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‘Sea Pickles’ Are Invading The West Coast

Jun 30, 2017 09:41 AM EDT
Sea pickle

(Photo : Maia Valenzuela CC BY 2.0)

Sea cucumbers (also known as "sea pickles" or pyrosomes) are slimy, translucent creatures. And lately they've become a nuisance along the US West Coast, leaving scientists confused and slightly hungry.

In fact, some fishermen claim that they're unable to catch anything due to the pyrosome clusters being so tightly packed.

"Right now we are scrambling to learn as much as possible while we have the opportunity," said Olivia Blondheim, a graduate student at the University of Oregon. "If we continue to see this many, what impact will it have on the ecosystems here, and what economic impact on the fisheries? There are so many unknowns at this point, it really is a remarkable bloom."

Because pyrosomes are usually found in warm, tropical waters, researchers are curious as to how so many have found their way to the West Coast.

"There were reports of some pyrosomes in 2014, and a few more in 2015 but this year there has been an unprecedented, insane amount," Blondheim said.

Blondheim claims this is the first time she saw an actual pyrosome since she's been studying marine life. Even Rick Brodeur, Blondheim's mentor, said it took 30-years before he saw his first pyrosome.  

"On one of our cruises we saw 60,000 in five minutes and they were ripping apart our nets," Blondheim said. "They were glowing and floating on the surface, completely covering the sea."

Because pyrosomes typically stay in the depths during the day, few marine scientists have seen one in the flesh.

"Because they aren't wanted, and people really aren't used to seeing them - they really do impact fisheries and catch a lot of attention," said Dr. Lisa-ann Gershwin, a marine biology expert. "In the case of these pyrosomes, I don't think anyone is quite sure what has led to this bloom ... it is unusual. There is every possibility it is a natural phenomenon, but an abundance this gobsmackingly big also suggests there may be something behind it that is not natural in origin."

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