Walking the Oregon beaches this week, you may have noticed a familiar visitor. Washed ashore were thousands of pyrosomes; the colonial tunicate that made headlines along the West coast because of large nearshore abundances affecting fishing and research efforts.
The batches washing ashore this week were smaller than those collected this summer, with individuals averaging 2-3 inches. Similar-sized pyrsomes were washing ashore in winter of 2016.
Most of them looked healthy as indicated by their rigid tunic and pink-purple color. This is in contrast to decaying individuals brought up in nets which are often grey and deflated. Interestingly, the individuals washing up on beaches north and south of Newport looked larger and more abundant.
Pyrosomes found on local Newport beaches were smaller and more scattered. It would seem that local circulation patterns are having an effect on pyrosome distribution patterns. Does this pulse of pyrosomes indicate another big pyrosome year for 2018? We will continue to monitor pyrosome encounters in our upcoming CoOP and monthly Elakha cruises.
Last week we went out on the fishing vessel Timmy Boy as part of our quarterly sampling funded by the NOAA Cooperative Research program. This program fosters collaborations between scientists and the fishing community to share our collective knowledge. It is our 3rd year being funded by this program and we have benefited greatly from the relationships that have formed. Click here to read about a previous trip aboard the Timmy Boy and to learn more about the benefits of this program.
During this trip, we sampled both the seafloor with a video beam trawl system, looking for newly settled flatfishes, and the water column with plankton nets and a CTD to characterize the pelagic habitat and to sample for zooplankton and larval fishes.
We were lucky to get out between squalls and the ocean became flatter and flatter throughout the day. Our last beam trawl of the day sampled a recently established sand dollar bed. We have been sampling monthly since 2008, and only in the last year, have we started observing such large aggregations of sand dollars at our 30 and 40 meter stations off Moolack Beack, just north of Yaquina Head. Sand dollars were not the only thing we collected, we also caught quite a few newly-settled juveniles of commercially important flatfishes indicating that possibly the sand dollars provide good habitat for these fishes.
As the sun was setting, we'd normally continue sampling farther offshore out to 85 miles. However, this night, we headed in after going only 15 miles because it was forecasted to blow 35 kts the following day. Right now, we are constantly checking the weather to find the next window when we can get back out and finish sampling the remainder of the transect.