comeback for harvesters.

Scallops are bivalves, which makes them closely related to oysters. Like oysters, they feed on microscopic plankton.

Rock scallops are often found in aquariums like the Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport and Seaside Aquarium.

They can swim around when they’re juveniles, but not later in life. They do so by clapping their valves together while shooting little jets of water from both sides of its hinge.

Once they get to about one inch, it attaches itself to something on the ocean floor – or some manmade objects in bays along the Oregon / Washington coast.

“Rock scallops do not move,” said Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium. “They cement themselves to hard substrates such as rocks or other rock scallops. Their large shell can act as a small habitat for hydrozoans, sea anemones, sponge, and algae.”

In fact, the rock scallop can wind up with sea life bigger than itself living on it, looking some giant, wacky Dr. Suess-inspired hat (as in Boothe’s photo above).

“There is a species of sponge called yellow boring sponge which is often found on rock scallops and giant acorn barnacles,” she said. “This sponge burrows into thick shells and is considered a nuisance since the burrowing causes the host's shell to weaken.”

When the rock scallop washes onto the beach, it becomes a colorful and elegant find. Its empty shells will have a splash of purple in them. You’ll often find tiny pits in the shells left from those yellow sponges. MORE PHOTOS BELOW

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Photo courtesy Charleston Marine Life Center. Photos below Seaside Aquarium

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