Millions of Pickles, Pickles in the Sea

For a few years beginning late in 2013, warmer ocean conditions in the eastern Pacific prompted the appearance of unexpected species and toxic algal blooms that devastated others. When temperatures cooled in 2017, the marine ecosystems seemed to be returning to normal. Except for the pyrosomes. Although these previously rare organisms did start to wash up on beaches during the periods of warming, they began to appear by the millions from Oregon to Alaska that spring.

Pyrosomes

Photo by Steven Grace.

Some combination of ideal conditions led pyrosomes to multiply, dominate the ocean surface and wash up on beaches along the US and Canadian Pacific Coasts. Pyrosomes typically exist offshore, far below the surface in warm, tropical waters all over the world. Their sudden proliferation in other areas is likely due to the warm, Pacific ocean “blob,” although atypical sea currents and changes in pyrosome diet have been offered as other possible explanations.

While the appearance of pyrosomes impeded the efforts of fisherman by clogging nets and filling hooks, greater ecological effects have yet to be observed. As we celebrate World Oceans Month, pyrosomes offer a mesmerizing example of the astounding biological diversity our oceans have to offer and, perhaps, a cautionary tale of the impact climate change can have on those marine lifeforms.

The pyrosome species common in the NE Pacific, Pyrosoma atlanticum, goes by a few other colorful names. Each name reveals something captivating about these creatures. Commonly called “sea pickles” due their size, shape and bumpy texture (like a transparent cucumber), these are not single organisms, but colonies formed by hundreds or thousands of individual multicellular animals call zooids.

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Ooooh, Fishy, Fish! Please Land on My Dish

Yes, I am a Monty Python fan and I like to play the “Find the Fish” video on YouTube when I need some midday amusement. However, this video brings up the topic of eating less red meat and enjoying more fish on my dish. My husband and I are trying to curb our beef-eating activities by diversifying the protein sources in our diet. We have recently adopted some dining rituals that include Friday Fish Fry (leaning more toward broiling, even though it’s hard to resist a traditional Wisconsin fish fry) and Meatless Mondays for vegetarian fare. One reason for doing this is to hopefully find more sustainable approaches to supporting a healthy diet.

So I was intrigued to learn more about fish farming (aquaculture) at sea when I read Sarah Simpson’s article in the February 2011 issue of Scientific American titled “The Blue Food Revolution”. Sustainability has become more important in many of the buying choices I have made lately, especially after learning that our global population will reach 7 billion in 2011 and is expected to grow to 9.3 billion by 2050. Yikes! How do we provide high-quality protein and nutrition to so many people? Continue reading