All Washed Up

As I walked along Caladesi Island, I noticed a strange object washed on shore. At first glance, it appeared to be a or some other pollutant. A closer look, and I picked up the object, immediately realizing it was organic matter. Maybe the heart or organ of some deceased marine mammal?

I moved the object in my hands, feeling and searching for some sign of life. I noticed two flaps on top, and some hard core within the object. I immediately thought that, perhaps, this could be a sea hare. I placed the object in the water and watched in amazement as the “blob” unfurled into a shell-less mollusk and began, like a butterfly, to glide through the water.

I continued on my way down the sand bar, only to find a few more of these strange creatures, all washing up on shore. As I collected and released them back into deeper water, some released a spray of purple ink, as a means of self defense (similar to that utilized by squid or octopus).

The Atlantic Black Sea Hare (Aplysia morio) is a benthic herbivore typically found in tidal and sub tidal zones of tropical waters. Although they may appear to be large “blobs” when stranded, and nothing more than a flying, shell-less slug when placed in water, this species is actually environmentally and scientifically important worldwide.

Like other invertebrates, their sensitivity to environmental conditions, such as the presence of pollutants, make them a useful bio-indicator of a healthy marine environment.

Interestingly, sea hares are an important object of scientific research in the field of neurology, due to the large size of their nerve cells.

Speaking of large sizes, different species of sea hares have been known to grow up to 30 inches (75 cm) in length. Recently, large species of sea hares were found along the shorelines of California.

Next time you’re walking along the beach, be sure to keep an eye out for these strange creatures! Not only are they fascinating to watch, but important to humans and marine ecosystems, so be sure to place any you stranded find back in the water.

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