Strange sea crea­tures near Alaska baf­fle sci­en­tists

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OBITUARIES/NEWS -

Strange sea crea­tures that re­sem­ble large pink thim­bles are show­ing up on the coast of south­east Alaska for the first time af­ter mak­ing their way north along the West Coast for the last few years.

Sci­en­tists say 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’re thou­sands of multi-celled crea­tures mushed to­gether, gen­er­ally about 6 inches (15 cen­time­tres) long.

Py­ro­somes have been work­ing their way north, Ric Brodeur, a re­searcher with the U.S. Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, told the As­so­ci­ated Press 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 up far­ther north on the Wash­ing­ton state coast, Canada’s Bri­tish Columbia and Alaska.

Jim Mur­phy, a bi­ol­o­gist with the U.S. Na­tional Oceanic and At­mo­spheric Ad­min­is­tra­tion, 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. But tem­per­a­tures have nearly cooled back to nor­mal this year, Mur­phy said, and these py­ro­somes started showed up in the mid­dle of win­ter.

Leon Shaul, a bi­ol­o­gist with Fish and Game, has been track­ing the ap­pear­ance of py­ro­somes in south­east Alaska. He said he’s “emailed the whole world” about the is­sue, but hasn’t heard much back.

Brodeur told the AP that it’s 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 aren’t harm­ful to hu­mans, but they have puz­zled those who’ve 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 and he’d never seen any­thing like it in his 50 years of trolling around Sitka, a fish­ing town about 90 miles 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.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.