Science News

Mysterious Squishy Creatures Wash Up On California Beach

Photo from Facebook (Dan Coursey)

Hundreds of pink-hued, squishy, mysterious, jelly-like creatures washed up on a California beach this week, puzzling locals and officials alike.

The small, pod-shaped creatures slithered and burrowed into the sand along Huntington State and Huntington City beaches Monday and Tuesday. While lifeguards on those beaches said they had never seen anything like them before, those on duty at nearby Newport Beach said they had not seen any in their area.

Huntington Beach Marine Safety Lt. Eric Dieterman said many of the creatures washed ashore. “They’ve made an appearance on our beaches before,” Dieterman said. “Not in this number, but I have seen them in the past.”

Online forums have made a merry guessing game of the event, with Huntington Beach residents wondering if the creatures were sea cucumbers, sea slugs, even as far as aliens, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Some onlookers and experts, however, pointed to sea salps – barrel-shaped tunicates that resemble jellyfish, but with dorsal nerve cords or backbones. They are marine invertebrates – chordates, but are actually more closely related to vertebrates because of this.

Salps move by pumping water through their bodies and eat phytoplankton. They are commonly found in equatorial, temperate and cold waters, and sometimes form swarms or chains. They are more abundant than krill, and appear to be increasing in population since 1910, partly because they have an extremely fast growth rate.

Salps play an important role in the ocean’s carbon cycle, and their numbers may have an effect on climate change.

National Geographic describes salps as “some of the most interesting, least known creatures in the ocean.”

Lisa Mooney, a resident of Glendora, said that she was collecting seashells near the Huntington Beach pier when she saw the creatures. She initially thought they were tiny jellyfish. She said,

There were so many along the sand you could barely walk.

According to Gizmodo, Ryan Ruston posted in a Huntington Beach Community Facebook page that the would-be salps “felt little water balloons popping under [his] feet, super squishy.”

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