Subject: Sea Monster?

Dagmar Fertl (Dagmar.Fertl@mms.gov)
Thu, 15 Apr 1999 08:25:54 -0400

I saw a very strange creature in the sea and I am finding it difficult to 
identify.  I have lived and boated and fished in West Palm Beach FL for 20 
years and there is an odd 'thing' around this year.  
     
The first time we spotted one, it was inside the Palm Beach/Lake Worth inlet 
during the incoming tide in shallow water.  A week later we saw four of them 
20 miles offshore, floating with a trash line dumped from a freighter.
     
Description:  Imagine a coiled structure, like a 'Slinky', only 7-10 inches 
in diameter and webbed between the coils sort of like air conditioning duct.  
The things were 2-6 feet long and free floating in a relaxed worm stance.  
They were banded in color.  A thick band 8-12" of dark rust, red color, and 
then a thin band 2-3" of pink, more gelatinous (like moon jellyfish color). 
The colors alternated.  On the red/rust portion, there were polyps of red 
lining what resembles the 'Slinky' structure.  
     
Any ideas??  Our friends who spend even more time on the water than we do, 
think we have lost our minds.  We are not novices, just confused.  Please 
help.
     
Thanks for any insight.
*******************************

I asked a colleague at the office who's a biological oceanographer about your 
sighting.  He has done a lot of biological oceanography work, including off the 
West Palm Beach area (I can send you his email address under separate cover if 
you'd like to thank him for taking the time to answer this question).

You'll be happy to hear that you're NOT crazy - so you are vindicated.  Best 
guess? What you saw is basically a pelagic tunicate, possibly Pyrosoma, or 'fire
body' (in the class Thaliacea, in subphylum Urochordata).  It has the name 
because it biolumensces at night (lights up like sparks).  This is a colonial 
salp, which means the 'polyps' you saw are actually individual animals or 
'zooids'.  

This tunicate is typically found in shades of pink gray, can be several feet 
long, and several inches in diameter (though the oceanographer doubts it was as 
wide as you estimated, and was probably only 5 inches in diameter).  The banding
that you saw is not a normal thing, and probably had to do with the way the 
animal was bent.

And, now, I am finally ready for some whale and dolphin questions again :-)

Dagmar