Surge in sea pickles in the Pacific Northwest may be linked to climate change

Sea Pickle seen through a microscope. Lauren Negrete/KCBY

COOS BAY, Ore. - The Oregon Coast is playing host to the marine species pyrosomes, also known as sea pickles.

Experts say its a result of changing ocean conditions that could have an affect on the local fishery.

Craig Young, director of the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston, said that despite their small size, "there can be many thousands of these individuals in a single colony of pyrosome."

He describes them as small, gelatin-feeling, cellulose-like creatures that suck in plankton.

They're common in tropical areas, but their numbers have been greater here as of the last three years.

Young says it originated with the warm "blob" which Caren Braby with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife says is a climate change issue.

The warm blob is characterized as an anomaly: an area of water that was slightly warmer than the rest of the body of water in the ocean.

Young said the movement of the "blob" toward the Pacific Northwest is what helped the sea pickles, and other warmer-water preferring animals, make their trek.

Braby looks at the "high abundance" of sea pickles as a tell-tale sign of the changes in our oceanic resources.

"This climate event that happened in 2015 is still happening on Oregon's coast today," Braby said, "We've had four years of very strange ocean conditions that are directly connected to the blob that is directly connected to climate change."

Young is researching their reproductive patterns. He said tracing how they produce and how often could help them to debunk their growing numbers.

Caitlin Plowman is one of his doctoral students.

"It's called parafin histology," she said. "We take the pyrosome, we perserve them, and then we cut small sections out of them and embed them in wax."

They then cut the wax to inspect their reproductive organs.

Local fisherman have had to adapt as well.

Fisherman say they catch and throw the sea pickles back into the ocean daily, but Braby says they're finding these animals inside fish.

She said while are not dangerous for humans to consume, there is a concern for their nutritional value for the fish.

She said it's a reminder to care about our ocean.

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