Strong winds might have blown sea cucumbers (Cucumaria miniata) up on to the beach, exposing them to the cold at low tide.
Observation by Molly Montgomery:
Dead sea cucumbers I came across today in Anchor Point at low tide. We’ve had very strong winds and extra cold temps this winter. Shared with Erica Lujan via Facebook
Mandy Lindeburg, Fisheries Research Biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), writes:
This is an unusual stranding event of the orange sea cucumber, Cucumaria miniata, commonly found in the Gulf of Alaska. This species is not harvested for commercial purposes like its close relative the giant California sea cucumber, Apostichopus californicus (the only species commercially harvested in Alaska). The orange sea cucumber can be up to 25-cm (~10 in.) long and lives wedged under cobble and boulders in the very low intertidal to subtidal zones. Being related to sea stars and sea urchins (Echinoderms) this sea cucumber uses its tube feet to anchor itself for filter feeding. Its bright orange tentacles are used to catch plankton and detritus, slowly "liking its fingers" as food becomes trapped within the tentacles. The cause of this stranding event is not certain. Mortalities due to cold temperatures are not as likely since they can hide from the elements under rocks, but a big storm that rolls cobble and boulders could upend them and deposit them high on the beach, as seen in these photos. The number of sea cucumbers captured in these photos is impressive and colleagues in the area do not recall ever seeing a stranding for this species before.
2/22/2020Molly Montgomery writes:
I saw the sea cucumbers on Sunday and I don’t remember if it was that previous week or the one before, but there were really strong winds one night when I got off work. There have been quite a few days this winter with strong winds. Anyway, I was cleaning up at work and the whole two-story building my salon is in was shaking from the wind. I went to get dinner and the power was out on the Sterling Highway and all businesses there. I didn’t look up what the winds were, all I know is they were scary strong.
Comments from LEO Editors:
This observation has been shared with the University of Alaska Southeast College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, and with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
According to temperature data from the Homer Airport, daily temperatures were below the normal low temperature for much of January, climbing to normal and above normal high temperatures during February.