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Some Surf Bubbles On Oregon / Washington Coast Not What They Seem: Surprising Science

Published 06/12/2020 at 6:24 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Some Surf Bubbles On Oregon / Washington Coast Not What They Seem: Surprising Science

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(Seaside, Oregon) – The next time you’re on a walk along the Washington or Oregon coast and you’re looking down, look very carefully at the sand, especially any lone bubbles sitting a ways from the tideline. Not everything is as it seems here at times. That one little bubble out of place? It could be hiding something a bit surprising – like maybe it’s alive. (Photos courtesy Seaside Aquarium).

Mostly, they’re found in spring and summer along the Pacific Northwest coastlines, but storm action can bring them onshore. Certainly that famed Second Summer along the Oregon coast and southern Washington coast can find them here (that stretch in Fall when weather conditions are at their best for the whole year).

You may be looking at teeny, tiny alien-like critters called the Sea Gooseberry (Pleurobrachi bachei), or the Comb Jelly as they’re often called. They’re completely unassuming when onshore and resemble surf bubbles, but quite tiny – around the size of a quarter or a dime. However, get them back in sea water and they spread their wings, so to speak, becoming the full-fledged and rather individualistic form of jellyfish they are. If you’ve ever played the video game series Crysis, they’re often said to resemble those invading outworlders.

Of course, they aren’t always still alive, so dropping them in a glass of sea water won’t do anything. It’s when they are that the real show begins. Seaside Aquarium on the north Oregon coast has done this numerous times: found a sea gooseberry in the sand and reanimated them by putting them in one of their tanks.

The results are always spectacular.

“The Sea Gooseberry is a type of comb jelly which belong to the phylum Ctenophora,” said Seaside Aquarium’s Tiffany Boothe. “Animals that belong to this phylum have one distinct feature: their ‘combs,’ or groups of cilia that they use for swimming.”

The photos here from Seaside Aquarium’s tanks show them during a brief period. They do not live for long once plopped back in water.

You’ll also notice a kind of glow they have.

“The body of a Sea Gooseberry is virtually transparent and the many cilia refract the light, producing rainbow-like colors that can give the false appearance of bioluminescence,” Boothe said.

Boothe said they only live about six months in the wild, but they are prolific out there in the ocean. Comb jellies can release up to 1,000 eggs per day. This can result in massive increases in population.

They have sticky branched tentacles which they use to snag prey, moving in an upward spiral motion to aide in this endeavor. These are lined with colloblasts, a specialized adhesive cell that helps snag food for the comb jelly.

“They are considered a dominant predator feeding on copepods, larval fish, various types of eggs, and small crustaceans,” Boothe said.

Another curious fact: they have two of those tentacles, which are about three times longer than its body.

Where and when you'll find them along the Oregon coast or Washington coast is difficult to predict because it depends on tides and currents, and this can vary drastically from beach to beach. They can be at Ocean Shores in Washington or Oceanside and Bandon in Oregon, but not in neighboring beaches – or maybe not seen for another 100 miles. Simply check any beach you visit and it’s entirely possible you’ll find at least one. Oregon Coast Hotels in this area - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours

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