The sea salps are back!
No, that’s not a typo. Salps are small, shiny, prismatic and easy to overlook on a casual beach stroll.
Referred to by some scientists as “vacuum cleaners of the ocean”, they appeared on Zuma Beach this week. We first noticed them last winter. After a few weeks, they disappeared.
Shaped as orbs or tiny tunics, sea salps range from half an inch in diameter to several inches in length. They are seen in the water individually or in chains. This salp was seen at the high tide line, one of several dozen found on a recent beach walk.
Although the picture doesn’t show it, I saw a thin, cinnamon-colored line running through the sphere, and a tiny light brown sac to one side. For superior photographs, check out the Plankton Chronicles site. Salps are “eaten by fish, turtles, birds, and shellfish.”
But what about the benefit salps give to planet earth?
“In a surprising new finding, scientists at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology showed that the salps’ nets are remarkably engineered to catch extremely small particles that scientists assumed would easily slip through the 1.5-micron holes in the nets. (A micron is a millionth of a meter, or 10-6m.) Their discovery revealed a previously unsuspected biological mechanism that helps operate the marine food web and also removes the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the upper ocean.”
Next time you walk the ocean shore, keep an eye out for these small but important creatures.