The Most Bizarre Beasts And Bounties Discovered On Beaches In 2020

You’d be surprised by the number of weird and wonderful things that show up every year on the world’s beaches. And last year was no exception, with 166-million-year-old dinosaur fossils, ice boulders and sea hares among the bizarre things that people came across. Read on to find out about 20 of the most unlikely items that appeared on coasts around the planet in 2020.

20. Gigantic squid

Adéle Grosse was out for a stroll along South Africa’s Britannia Bay beach with her spouse when she came across this extraordinary monster. It was an appropriately named giant squid, or Architeuthis dux to give it its scientific label. Invertebrate zoologist Michael Vecchione told the Live Science website that beachings of these extraordinary creatures are extremely unusual.

Speaking to Live Science, Grosse described the moment she came across the huge mollusk. “At first, I just wanted to get it back into the ocean. [But] on closer observation, one could see that it was dead.” Apart from their outlandish size, these carnivorous animals are distinguished by possessing the largest eyes of any creature on Earth.

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19. Mysterious monolith

Mysterious monoliths were a thing in 2020, with the first appearing in the Utah desert in November and others soon following. In December one appeared on a beach on the Isle of Wight, which lies in the English Channel, south of mainland Britain. Standing proud on Compton Beach the mirrored obelisk was initially a real puzzle.

But then a local designer called Tom Dunford came forward to claim ownership. He confessed to the BBC, “I did it purely for fun.” Soon afterwards, an associate of Dunford’s removed it and put it on eBay in a charity auction. The distinctive piece had sustained some damage but nevertheless it reportedly fetched around $1,100.

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18. Sea mouse

Set on the northern edge of the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, Granton is a pleasant district overlooking the Firth of Forth estuary as it runs towards the North Sea. In December 2020 Daniel Winterstein and a pal were on the sands at Granton when they came across something that completely bamboozled them. It was a strangely furry creature with multiple legs. After photographing it, they released it back into the sea.

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Winterstein took to Facebook to ask if anyone knew what his strange find was. A guy named Matt Richardson was ready with the answer – he declared that it was a sea mouse. Of course, it’s not really a mouse at all. It’s a kind of marine worm with the scientific name Aphrodita aculeata, usually measuring between three and six inches. The critters live by consuming other species of worm and small crabs at the bottom of the sea, but they sometimes get washed ashore.

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17. Shipwreck

Mark O’Donoghue and his spouse take a stroll along the coast almost every single day. But on one particular occasion, they saw something strange sticking out of the sand. It appeared to be, as O’Donoghue recalled to the First Coast News website in November 2020, “some timbers and metal spikes.” His best guess was that they’d stumbled across an old shipwreck that’d been exposed by the action of the sea.

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O’Donoghue and his wife had spotted the wreckage on Florida’s Crescent Beach. And it turned out that his hunch about their find had been right on the money. He contacted the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program, which confirmed that the debris on the beach was the remains of a ship. This vessel had perhaps last sailed as long as 200 years ago.

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16. Bizarre beach beast

Ainsdale Sand Dunes National Nature Reserve is a great place to spot all kinds of British wildlife, from red squirrels to rare natterjack toads and great crested newts. It’s set on the coast north of the English city of Liverpool. But when one unnamed man was taking a walk along the beach there, he came across something truly revolting. What he’d found was an unidentified animal’s corpse rotting on the sands.

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But just what was this creature? The finder described it to local newspaper the Liverpool Echo, “It had four flippers, which made it look most weird. And it was furry. It was approximately 15 feet long and had bones sticking out everywhere, approximately four feet long some of them. [It] stunk, too.” But one expert had a likely explanation. Stephen Ayliffe of the governmental organization Natural England said that the remains were most probably those of a whale.

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15. Ancient sea dragon

The coast of Devon in southern England is known to be a bountiful source of fossils which date back many millions of years. Indeed, the area makes up a part of the so-called Jurassic Coast, an area designated as a World Heritage Site. In 2020 a keen fossil hunter named Dr. Steve Etches made an exceptional find there in limestone that dates from the late Jurassic.

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Etches discovered a well-preserved fossil of a six-and-a-half-foot-long ichthyosaur, a dinosaur from 150 million years ago that’s also known as a sea dragon. And it turned out to be not just any old ichthyosaur. Megan Jacobs of the University of Southampton studied the fossil and confirmed that it was a species previously unknown to science. It’s been named Thalassodraco etchesi in honor of its finder Dr. Etches.

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14. Neptune balls

The large amount of plastic debris floating about in the world’s oceans is a real worry. But what if nature had a way of clearing up at least some of the plastic without human intervention? Scientists conducting a research project on the Spanish island of Mallorca think they may have discovered just such a phenomenon. Basically, the researchers were studying what are known as Neptune balls.

