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When the Ocean 'Burps' on Oregon and Washington Coast It's a Freaky, Wondrous Thing

Published 10/26/23 at 6:13 a.m.
y Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

When the Ocean 'Burps' on Oregon / Washington Coast It's a Freaky, Wondrous Thing

(Oregon Coast) – When they show up, they don't last long, but now is the season. The ocean burps occasionally – at least that's what we humans call it. And when it does, this is the one time burping is quite a thing of beauty and not some caustic, gruff occurrence. Indeed, these “ocean burps” are something to look for on the Oregon coast and Washington coast; to seek out with purpose. (All photos Seaside Aquarium)

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Ocean burps are a beachcomber's dream, really: a massive field of dark material washed up on the beach, which looks like just a bunch of nature-made garbage. To some degree it is useless junk, but get closer and you'll start to see a treasure trove of beach and marine finds, with some of it even still alive.

This is something you'll see more often as winter storms set in, which they've started to already. It doesn't take an actual storm to create this vast array of finds, either. Just slightly rough conditions and west winds can bring this mass of gunk and fun stuff to the beaches of Washington and Oregon, caused by an upwelling just offshore – a certain set of conditions that bring stuff up from the briny deep of Davy Jones' Locker to the sands of spots like Westport, Ocean Shores, Oceanside, Nesika to Neskowin or Florence.

According to Seaside Aquarium's Tiffany Boothe, look for the large, dark patch on the beach. She and manager Keith Chandler both urge people on the beaches to keep a look out for this, whatever part of the Oregon coast or Washington coast you're on.

“There's a lot of cool stuff,” Chandler said.

There's quite a bit of brownish wood and grassy matter, but look more closely and there's a ton of natural oddities like cockleshells, hermit crabs, squid eggs, casings from other eggs, moon snail shells and somewhat rare rock finds. Every single time is different, so you may not find those but something else entirely.

The aquarium has on numerous times encountered live skate eggs or other eggs still living, and taken them back to the facility where they eventually become new residents.

“Upwellings, fondly referred to as 'Ocean Burps' here at the Seaside Aquarium, is a phenomenon that occurs when warmer surface water gets pushed offshore by wind,” Boothe said. “Colder, nutrient-dense water from the deep is then brought up to replace that (usually nutrient depleted) surface water, and with it comes settlement from the bottom of the ocean. When the tide spits that settlement up onto the beach we are left with a debris field filled with fascinating finds. Snails, vacant shells, deeper sea hermit crabs, sea stars, many-many crab shells and, on occasion, even skate egg casings.”

Moon snail shells are rare, Chandler said, and quite attractive with their intricate, swirling designs. They can be about the size of a baseball.

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One sighting included small bones from a seal or sea lion.

However, these unique discoveries aren't around long. Look out there the day after some wild or wildi-sh weather, or larger tide events.

“These debris fields are usually gone within a day,” Boothe said.

Moon snail

Sometimes, if there's a lot of recently-deceased creatures in there (like when there's a bunch of crabs), it starts to stink – which occurred one time in recent years.

“Though the crabs may smell bad they make good meals for the local gulls,” Boothe said.

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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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