By: Neal Kisor, News Writer
Oregon shoreline residents had a small, slimy surprise arrive on the coast this past week. They came in the thousands, tiny bioluminescent and translucent alien-like creatures which resemble tiny dill pickles. People walking along the coast had no clue what these creatures are, all they know is that they’re quite slimy. However, the appearance of the pickle-creatures may reveal something shocking.
While many beach-goers and even scientists didn’t know what these blobs were, they’re a curious species called a pyrosome (or fire body). Pyrosomes, while they may look like one continuous body, are actually colonies of individual organisms. Think about pyrosomes as little slimy snowballs, they cling to each other and grow longer and longer. Some pyrosomes have even been reported being sixty feet long. However, the pyrosomes that have washed up in Oregon have only been around two to three inches long at most.
Oregon is not the only recipient of the alien blobs. Pyrosomes have been reported swarming around the Gulf of Mexico. Pyrosomes have also been reported clogging up fishermen’s nets in Alaska. They span the entire Eastern Pacific.
But why are these creatures, which were relatively rare and unknown to most, appearing in such large numbers? The answer may be oceanic temperatures. This year, Pacific Ocean temperatures have been abnormally high which some scientists believe may be leading to higher spawning rates for creatures like the pyrosomes. These kinds of trends have appeared in other organisms such as jellyfish, and most recently, crabs off of the Californian coast. Scientist blame global warming for the warmer waters, and that as the ozone decays, more solar radiation beams down onto the oceans, heating it. In sensitive ecosystems like oceans, temperature regulates a number of processes, such as spawning, feeding, and the health of many undersea plants and coral.
Some scientists have expressed fear over what the pyrosome swarm means. Pyrosomes are completely harmless, the worst thing they can do to humans is leave one a bit slimy. However, if more and more pyrosomes swim to the coast, or swim in bulk, scientists worry that a bed of dead pyrosomes will begin to pile up on the seabed. A coating of dead sea animals like pyrosomes is very dangerous for an ocean ecosystem. Decaying animals suck up the natural oxygen in the water, and an overwhelming number of dead organisms may create a zone of suffocation for other oceanic critters. The effect would be like that of walking past a graveyard and suddenly not having any air to breathe. At the time being, the pyrosomes pose no threat, only the threat of sticky beaches. However, more temperature anomalies will lead to more biological anomalies like that of the pyrosome swarm. Hopefully, these little pickle-creatures won’t pose a major threat to the rest of the ocean’s inhabitants.