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Squishy Science

June 03, 2021

Gelatinous zooplankton come in many shapes and sizes.

One of the ways we study the ocean and its inhabitants is by deploying nets. On the May 2021 Northern California Current Ecosystem Survey, we have caught TONS of squishy, gelatinous animals. These animals include cnidarians  (jellyfish), ctenophores (comb jellies), salps, pyrosomes, heteropods (sea elephants), pteropods (sea butterflies), chaetognaths (arrow worms), and more! Gelatinous organisms often lack hard parts and are made of predominantly water. While all these animals are gelatinous and live in the ocean, they are also quite different from each other. Scientists are able to classify and group such organisms by the features they have in common.

For example, cnidarians have specialized stinging cells called nematocysts while ctenophores have specialized sticky cells called colloblasts. Salps and pyrosomes filter feed on phytoplankton while chaetognaths actively hunt for prey. Pteropods and heteropods are different classes of pelagic snails that sometimes have small shells. Can you think of any other squishy animals you may have spotted in the ocean or at the beach?

This post was written by Ashley Hann, who is a graduate student at Oregon State University and joined us on the NCC ecosystem survey.

Different sizes and life stages of salps caught in a net off Crescent City, OR. Photo courtesy of Ashley Hann.
Different sizes and life stages of salps caught in a net off Crescent City, OR. Photo courtesy of Ashley Hann.

 

A large pyrosome caught on the Northern CA Current Survey. Photo courtesy of Becky Smoak.
A large pyrosome caught on the Northern CA Current Survey. Photo courtesy of Becky Smoak.

 

Jellies: An assortment of gelatinous organisms caught at night on the Northern CA Current Survey. Photo courtesy of Ashley Hann.
Jellies: An assortment of gelatinous organisms caught at night on the Northern CA Current Survey. Photo courtesy of Ashley Hann.

 

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Last updated by Northwest Fisheries Science Center on June 03, 2021