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Stuff Living on Other Stuff Sometimes Found on Oregon Coast: Gooseneck Barnacle Surprise

Published 02/15/23 at 5:59 AM
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Stuff Living on Other Stuff Sometimes Found on Oregon Coast

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(Oregon Coast) – All those miles of gray, knotted and puzzling shapes. Driftwood seems like a dime a dozen out here (or more like a million) on this coastline, and in spite of their weathered and worn beauty they largely look the same after awhile. (All photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium)

Or do they?

There are times storms and tides along the Oregon coast or the Washington coast churn up driftwood - or just random objects - with something very different going on. Living things out at sea like to latch onto objects both natural and manmade and make for themselves a trippy bit of floating real estate.

The finds can be a bit surreal, certainly a surprise. Complex, blobby shapes that look almost like circuitry. Oblong pieces of blue, black and gray with tubing seemingly attached. It's both crusty and beautiful; gritty biology that looks like fine art. Find out more about this, however, and it's a fascinating new little world.

Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe has talked about these with Oregon Coast Beach Connection in the past, as well as other barnacles. She likes to lead with the question: “Have you ever found a piece of driftwood like this?”

These are pelagic gooseneck barnacles, which exist entirely by attaching themselves to other stuff. They're the ultimate kind of housing mooches of the deep – or near-deep. Indeed, they cannot live without finding something to attach to. If the barnacle egg doesn't find a surface to hold onto, it does not live.

Storm action likes to haul this stuff onto Washington's coastline areas like Long Beach, or Oregon coast haunts such as Bandon or Oceanside.

Yet it's not just logs they attach themselves to: they show up on garbage, rope or any other debris.

“The term pelagic means in the open ocean,” Boothe said. “Along the Oregon coast, when the wind blows out of the west, marine debris which is floating close to shore washes up on the beach. With that in mind, you may want to take a closer look the next time you spot something washing in.”

They are a species that grows in dense clusters, such as this fishing net spool that washed up on Gearhart's Sunset Beach in recent years.

Boothe said the gooseneck barnacle hooks onto hard surfaces via their flexible stalks, called a peduncle. They can be found worldwide, drifting along on the ocean’s currents and feeding on plankton by filtering it out of the water with hair-like feeding tentacles called cirri.

“They are actually only found pelagically, where the water is rich in plankton and detritus, unlike a similar species of intertidal gooseneck barnacles,” Boothe said. “These barnacles are rich in nutrients, one of the most important being calcium, so when we come across these barnacles on the beach, we bring them back to the Aquarium for the crab and various fishes to enjoy.”

If you're wondering why they were named a migratory bird, this goes all the back to the 13th century, Boothe said. To those in Europe back then, these somewhat resembled a goose's neck. Since they did not understand migration yet, it was a mystery how geese reproduced.

“It was thought that a European species of geese, commonly known as Barnacle Geese, developed from the pelagic gooseneck barnacle,” Boothe said.

Another find hanging out on ocean debris is pelagic nudibranchs, which Boothe said feed on the pelagic gooseneck barnacles and on Velella velella (remember those little purple jellies that sometimes wash up in enormous numbers?)

There are hundreds of other kinds of barnacles, including some that exclusively on whales.

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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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