Those Squishy Things in the Water? They're Not Fish Eggs

Salps at Atlantic Avenue Beach on Sunday Anita Wright

What are those squishy things in the waters? Not jellyfish. Not fish eggs. They're salps, and they're harmless.

If you've been at the water's edge recently, you will have seen them. Chris Paparo, manager of the Marine Science Center at Stony Brook Southampton, set the record straight about these small, gelatinous, creatures that come in a seemingly endless supply this time of the year. They are a form of "pelagic tunicate, or sea squirts," he said.

The salps are abundant this summer, he said, explaining that they are very common offshore and had been brought in to nearshore waters by recent strong south winds.

"They eat plankton, but they themselves are plankton," Mr. Paparo said.

Their name, pelagic tunicate, explains their nature. Pelagic refers to their usual surroundings, the open water, where they stick together and form long chains. Turnicate describes their means of transportation — they pump water through their bodies to propel themselves.

"They're pretty delicate animals. In the open ocean, there's nothing, really, to bang into,"  Mr. Paparo said, explaining that deeper water allows the creatures to stick together; being pounded by waves on the coast breaks them apart, which explains why they are most often found unlinked on the beach as individual orbs.

Mr. Paparo explained that they are filter feeder that get their meals of plankton from the water.

"They are at the mercy of the current," he said. Right now, "they've been pushed into the bay."