NEWPORT, Ore. -- The ocean waters off the Oregon Coast are now full of strange looking creatures called pyrosomes that set off a glow, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials
A June blog post from the agency's Northwest Fisheries Science Center says the creatures likely are here because of warm ocean conditions the past three years. A February blog post also details their emergence.
"Pyrosomes have become the center of attention with reports of them washing up on beaches, clogging up fishing and research gear, and causing a general sense of befuddlement for people who have been frequenting these waters for many years," writes researcher Hilarie Sorensen, "but to our knowledge, have never seen these creatures in such high densities off of the Oregon coast before."
The pyrosomes first started appearing in large numbers in 2015 and grew exponentially this year, she wrote. The greatest numbers are 40 to 150 miles offshore.
They feed on plankton and natural predators include dolphins, whales, and fish. They submerge several hundred yards during the day and rise up to the surface at night.
Inside his NOAA research lab at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, oceanographer Rick Brodeur is studying the creatures.
"When I first saw it I didn't even know what it was," he said.
Brodeur says he first saw a pyrosome in this area two years ago. The creatures are normally found far offshore in the tropics. Researchers say they started showing up in astounding numbers off Oregon's coast last month.
"As an example, we had a crew out last month where they did a 5-minute tow and they collected about 60,000 of them," Brodeur said.
The creatures look sort of like a translucent pickle. Each one is made up of hundreds of individual organisms working together as a colony.
Oregon State University researcher Jennifer Fisher and her colleagues shot video of the creatures last month.
"We hooked up a GoPro camera to a net and we sent it down in the water and we were just dumbfounded on how many organisms there were," she said.
Fisher said the warmer ocean temperatures of recent years may have brought the pyrosomes up here. However, they may not be staying for long.
Fisher pointed out that during a research trip last week, she found significantly fewer of the creatures.
"They seem to have either died or potentially moved further offshore and into a different region or they could be patchy and we just didn't get them that night," she explained.
Scientists with both NOAA and OSU will be setting out on a lot more research trips in the coming weeks.
Their goal is to find, capture, and study the mysterious creatures and find out more about them.
One concern is that if the pyrosomes die all at once and decompose, they could suck up a lot of oxygen.
That could, in turn, create a "dead zone" for other marine life.
Researchers are keeping their fingers crossed the creatures will move away naturally.
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