Washington: Millions of rare, tiny marine creatures known as the “unicorns of the sea” have flocked to the west coast of America, ruining fishermen’s nets and baffling scientists, who are scrambling to find out more about them.
Fishers along the west coast have told researchers that in some places they are unable to catch anything because the pyrosome clusters are so dense and tightly packed. Their hooks, when pulled from the ocean, wriggle with the odd-looking creatures, which are sometimes referred to as “sea pickles” or “fire bodies”.
The distinctive animals – which are only a few millimetres long but gather in huge colonies – have washed up on popular beaches, bemusing local residents.
Hilarie Sorensen, a graduate student at the University of Oregon who is part of a new research team set up to study the bloom, said they are scrambling to learn as much as possible while they have the opportunity.
Pyrosomes are tubular, gelatinous creatures that are actually moving colonies of tiny organisms. Asexual creatures which reproduce by cloning themselves,, they have long fascinated seafarers, who have been pictured swimming through the middle of pyrosomes up to 30 metres long.
Sorenson said no one knows how much surface area the pyrosome bloom covers, except that they have gathered right along the west coast in mammoth clusters. She said every time she or fisherman had seen them the swarm stretched “as far as the eye can see”.
Usually found in warm, tropical seas far from the coastline, researchers have been astounded by the unexpected influx of pyrosomes along the west coast of America. It began in Oregon and gradually swept north up the coast, with reports of pyrosomes spotted as far north as Sitca, Alaska.
Few marine scientists have seen pyrosomes in the flesh because during the day they stay in the depths, sometimes up to 700 metres under the surface and usually in the open sea.