‘Alien’ beach creatures identified

2011-11-15 07:09

Alien-like sea creatures that have washed ashore on beaches across Cape Town have been identified as a rare barnacles.

Beach walkers around the city have been flummoxed in the past weeks about the identity of the creatures, which have slimy tentacles with shells on the end.

“I’ve been walking on this beach for 35 years and I’ve never seen anything like this,” an elderly man from the suburb of Kommetjie said as he prodded one of the barnacles with a piece of drift wood.

Marine biologist Charles Griffiths told the Cape Times newspaper today that the creatures were known as buoy barnacles and that their appearance in Western Cape waters was a “once in a lifetime” event.

Griffiths, who is the director of marine biology research at the University of Cape Town, has spent 30 years studying and teaching marine biology in Cape Town.

This is the first time he has come across buoy barnacles, which have washed up on beaches in their thousands in Hout Bay, Muizenberg, Hermanus, False Bay, Noordhoek and Camps Bay.

“This bloom of buoy barnacles is just massive,” Griffiths said. The buoy barnacle is the only species of barnacle with the ability to float on its own.

Mature barnacles secrete their own gas-filled flotation devices instead of attaching to flotsam.

“The immature barnacles cling to the flotation ball on a mature barnacle like ornaments on a Christmas tree. They are a very interesting species,” Griffiths told the newspaper.

Griffiths said the influx might just be random. “It’s difficult to be conclusive about a one-off event like this,” he said.

Ken Moore, a specialist marine guide from Hermanus, told the Cape Times that tourists had been struck by the curious looking barnacles during whale-watching tours.

“I have worked in Walker Bay every day for 11 years and this is the first time I’ve seen these floating,” he said.

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