A New Year's Eve to Remember

January 3 2011; 1:21am

Just after the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve and a few glasses of champagne, another passenger aboard the boat said excitedly “come outside - you’ve got to see this!”


Pyrosoma atlanticum underwater

A photo of Pyrosoma atlanticum underwater © Peter Wirtz (, used with permission

Pyrosoma atlanticum

Another view of Pyrosoma atlanticum. © Steve Murvine, used with permission

photograph of a diver holding Pyrosoma atlanticum

Diver with her hands full of atlanticum © Gayle Van Leer, used with permission

I set down my glass and expeditiously walked outside to find several people leaning over the rail, looking down into the ocean at a few hundred tubular pinkish somethings that were floating in the water. Each of the pink things was between eight and sixteen-or-so inches long, closed at one end and tapered, with a strange bumpy texture. Some of them curiously expanded and contracted as they moved around. Someone said “looks like a container ship of sex toys lost their cargo!” Was this some bizarre New Year’s gift for those at sea? I’d had champagne before, and never remembered it having this kind of an effect, so I was sure it had to be something else. Just then, a nearby crewman had netted one of the pink things and brought it on board for further inspection (and a gag or two). The pink things turned out to be Pyrosoma atlanticum - they’re free-floating cylindrical-shaped tunicates; each one is made up of hundreds to thousands of tiny individual creatures, known as zooids. Each zooid is a few millimeters in size and embedded in a common gelatinous tunic that joins all of the individuals. That explains the bumps that were on the outside…they were zooids, and not designed for pleasure. My ship-mates took a few photographs for identification (and comic) purposes, then returned the phallic little tunicate to the sea. A true Wild Ocean story indeed. Happy New Year!
- Derek