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These Neptune balls are the spherical remains of a seagrass called Posidonia oceanica, which is found in south Australian and Mediterranean waters. The seagrass sheds its leaves in the fall and the remaining part of the plant – the Neptune ball – washes ashore. The amazing thing the scientists have found is that these balls absorb large amounts of microplastics, taking them out of the sea as they float onto the beach. That makes conserving the seagrass fields a pressing priority.

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13. Death at the beach

The Kamchatka Peninsula is in the Russian Far East region, some 4,000 miles from Moscow. Khalaktyrsky Beach is on the eastern side of the peninsula looking out at Avacha Bay. And it was there that locals first began to spot large numbers of deceased creatures, including seals and octopuses that’d washed ashore in September 2020.

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Residents also complained of various symptoms such as rashes, fevers and vomiting, plus the water was said to be a strange color with a peculiar odor. So, what was going on? Was it some kind of manmade pollution? In fact, scientists discovered that the most likely cause of the highly unpleasant phenomenon was poisonous algae in the sea.

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12. Dead shark puzzle

Dead things regularly wash up on beaches around the world. But the body of a deceased 15-foot thresher shark that appeared on the sands of Libya’s Mediterranean coastline in April 2020 had a particularly strange tale to tell. It was thanks to the locals who filmed and photographed the animal that the bizarre story of the shark’s untimely death was revealed. Scientists reviewed the footage of the shark’s corpse and quickly realized how it had died.

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Embedded in its flank was a sort of blade, measuring around 12 inches. This was, in fact, the broken-off bill of a swordfish. This is the first time that a swordfish attack resulting in a thresher shark death has ever been recorded. Researcher Patrick Jambura of the University of Vienna told Live Science, “The most likely scenario is that both species were hunting on a school of fish or on squids in the deep.”

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11. Strange jelly

The beach at the English seaside resort of Blackpool was the scene of an intriguing mystery in 2020. In early summer, the sands there were covered with a layer of tiny globules of jelly – and folks had no idea what they were. Some wondered if they might be dangerous, as many types of jellyfish can pack a powerful sting.

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The first thought of scientists was that these strange lumps might be salps, a kind of marine invertebrate. But Debbie Williams of the Lancashire Living Seas Project begged to differ. She thought it more likely that these creatures were specimens of Pleurobrachia pileus, better known as the sea gooseberry. And the good news was that these tiny jellies were entirely harmless.

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10. Lost Lego

Lego, the world’s most popular construction toy, is something you’ll see in many homes. But how about in the sea? Well, this story goes back to 1997, when a huge wave smashed into a cargo ship sailing off England’s south-western tip of Lands’ End. The force of the wave swept 62 containers from the deck of the Tokio Express into the sea. And one of those containers was loaded with almost 5 million Lego segments.

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Even though that incident happened more than two decades ago, reports of bits of Lego coming ashore on the coast of the English county of Cornwall persisted right up to 2020. A report on the Cornwall Live website in February bore the headline, “Millions of Lego pieces lost 23 years ago are still washing up in Cornwall today.” Ironically, many of the lost Lego parts were maritime-focused, including tiny diving equipment such as spear guns, oxygen tanks and flippers.

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9. S.S. Fernebo

Cromer is a much-loved eastern British seaside destination on the northern shores of the county of Norfolk. Early in 2020 an intriguing sight appeared on the sands there at low tide. Revealed by the retreating waters were the remnants of the wreck of a vessel that sank in 1917. It was a Swedish merchant steamer known as the S.S. Fernebo. One individual lost his life in the sinking.

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In January 1917 a massive explosion tore the 230-foot ship in two. The incident happened in waters near Cromer as Fernebo was carrying timber from Sweden to England. To this day no one is entirely sure why the ship blew up. It happened during World War I, so it could have been a German mine. Another suggestion is that an exploding boiler caused the catastrophe. Over a century later, the mystery will surely remain unsolved.

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8. Millions of masks

During the COVID-19 pandemic, various bits of personal protective equipment (PPE) – such as masks, gloves and visors – have become an all-too familiar part of our lives. But the wide distribution of PPE has caused its own problems. Like, for instance, the careless disposal of used items leading to some pretty unpleasant consequences.

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A CNN report in October 2020 highlighted the fact that discarded PPE has been appearing on beaches around the world. Each year there’s an event titled the International Coastal Cleanup – and its experience for 2020 makes for sobering reading. More than 60,000 PPE items were collected from beaches around the planet. Dr. George Leonard of the Ocean Conservancy told CNN, “We absolutely believe that PPE waste is a significant threat to oceans and marine life.”

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7. Ice boulders

Ice boulders? Surely boulders are lumps of rock, not frozen water? That might usually be so, but it turns out that ice boulders really do exist. And it turns out that they appeared in their thousands on the shores of Lake Michigan in Holland State Park in February 2020. Park employee Sean Mulligan told the Detroit Free Press, “We went down to the beach to check on things and we saw these large ice balls.”

