Facts about sea pickles

If you happen to be wandering down the beach and stumble across tubular appearing small sea critters on the sand, there’s a strong possibility they are what’s known as sea pickles.

Despite the name, you generally don’t want to consume sea pickles. They are not part of Mother Nature’s buffet of edible marine life. Although sea pickles have been sighted in Malibu lately, don’t let that sour you on coming to the beach. After all, where there’s a dill, there’s a wave.

What is sea pickles?

Sea pickles are gelatinous creatures called pyrosomes and, although they are perfectly safe, they are a peculiar sight. They are semi-translucent and might be green in hue or even orange.

Nate Jaros, curator of fish and invertebrates at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, discussed to The Malibu Times a bit more on the unique marine life and why it may be showing up nearby beaches.

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Two pyrosomes lie on a Santa Monica beach.
(Credits : Lophelia II 2008: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks; NOAA Photo Library)

“It’s not fully usual, but it does happen. It occurred lately and it occurs up and down the California coast sometimes,” Jaros added.

It’s crucial to clarify sea pickles are not to be mistaken with sea cucumbers. Jaros stated sea cucumbers are connected to sea stars but with just one leg. Sea cucumbers creep across the ocean floor—as opposed to sea pickles.

“These organisms, pyrosomes, wander in the open water,” the researcher explained. “It’s truly not an individual animal. It’s a group of colony creatures. There’s often hundreds if not thousands of these individual tiny tunicates that join together on this cylindrical form and float across the water eating on little plankton and bacteria.”

If you see these small insects on the beach, there’s nothing to be afraid about. They won’t sting you.

“They’re entirely harmless,” Jaros added. And despite their name, they are not edible. “If they’re on the beach, they’re likely to be dead. If you were to touch them they would feel incredibly hard, but if you look carefully you would notice lots of small nearly what appear like sponges. Tunicates frequently resemble a sponge. They’re not in the same family, but they’re small filtering creatures. They basically sort of flow water through their body and they filter out the things that are edible for them,” Jaros said.

Although discovering sea pickles washed ashore may be a little upsetting, they may also be intriguing to look at.

“They are truly bioluminescent, which means they can make their own light,” Jaros noted. “Our eyes wouldn’t be able to detect them, but in dark ocean waters they would shine. They can be incredibly beautiful.”

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A purple pyrosome captured by a white sea anemone, bottom right, on Sept. 29 2008.
(Credit: Angie Crouch, NBCLA)

The exact day Jaros was interviewed for this piece, he reported that he was out on a boat performing fieldwork and met sea pickles.

“We came upon a group of thousands of them at sea. Every few feet there were some as long as 15 to 18 inches. Currents, wind and waves are all exactly ideal. It can sweep a lot of these floating creatures to the beach.”

Sea pickles do not appear seasonally—”They’re constantly out there. They typically reside in deep water. They travel in the water columns. They’ll come out in the waves at night to feed and then they float back down to the depths. The phenomena isn’t particularly something they’ve altered, it’s simply the ocean conditions are just ideal to be washing them off to shore.”

While not slimy to the touch, Jaros described them as “squishy.” He defined them as “a basic organism—a hollow tube.”

“They do form a mucus,” Jaros continued but said sea pickles usually felt solid.

When questioned about algae recently detected in the Malibu Lagoon, and whether such circumstances lead to sea pickles floating ashore, the scientist said, “Not likely. They may follow algal patterns at sea but are so essential they’re not likely to be moving towards anything in particular.

“It’s hardly surprising they’re washing up on shore,” he continued. “They spend their entire existence at sea. They move with the flow.”

The Malibu Times called Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors to enquire about sea pickles. A representative wrote that although sea pickles were not a problem for them this week, its sailors noticed salps washing ashore. What’s a salp, you may ask? Well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

Also Read: Where Is the Middle of the Ocean?
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12,871 Replies to “Facts about sea pickles”

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