The coasts of New Zealand are home to some of nature’s most fascinating beasts, from the world’s smallest penguin to vibrantly colored sea snakes. But sometimes, its shores kick up something a lot weirder.
This strange object was spotted on Muriwai Beach in Auckland by local resident Melissa Doubleday last week. Understandably confused by the sight, she posted photographs of it to the Muriwai & Waimauku Area Community Group to crowdsource some information.
Suggestions ranged from an alien spaceship, a work of art, and a “Rastafarian whale,” to Roz the slug-like receptionist from Monsters Inc. Well, that's what you get if you ask the Internet.
However, a few guesses seemed to be right on the money, suggesting that it was actually gooseneck barnacles growing on a large piece of driftwood. It’s most likely they're more specifically smooth gooseneck barnacles (Lepas anatifera), judging by their distinctive purple-brown tentacle-like cirri.
In times gone by, it was thought that Barnacle geese (as in the actual bird) hatched from these strange barnacles, as nobody in Europe had ever seen the geese lay eggs. Nowadays, they're considered a delicacy in Spain that food buffs pay hundreds of dollars for.
Up close shot of smooth gooseneck barnacles (not the example found recently in New Zealand). Eric Gropp/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)