Strange sea creatures in northwest waters ‘concerning' scientists

Image 1 of 16

Scientists are trying to figure out why strange sea creatures are showing up in northwest waters. Pyrosomes, also called Sea Pickles, are tropical, filter-feeding and spineless creatures. (Image: TiffanyBoothe/SeasideAquarium.) 

Scientists are trying to figure out why strange sea creatures are showing up in northwest waters.

Angler Don Jeske was fishing for king salmon in February when he found himself surrounded by jelly-like creatures on the coast of Southeast Alaska.

Jeske told The Juneau Empire reports most of them were about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and resembled pink thimbles. In his 50 years of trolling around Sitka, Jeske says he has never seen anything like it.

"They were all over out there, they were everywhere. … I would say millions, not hundreds of thousands,” he said.

Scientists were later able to determine Jeske and other fishers have been spotting pyrosomes, a tropical, filter-feeding and spineless creature.

>> See photos of the animals here

The pyrosomes – also called “sea pickles” – have caused major issues for salmon fishermen, some of whom had to take a break in their season waiting for the creatures to clear.

"This is the first documented presence of these animals this far north," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association biologist Jim Murphy told The Juneau Empire. "It's not a single organism, it's thousands of them that are kind of mushed together in a tube."

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.

"Just the fact that they’re here is concerning. It means that we are clearly seeing really big changes in the marine ecosystem," Murphy said.

Watch video of creatures below; scroll down to keep reading.

NOAA wrote on its website last week that the anima's abundance this year is unprecedented. Scientists are baffled by the strange sea creatures because not much is known about the marine invertebrates as the study of spineless creatures, such as jellyfish, is a highly-specialized field.

University of Oregon grad student Hilarie Sorensen, who recently found some of the creatures while searching for jellyfish, talked to NPR about how the creatures went from rare sightings to extremely high densities in waters off the Oregon Coast.

“They're usually found in the tropics,” University of Oregon grad student Hilarie Sorensen said. “So these pyrosomes are usually found in - a little bit further south, even in more tropical waters. And so one theory is that the temperature increases that we've been having off of the Pacific coast here are making it pretty hospitable for them.”

According to The Juneau Empire, NOAA will attempt to look at the number of pyrosomes in an upcoming survey.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.