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Gross Things Found on a Rocky Beach

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The author is a homemaker and retired medical transcriptionist. She holds a Masters degree in English and loves to write.

According to maritime experts, anybody interested in the red jellyfish washing up on the shores of Mt. Desert Island should maintain their distance. The lion's mane jellyfish, whose one-year life cycle triggers an annual surge in beach sightings in August and September, may still sting even after dying. The jellyfish has a pressure-release mechanism that enables it to sting after death.

Strolling down the beach toward the Ovens last week, I came across one of these large, flattened, dead and red, disgusting creatures. Even though it was pretty gross, like a moth to the flame, my curiosity drew me near to it. I examined the gelatinous blob. As far as getting stung, while I was happy to gop at it for a while, I certainly had no inclination to touch it. It was slimy and creepy and, well, dead.

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Despite my burgeoning curiosities, a dead lion’s mane jellyfish cannot compete with a living, mysterious, beautiful, and ancient moon jelly pulsating in the same waters of Frenchman Bay. In contrast to the anecdote above, one day while I was swimming, I found myself engulfed by a bloom of moon jellies floating along the ocean shelf. The sun was shining and the water was clear, so I ran into the house and got my camera to take a few pics!

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Moon jellies create light as a result of a chemical reaction inside their bodies (making them highly photogenic). From a scientific viewpoint, jellies employ bioluminescence for a variety of reasons, including self-defense, attracting and luring food, camouflage to mislead predators, and releasing surplus chemical energy in the form of light and heat. When predators come into contact with them in the water, they begin to glow brightly, frightening the predator and allowing them to flee. They also use their light to imitate the light of tiny planktons, which confuses their predators.

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I was able to immerse myself in the activity of the moon jellies that day, and take pictures of them from many vantage points. After I had had my fill, I climbed up the rock crag leading to the cottage, feeling grateful and happy after my swim and encounter with the moon jellies.

On the very same day I had seen the dead red jellyfish, I came across another slimy, totally weird, disgusting something(!) on the beach.The gooey yellow mass I found was unlike anything I’d seen before. It was about 1.5 feet (and perhaps more) in diameter, and about 3 inches in height. I snapped a couple of pics. I hoped to solve the mystery later when I got home.

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That night, I went to Google Images on my Mac and searched for "strange mass on the beach." After considerable searching, I came across one image that appeared to be close to what I had seen, but it was white instead of yellow. According to the related article, the strange mass discovered by "this other" individual was eventually determined to be a "mop" of "squid eggs."

I then Googled "squid eggs" and discovered some images that were a dead ringer to my picture. This particular mop of eggs belongs to the Longfin squid. A female deposits each of the finger-sized egg cases, which contain between 50 and 150 embryos. During the mating season, a female will generally lay hundreds of egg fingers before dying. An egg mop is a mass of egg fingers, and many females can contribute egg fingers to a single mop. The egg fingers' ends are initially sticky, and females generally glue the ends to a hard surface (like rocks, dock pilings, etc.) in relatively shallow water. The embryos will grow and hatch in approximately two weeks if the water temperature is in the mid to upper 60s. The article I read goes on to suggest that if you come across a pile of eggs like this, you should return it to the ocean. The problem is, that even if one had the nerve to touch the egg mop, the bulk is so slimy, I'm not sure how anyone could pick it up and transfer it to the water!

The grossest thing I have ever seen on the beach, I’m sorry to say, is a very sad story. A dead harbor seal washed up on the shore a short distance from our house. I first noticed a swarm of vultures gathered on the beach. I took out my binoculars to see what was going on, but couldn’t tell what the hubbub was all about. I gathered up my courage and walked down to the beach to get closer to the vultures who, by themselves, were intimidating. The vultures flew away and I was able to see that they had been working away at a poor dead seal. She was large, and it was clear to see that the blade of a motorboat had sliced off a section of her skull.

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The second day after I first spotted her down the beach, I awoke to find her at the foot of our rock stairs, just in front of our house. High tide had deposited her there. She was rotting, stinky, and gross, and continued to decay over the length of the summer (whilst also we walked around her); and by October, just clean bones remained in her place.

I gathered up the bones (there weren't many left), bleached them, identified them, and arranged them to form a skeleton. I know that seems a little bit morbid, but I guess the paleontologist and nature girl in me made me do it. I don't think the seal would mind.

I have a nicer anecdote to tell to balance out the sad one above. A live baby seal also washed up on the beach one day. For some reason he was a relatively long distance away from the water's edge. The baby seal was totally lost, bewildered, disoriented, and seemed unable to chug along the ground, which he needed to do in order to get back into the sea. A small number of people gathered around him, and our household went down to the beach as well.

Fortunately, one man in a plaid shirt took command of the situation. I refer to him as the "seal whisperer." He spoke softly to the baby seal, and over time he was able to approach the seal and nudge him back into the water. It was a relief to watch this rescue. One can only hope that the baby seal's mother was nearby and waiting for him.

There is more to Maine beaches than sun, rocks, and sea. You never know what bizarre things you’ll stumble onto while strolling the beach.

NOTE: Touching a moon jelly is harmless since the poisons in its stinging cells aren't powerful enough to penetrate human skin. I had a vague knowledge (from somewhere) that moon jellies were safe, and so was not afraid to walk among them.

NOTE: A jellyfish is not a true “fish.” It is an invertebrate. To prevent moon jellyfish from having an identity crisis, scientists have since dropped the moniker of “fish” from their name, to call them simply “moon jellies.” According to reliable sources, moon jellies are now coping better overall.

Just kidding. Moon jellies do not have a brain.

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