Saturday, September 6, 2014

Chatham adventures and a weird new creature

Foggy and windy outside, just waiting for the cold front to bring thunderstorms and wipe the sky and air clean. I hope we get a really good one....and I hope they miss Boston, where Heather is selling her gifts (ChicByDesignCollections). I can see one on the radar that looks to be heading south of the city and some more that might end up here around dark. Sure is a change from a few days ago when we had amazing blue sky days.

​ On my first full day back, Monday (September 1), I sailed out of Jackknife Harbor and decided to take the shortest route between me and clams: past Strong Island and over to the marsh by Little Sipson Island. Low tide forced me to walk across the flats and I brought a rake rather than my usual snorkel and mask....and raked for clams rather than snorkeled and collected them gently. This meant that I caught ALL the giant ones (and threw them back) and could hardly feel the nice small ones all swaddled in soft mud. And sank to my knees and had (I assume) green crabs playing with the hair on my legs, wondering what this giant thing might be and if it were edible. Not only that, but several times I found half-golf-ball-sized sacks impaled on the tines of my rake, things that felt like little bags of chopped liver: clearly some odd critter. I resolved to return with mask and snorkel and investigate further.

A few days later Heather and I went sailing. She swam while I trekked across the sand flat, mask and snorkel in hand, and lay down in the 18" deep water.....and there was something: a dark thing like a dark skeletal flower laying on the mud. I touched it and it disappeared into a tiny hole. I found another and watched as one "petal"  curled up and slowly brought a bit of mud and debris to the middle like a fist pulling candy into a hideout in slow motion. I dug it out unceremoniously and found the weird sack I had found before and brought it home in my face mask. Here are some pictures and a link to a video in which the mouth is at the top right, I think. It can crawl slowly with the body tentacles, but the feeding tentacles are missing: perhaps it spat them out to deter me when I dug it up or perhaps they are hidden, but I see five mouth projections and that means to me that it has the five sided symmetry of a starfish, sea urchin, or sand dollar. Related?
After some research, I found that it is a sea cucumber and that the "flower" is the tentacles. I LOVE it that after 50+ years I still find new things here! Not sure of the species, but this is at least similar:

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