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A Salp Washed Up…

April 4, 2018


Salp – front end with “horns” at right (Lu Plauzoles Malibu Surfrider Beach 3-25-18)

This now defunct object found on the beach at Malibu Lagoon (aka Surfrider beach) is not a jellyfish. It is not a sea hare either. We consulted Tara Crow, former Programs Manager at Heal the Bay’s Santa Monica Pier Aquarium and she revealed the identity of our rather rare participant in the SM Bay Audubon monthly walk on March 25th. It is a …salp.

Salp closeup – organs visible through translucent body
(Lu Plauzoles Malibu Surfrider Beach 3-25-18)

There is a prize for the birder who can prove they previously knew the existence of that word, and that creature! According to Ms. Crow, they are not as common as jellyfish, sea hare, or the (in)famous Gumboot chiton; all of which tend to wash up on the shore more often than our critter. The salp’s proper name is the rather scandalous (most unfortunate)  Thetys vagina. But the salp used that name before human anatomists.

Salp chain (Frierson, Oregon Dept. of Fish & Wildlife 11-15-12 8253212250)

Tara continues:
“They are crazy cool organisms on so many levels. One of the most amazing things is they have the first evidence of a notochord during development. The notochord is what turns into the spinal column on vertebrates. Of course, those guys instead went a totally different direction and turned into giant floating colonial blobs. Giant is relative, of course. We estimated this was 25-30 centimeters, or between 10 and 12 inches long and approximately four inches across. Many of the salps are apparently smaller, but often congregate in the thousands.”

Gumboot chiton Cryptochiton stelleri topside
(Jerry Kirkhart 12-12-08 wikicommons)

What makes this discussion doubly interesting for us birders, however, is the lateral mention of the Gumboot chiton, which is a rock scouring creature that some have described as a sea-meatloaf. Its proper name is Cryptochiton stelleri.

Gumboot chiton Cryptochiton stelleri underside
Note three-handed gumboot holder
(Professor Douglas Eernisse 2-27-06 wikicommons)

It turns out the Gumboot chiton is another of the species discovered and named by Steller who spent a short time on the Alaskan Coast while on Bering’s expedition. We California birders often see the bright blue Steller’s Jay at elevation and in a few spots northward along the coast. (I don’t recall seeing the chiton.)

Steller’s Jay, San Gabriel Mtns. (C. Almdale 6-7-10)

Georg Wilhelm Steller himself
(Courtesy University of Tyumen, The Center of Russian-German Cooperation of Georg Wilhelm Steller)

From Wikipedia: The Latin name Cryptochiton stelleri means Steller’s hidden chiton. “Steller” is in honor of the 18th-century German zoologist Georg Wilhelm Steller, who first described many species of the northern Pacific seashore.

So…as it turns out, again. It’s all about the birds!
[Lucian Plauzoles, arranged by C. Almdale]



One Comment
  1. Julie Bongers permalink
    April 5, 2018 12:03 am

    Well, the salps have washed up of late on Las Flores Beach too, so yes I’ve heard of them before. However, note that the two people I know of who first noticed them on the beach here are long time beach combers (one grew up on this beach and the is other married a former lifeguard and urchin diver who did), and one of those two told me that neither of the two of them had ever seen this funny little creature on the beach before — they had to do some research to figure out what it was. By a couple of days after Pam told that they had found out that it was a salp, described it, and told me that they usually dwell in warmer waters, I began to see them daily washed up along the water line.”


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