Wed, Jul 05, 2017 - Page 7 News List

Strange pink sea creatures puzzle Alaskans

AP, JUNEAU, Alaska

Pyrosomes are caught off the Oregon coast and put in a bucket on June 23 last year.

Photo: AP/ Ric Brodeur

Strange sea creatures that resemble large pink thimbles are showing up on the coast of southeast Alaska after making their way north along the west coast for the past few years.

Scientists said the creatures are pyrosomes, which are tropical, filter-feeding spineless creatures usually found along the equator. They appear to be one long pink tube, but in reality, they are thousands of multi-celled creatures mushed together, generally about 15cm long.

Pyrosomes have been working their way north, Ric Brodeur, a researcher with the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told reporters on Monday.

Brodeur, who is based at the agency’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, said pyrosomes were first seen on the Oregon coast in 2014 and every year since.

More recently, the animals have made their way farther north on the Washington State coast, Canada’s British Columbia and Alaska, he said.

NOAA biologist Jim Murphy said pyrosomes spotted near Alaska this year marked the first documented presence of the animals that far north, and their appearance is cause for concern.

“It means that we are clearly seeing really big changes in the marine ecosystem,” he told the Juneau Empire.

Researchers have speculated that the bloom is tied to warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean in recent years.

However, temperatures have nearly cooled back to normal this year, Murphy said, and these pyrosomes started showing up in the middle of winter.

Fish and Game biologist Leon Shaul has been tracking the appearance of pyrosomes in southeast Alaska.

Shaul said he has “e-mailed the whole world” about the issue, but has not heard much back.

Brodeur told reporters that it is also unusual how close to shore the pyrosomes have come, although they are now being found farther offshore again.

He said the creatures have a low nutritional value and that raises concerns on how they will affect the fish that eat them.

“They’re not the greatest food for the animals out there, compared to the things they normally have,” he said.

Pyrosomes are not harmful to humans, but they have puzzled those who have encountered them.

Angler Don Jeske was fishing for king salmon in February when he said he found himself surrounded by “millions” of the tube-shaped creatures.

He said he had never seen anything like it in his 50 years of trolling near Sitka, a fishing town about 140km southwest of Juneau.

“They were all over out there, they were everywhere. I would say millions, not hundreds of thousands,” he said. “This is a weird organism, man.”

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