Science

Sea Snot? No, It's a Sea Squirt, and It's Plaguing Oregon

Didemnum vexillum, the new scourge of the West Coast.

Didemnum vexillum, the new scourge of the West Coast.  (USGS)

It looks like some vile secretion from the sea floor, but it's actually an organism -- and researchers in Oregon are worried that the icky thing will spread. 

The Didemnum vexillum, also known as the sea squirt, has been discovered in Winchester Bay and Coos Bay off of the coast of Oregon. This yucky looking creature is a feared blight, listed on the Oregon Invasive Species Council's compendium of the 100 most dangerous invaders to keep out of state. 

That's because the sea squirt, which has been called "very scary" by an invasive species specialist, can smother shellfish beds and coat boat hulls, dock and water intakes. Scientists aren't sure how the squirt, which originated in Japan, made it to Oregon, according to The News-Review in Douglas County

The sea squirt has been around for over 500 million years. It's one of a class of critters known as Tunicates, hermaphroditic creatures that can reproduce both sexually and asexually. And in spite of their fleshy, blobby appearance, they're fairly advanced: Tunicates are closely related to vertebrates, which include fish and all land animals with bones -- and yes, humans too.

The USGS is considering eradication efforts involving the use of vinegar and bleach, but these efforts may be fruitless: The sea squirt has proven resilient against past efforts to eliminate it according to Sam Chan, chairman of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. 

The gooey creature has already plagued waters near Canada, New Zealand, Netherlands, and the East Coast.