A sea creature with a rather deceptive appearance has confused locals after washing up on shore, prompting an explanation from wildlife authorities.
Looking like a tangled mess of rope or wire, it could easily be mistaken for another bit of garbage ejected by the ocean. But the “beach find” washed up on a national park off the coast of Texas, near the Gulf of Mexico, is anything but garbage.
The Padre Island National Seashore posted an image of the ocean dweller, explaining that it is a fairly common type of coral.
“Have you ever been out walking the beach, perhaps picking up trash and you come across something that looks like this?
“More often people assume that it’s trash,” it wrote.
“Although it may fool you into thinking that it is some sort of wire, this is actually a type of coral known as Sea whip.”
The coral comes in a variety of colours including red, white, purple and yellow – and on close inspection shows telltale signs of life.
“If you look closely at a piece of washed up sea whip, you might notice the black on the inside of this coral,” the Texas authorities said.
“This is the skeleton of the coral, while the coloured pieces are the tiny colonies of polyps that make up the living part of the coral.”
Sea whip coral’s unique features
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, each protruding colony of polyps grow on top of each other to form the stem, with a mouth and eight tentacles at the end.
Associate Professor Ian Tibbetts form the University of Queensland’s School of Biological Science called the picture “very interesting”.
“My sister in the UK found a red Sea whip washed up in the Mediterranean when she was last there,” he said.
“I think I can resolve polyp-like structure on the yellow ‘living’ portion,” he told Yahoo News Australia regarding the image, which he agreed was likely Sea whip coral.
“The more interesting thing to me though were the stacks of bivalves. The stack comprise single valve so they have been assembled by a creature, most likely a polychaete worm,” he said, which would have used it as protection to help avoid predators.
Online, people expressed amazement at the explanation and were glad to learn it was a natural occurrence.
“I have always wondered what this was,” commented one Facebook user, saying they would often get mad thinking it was rubbish.
“At first I thought it was masses of discarded fishing line, and I was pretty upset by that. And, then, I became informed,” another said. “So cool!”
Many inquired about what to do if they come across it washed up on the beach with wildlife authorites telling people to simply leave it alone.
“It doesn't need to be put back in the water,” the Padre Island National Seashore said.
“At the point where it's washed up on the beach, the coral is likely no longer alive. If you put it back in the water, it will just wash up again. It helps build up the dunes as it decomposes.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.