The “great sighting” on Newell Beach, north of Cairns, stopped a woman in her tracks on Thursday. Puzzled, she took to social media to ask for help identifying the carrot-shaped object.
A photo shows a long orange stem with what appear to be tentacles resembling a chainsaw protruding from the top.
“What the heck?” one person responded on the Facebook group dedicated to wildlife. “Yes I’m definitely staying out of the waters,” another added, while a third joked, “I genuinely thought that was a toilet brush for a hot minute”.
Creature revealed to be sea pen
While one enthusiast suggested the creature was a peanut worm — a burrowing marine worm with a mouth — Merrick Ekins with the Queensland Museum told Yahoo News Australia the creature is in fact a sea pen.
“It’s a sea pen, or was a sea pen now dislodged from the sediment,” the Collection Manager, Sessile Marine Invertebrates said. “It’s most likely a Pteroeides species.
“Sea pens are a marine invertebrate in the same class of animals as anemones and corals. The stalk of a sea pen remains buried in sediment while the feather-like array of polyps are arranged in rows above, for food collection and for pumping water.”
Sea pens, which feast on drifting plankton and can grow up to 46cm long, are not harmful to pick up but are “spiky”, Mr Ekins added. They are also octocorals, meaning each poly has eight tentacles and can glow bright green when stimulated, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California.
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love Australia's weird and wonderful environment? Get our new weekly newsletter showcasing the week’s best stories.