North Carolina

These odd, gooey blobs on Outer Banks beaches aren’t jellyfish. They’re even weirder

What are salps?

They look like blobs of goo, Salps drift, sometimes in long chains, in the open ocean. There they are the sea's most efficient filter-feeders, grazing on food particles from large to small.
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They look like blobs of goo, Salps drift, sometimes in long chains, in the open ocean. There they are the sea's most efficient filter-feeders, grazing on food particles from large to small.

They look like little clear blobs of jelly, about the size of a fingernail with a little black dot. Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue shared a photo recently of these little creatures called salps that are showing up on Outer Banks beaches.

“As you enjoy the warm water today, you may come across some of these jellyfish-like critters. They are called salps, and are present because of phytoplankton blooms, which are their food source. The black dot in the center of them is their digestive system, and they are completely harmless,” the Ocean Rescue said on Facebook.

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Small gelatinous creatures called salps washing up on Outer Banks beaches are closer relatives to humans than jellyfish. Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue

Salps are sometimes called “jellyfish eggs” because of how they appear, according to National Geographic. But “the only thing salps and jellyfish have in common is that both are gelatinous and both float around in the ocean,” researchers told National Geographic.

“Fun fact: Although salps appear similar to jellyfish because of their simple body form and planktonic behavior, they are chordates: animals with dorsal nerve cords, related to vertebrates, animals with backbones. This means they are more closely related to humans than jellyfish!” Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue said on Facebook.

Researchers at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute say salps could be called “the ocean’s vacuum cleaners” because of their prodigious appetite for tiny phytoplankton and other prey that can be as small as bacteria.

A lifeguard supervisor at Hunting Island State Park gives a few tips for what to do if you are injured by a stingray or a jellyfish while swimming at the beach.

Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.
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