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Strange Sea Creatures Near Alaska Baffle Scientists

Scientists are trying to figure out why strange sea creatures that resemble large pink thimbles are showing up on the coast of southeast Alaska.

Angler Don Jeske was fishing for king salmon in February when he said he found himself surrounded by “millions” of the strange, tube-shaped creatures, most about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.

A purple pyrosome captured by a white sea anemone.

A purple pyrosome captured by a white sea anemone.

Lophelia II 2008: Deepwater Coral Expedition: Reefs, Rigs, and Wrecks/NOAA

Jeske said he had never seen anything like it in his 50 years of trolling around Sitka.

“They were all over out there, they were everywhere. . I would say millions, not hundreds of thousands,” he told The Juneau Empire. “This is a weird organism, man. I don’t have a clue.”

Scientists were later able to determine Jeske and other fishermen have been spotting pyrosomes, which are tropical, filter-feeding and spineless creatures. They’re tube-shaped bunches of multi-celled animals. To the naked eye, the pyrosomes appear to be one long, pink tube. But in reality, the tube is made of thousands of creatures mushed together, said Jim Murphy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association biologist.

“This is the first documented presence of these animals this far north,” Murphy said.

Large numbers of pyrosomes have also been found on the shores of Oregon and Washington.

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

Pyrosomes usually stick to a narrow band around the equator, scientists said.

Researchers have speculated that the bloom is tied to warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean in recent years. But temperatures have nearly cooled back to normal this year, Murphy said, and these pyrosomes started showed up in the middle of winter.

Leon Shaul, a biologist with Fish and Game, has been tracking the appearance of pyrosomes in Southeast Alaska. He said he’s “emailed the whole world” about the issue, but hasn’t heard much back.

Alaska pyrosomes sea creatures scientists Pacific Ocean NOAA

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