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Sea Creatures Wash Ashore in Newport Beach: The Mystery is solved!

By December 18, 2014Interesting OC News

Sea Creatures Wash Ashore in Newport Beach 

The Mystery is solved! 


The glow-in-the-dark sea creatures that washed ashore last month are called pyrosomes. These soft-bodies species, likely got carried onshore by a current. The creatures’ unexpected appearance were accompanied by the “by-the-wind sailors,” or velella velellas, which washed ashore in Newport Beach – and elsewhere along the California coast. They’ll eventually dry up, blow away or get washed back into the ocean.

Pyrosomes are typically found in the open ocean away from reefs, kelp beds or coastlines. Unable to swim, they generally float a distance, ranging from 5 miles offshore to thousands of miles offshore in warm waters around the globe.Like jellyfish, they travel in groups, but they are harmless to humans. Pyrosomes can reach up to 3 feet in length, although the ones in Newport Beach were about 4 to 5 inches long. In the ocean, pyrosomes glow when they’re upset or agitated. Fish also bioluminesce usually to attract prey or a mate. Whether pyrosomes do the same is less clear.

Pyrosomes and salps are pelagic (free-swimming) tunicates or sea squirts. All species are open ocean animals that rarely come close to shore, and all are colonial, although many salps can also be solitary.Pyrosomes are colonies of tiny animals that form hollow tubes sealed at one end – the long tube species in the first part of the video is giant pyrosome Pyrostremma spinosum – it can reach 30m in length! Pyrosomes get their name (Pyro = fire + soma = body) from their ability to emit light (bioluminescence) – colonies can glow or flash light at night, particularly if touched.


Pyrosomes, genus Pyrosoma, are free-floating colonial tunicates that live usually in the upper layers of the open ocean in warm seas, although some may be found at greater depths. Pyrosomes are cylindrical- or conical-shaped colonies made up of hundreds to thousands of individuals, known as zooids. Colonies range in size from less than one centimeter to several metres in length.

Each zooid is only a few millimetres in size, but is embedded in a common gelatinous tunic that joins all of the individuals. Each zooid opens both to the inside and outside of the “tube”, drawing in ocean water from the outside to its internal filtering mesh called the branchial basket, extracting the microscopic plant cells on which it feeds, and then expelling the filtered water to the inside of the cylinder of the colony. The colony is bumpy on the outside, each bump representing a single zooid, but nearly smooth, though perforated with holes for each zooid, on the inside.

Pyrosomes are planktonic, which means their movements are largely controlled by currents, tides, and waves in the oceans. On a smaller scale, however, each colony can move itself slowly by the process of jet propulsion, created by the coordinated beating of cilia in the branchial baskets of all the zooids, which also create feeding currents.Pyrosomes are brightly bioluminescent, flashing a pale blue-green light that can be seen for many tens of metres. The name Pyrosoma comes from the Greek (pyro = “fire”, soma = “body”). Pyrosomes are closely related to salps, and are sometimes called “fire salps”. Sailors on the ocean are occasionally treated to calm seas containing many pyrosomes, all luminescing on a dark night.omes