The coast of the Pacific Northwest is in the midst of a mass invasion by of “sea pickles,” a rare marine organism also known as a pyrosome.
This current bloom along the west coast of the US is being investigated by the NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center, Oregon State University, and the University of Oregon. During just a five-minute midwater tow off the Columbia River in late May, they managed to bring up approximately 60,000 pyrosomes.
Very little is known about these creatures. In fact, since we know very little about the feeding behavior of pyrosomes and their favored environment. even less is known about why are they are suddenly being spotted in such abundant numbers at the moment. However, the main culprit at the moment is warming sea temperatures, caused by climate change.
“We have a lot of questions and not many answers,” Ric Brodeur, Northwest Fisheries Science Center’s research station in Newport, explained in a statement. “We’re trying to collect as much information as we can to try to understand what is happening, and why.”
Their mysteriousness has led them to be also called “the unicorns of the sea,” although perhaps more closely resemble a jellyfish-like floating blob. Each one of them is made up of hundreds to thousands of multicellular organisms known as zooids. On average, they vary in size between 4 to 6 centimeters (~1inch) although the researchers have spotted some measuring up to 78 centimeters (30 inches). They are also a rare delicacy for some species of bony fish, dolphins, and whales.
Sightings of sea pickles have been reported more and more since 2015. The spring of 2016 also witnessed as massive in their numbers, although this year’s boom is “unprecedented,” according to the NOAA.
“At first we didn’t know what to make of these odd creatures coming up in our nets but as we headed north and further offshore, we started to get more and more,” said Hilarie Sorensen, a University of Oregon graduate student who was on board a research vessel. “We began counting and measuring them to try to get a better understanding of their size and distribution related to the local environmental conditions.”