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Science & Environment

'Sea Pickles' Wash Ashore In Pacific Northwest

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Oh, summertime - laying out on the beach, taking in sun, swimming. And if you're in the Pacific Northwest, that might mean encountering a strange creature called a sea pickle.

HILARIE SORENSEN: They feel like a dog toy, if anyone is a pet owner, and you pick one up. The average size is around a foot, a foot and a half. And it's this tube-like structure that feels kind of rubbery and bumpy. They're generally kind of a clear-ish pink color.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We're listening to University of Oregon grad student Hilarie Sorensen, who's back from a recent research trip up the West coast from San Francisco to Oregon - was looking for jellyfish but found sea pickles instead.

SORENSEN: We were finding them not right at the surface of the water during the day, but if you'd go down to about a hundred feet or so, there would just be thousands.

MARTIN: Their scientific name is pyrosomes, which means fire body. They're usually found in the tropics.

INSKEEP: Maybe this is the point in the story where you're asking, why are you telling me about sea pickles, Steve and Rachel? Well, it's because they're so abundant in northern waters they're becoming a nightmare for fishermen. In Alaska, salmon fishermen had to take a break in their season - some of them did - waiting for the sea pickles to clear.

SORENSEN: There's so many of them that they're clogging up their nets. So they'll just - they'll - instead of getting the fish that they're targeting, they'll just pull up these pyrosomes. And with them being so abundant, they are also really, really heavy. So I think that, in some cases, fishing nets have actually been broken because they're just pulling up thousands of these things, and the nets can't handle the weight.

MARTIN: All right, so why are these creatures showing up now?

INSKEEP: Yeah.

SORENSEN: One hypothesis is that it's pretty closely related to warming temperatures. 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.

INSKEEP: Whatever the reason, nobody knows how to get rid of them. Maybe if you can't beat them, you should eat them. Here's Hilarie Sorensen again.

SORENSEN: I think you can fry it, actually. A true jellyfish is about 95 percent water. I'm not quite sure how they're prepared, but there's - in Japan, I know there's actually a jellyfishing (ph) industry. I definitely wouldn't eat it raw, I don't think (laughter). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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