Thousands of them are mysteriously washing ashore on the Pacific Northwest coast.
Sea pickles are washing up on sea shores. (Say that three times fast.) That's right: pickle-looking creatures are being caught in fishermen's nets and washing up on beaches from Northern California up to southeast Alaska, according to news reports.
Of course, the sea pickles aren't really pickles. They're actually gelatinous organisms called pyrosomes, and unlike pickles that come in a jar, these aren't exactly edible.
Pyrosomes are shaped much like pickles—hence their food moniker—and are semi-translucent. (In fact, they are bioluminescent.) They're tough, slimy, and covered in bumps. According to NOAA Fisheries, "each pyrosome is made up of individual zooids—small, multicellular organisms—linked together in a tunic to form a tube-like colony that is closed on one end...they are filter feeders and use cilia to draw plankton into their mucous filter."
And while they've long appeared in the ocean, pyrosomes are hitting the news this week because, while they're normally found in warmer waters, they've been seen along much of the Pacific Northwest in recent weeks. In fact, NOAA Fisheries says, one five-minute tow of a net off of the Columbia River in May yielded 60,000 of them.
"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 off shore, we started to get more and more," Hilarie Sorensen, a University of Oregon graduate student who was aboard the boat as it reeled in so many pyrosomes, told NOAA Fisheries. "We began counting and measuring them to try to get a better understanding of their size and distribution."
The pyrosomes caught in nets and washing ashore have measured anywhere from a few inches to two-feet long. (Luckily for swimmers and beach-goers, they seem to get bigger the farther from shore you go.) And no one knows why they're here.
So far, scientists' best guess is that climate change—i.e. warmer waters up north—are to blame for the increased pyrosome population. But that is just a guess.
While they're around, sea pickles—err, pyrosomes—can be cool to look at, if you're into that kind of thing. A spokesman for NOAA Fisheries told CNN that "when looking at underwater [pictures] of these guys, it's kinda like looking at the stars."
So look, maybe even touch. But remember what these guys eat. And don't eat them.