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The sea pickle ranges anywhere from 6 inches to 2 feet long and is starting to pop up in large numbers all over the west coast, from Oregon to Alaska. The harmless little gelatinous creature is actually a conglomeration of zooids (small, multicellular organisms) that band together to create the “pickle-like” shape.
Normally, these sea pickles are only found in tropical waters. But lately, these bioluminescent (light producing) creatures started popping up this past spring in unimaginable numbers. Pods of them have gotten so large that fisherman have had to abandon fishing in certain areas. National Geographic reported that one researcher pulled up 60,000 sea pickles in just 5 minutes.
Sea pickles are pretty much harmless. They eat algae and other small particulate matter throughout the ocean. But because scientists don’t know much about these creatures, they worry that they will all die the same way, which will lead to a massive amount of decaying matter in the ocean. If this happens, all the oxygen in the water will be sucked out, which will create what is known as a “dead zone.” This is what created the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Why they’re here now is unknown at this point,” says Jennifer Fisher, a research assistant with Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “We’ve had warm ocean conditions over the past couple years, and something has brought them here. They’re just flourishing. It’s just very unusual to find them so close to shore, so evenly distributed and so abundant.”
Scientists are eager to start studying and researching the sea pickles to learn more about them.
“If we continue to see this many, what impact will it have on the ecosystems here, and what economic impact on the fisheries? There are so many unknowns at this point, it really is a remarkable bloom,” said Hilarie Sorensen, a graduate student at the University of Oregon who is apart of a research team that will study this organism.“Right now we are scrambling to learn as much as possible while we have the opportunity.”