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Mulligan went on, “I had heard of them before, but I hadn’t ever seen them.” He said they’d varied from the size of a baseball right up to the inflated balls people use for yoga. A particular set of weather and water conditions create these outlandish ice spheres. When the temperature falls just below freezing, soft ice collects and is then formed into boulder shapes by the action of waves.

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6. Buried treasure

It’s the stuff of legend and pirate tales, but buried treasure is occasionally an actual thing. Jonah Martinez can vouch for that. This lucky fellow actually found real 300-year-old treasure under the sands of a beach in February 2020. Mind you, it didn’t happen overnight for Martinez. He’d been scouring beaches for 24 years before he made this significant find.

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Martinez was wielding his metal detector at Wabasso Beach in Indian River County, Florida, when he came across his valuable find. He dug up 22 coins of silver, thought to be from a Spanish ship that sank in a hurricane in 1715. Martinez estimated the value of his find at as much as $6,000. But he told the Fox 29 News that he had no intention to cash in. He said, “I don’t sell any of our coins. It’s like a piece of history.”

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5. Sea hare

The word “hare” would usually make you think of a critter with long ears. But it turns out that there’s an entirely different aquatic animal that makes use of the name, too – the sea hare. Scientists call it Aplysia punctata. It’s a peculiar creature, a type of marine snail that can grow to around eight inches long and actually possesses an interior shell.

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In February 2020 one washed ashore at Leighton Beach in Fremantle, Australia, much to the puzzlement of locals who struggled to identify the bizarre looking creature. The finder posted a picture on Facebook and another user warned him that the creature was a lethal danger to dogs. Speaking to Yahoo News, Professor Culum Brown of Australia’s Macquarie University dialed back on the panic. He said, “They are mildly toxic… depending on the algae they have been eating.”

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4. Whale vomit

Whale vomit – it hardly sounds appetizing does it? But bizarrely, it’s extremely valuable. Properly called ambergris, it’s a substance that whales disgorge in the ocean that occasionally ends up being washed ashore. It’s a key ingredient of many high-end perfumes, because its chemical composition makes it an ideal fixative for maximizing the power of a scent. Perfumers will pay big bucks for the stuff.

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Which was good news for a Thai fisherman called Naris Suwannasang, who found a large chunk of ambergris on a beach in south Thailand’s Nakhon Si Thammarat district. Suwannasang’s piece of whale vomit weighed in at a massive 220 pounds. Astonishingly, that made it potentially worth around $3.3 million. That’s not bad.

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3. Dinosaur bone

Elsa Panciroli was jogging along the coast of Eigg island in the Scottish Hebrides in the summer of 2020. As she powered along she noticed something unusual below her feet. As luck would have it, Dr. Panciroli happens to be a paleontologist. So, she was ideally placed to recognize just what this thing was.

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Panciroli had stumbled upon the 19-inch limb of a stegosaurian dinosaur – the first dinosaur fossil ever identified on Eigg. Discussing her find, Panciroli told the BBC, “It was a bit of a serendipitous discovery… In Scotland, dinosaur bone fossils had only previously been found on the Isle of Skye. This bone is 166 million years old and provides us with evidence that stegosaurs were living in Scotland at this time.”

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2. Junk from space

According to reports, in April 2020 a Chinese Long March 3B rocket tumbled from the skies above Guam. The largest of the Mariana Islands archipelago in the North Pacific Ocean, Guam is situated about 1,600 miles from the Philippines city of Manila. The space rocket had failed in its mission to put an Indonesian satellite into orbit, instead breaking up and crashing to Earth.

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That’s how a large metal chunk from the rocket ended up on a Guam beach, more than 3,000 miles from where it’d taken off from China’s Xichang Space Center. Locals filmed a fiery object descending on Guam, believed to be the rocket burning and falling. Worryingly, it may be that the chemical make-up of the rocket fragment means that it’s dangerously carcinogenic.

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1. Message in a bottle

Nigel Hill was out taking a stroll with his dog on the shores of Jersey, one of the Channel Islands set between England and France. At the sea’s edge, he noticed a bottle. He told British newspaper the Metro, “I was just walking along and saw it and thought it looked interesting. Then I saw the note inside. Unfortunately, I had to break it to get the note out.”

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The message dated 5 September, 1938, said, “Will the finder of this bottle please communicate with: John Stapleford, 18 Fitzjohn Avenue, Barnet, Herts, England. With a photograph.” Hill got in touch with the current occupant of the address, but she didn’t know a Stapleford. However, she did confirm that documents showed a man of that name had bought the property in 1921. Hill pointed out, “It’s likely that [Stapleford] may have passed away.”

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