Martyn Green and his clan are enjoying a relaxing trip to a beach in Wales. But as the family stroll along the sand, their day quickly turns upside down. While on their walk, the Greens stumble upon some strange-looking animals. They could almost be aliens right here in this tranquil part of the country. And as the family are transfixed by their bizarre find, they have little idea that these creatures are actually worth a pretty penny – thousands, in fact.
Don’t we all deserve a little R and R at times? Green certainly thought so as he organized a weekend trip with his nearest and dearest. Residents of New Brighton, England, they decided to head to Gwynedd – a county in northern Wales. And all appeared to be normal when the group arrived at one of the local beaches.
But that quickly changed after Green and company spotted some driftwood sitting on the beach’s shores. Normally that wouldn’t be too unusual, right? The ocean contains its fair share of detritus, after all, and sometimes this makes its way back to land. On this occasion, however, there would be a real surprise in store for the daytrippers.
You see, as the Greens got closer to the driftwood, they realized that something rather odd was afoot. The piece of debris was slathered in white-shelled organisms. And while this isn’t that weird by itself – marine creatures need somewhere to rest their heads after all – these beings were different. Each shell appeared to have a growth coming from its end that secured it to the wood.
These growths were a light, cloudy color up until they reached the shells. Then the tentacle-like shapes became a lot darker – making for quite the striking visual. Have you ever seen anything like that before? We certainly haven’t. Well, apart from something similar in the movie Prometheus, perhaps.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that these shelled creatures were otherworldly. We can definitely picture them appearing in a sci-fi horror movie. But they are indeed animals of this Earth – albeit very strange ones. And it’s safe to say that Green’s marketing job couldn’t prepare him for this discovery.
How did Green react to his bizarre find? Well, we know a bit more about that. In September 2020 he sat down to talk with the Daily Mirror and looked back on that memorable day at the beach with his family. The tourist shed light on how other members of the community had reacted to the creatures, too.
Green told the British newspaper, “My wife Gemma, she found it. We were walking on the beach, and she called us and said ‘Come back, look at this.’ We went and had a look, and it looked like something not of this world. It was quite an attraction for the locals.”
Green kept schtum about one crucial detail, though. Instead of confirming the specific spot where he and his loved ones had noticed the animals, he opted to keep the location a secret. And you may be able to guess why. Mostly, he was was fearful that people would take advantage of the situation and disturb the creatures.
But there’s something else to consider here. At first glance, you probably wouldn’t think that these curious beings held much in the way of value. They’re peculiar-looking, sure, but not particularly attractive. Surprisingly, though, they’re worth an eye-watering amount of money in big batches. It’s almost as though a lost treasure chest had washed ashore in Gwynedd.
Nor was it the first time that a valuable aquatic animal had navigated a path to the British Isles. In 2020 an Atlantic bluefin tuna fish was discovered near West Sussex, England. Compared to the creatures that we described before, however, that may not sound too exciting a find. It’s only tuna, right?
Wrong! The Atlantic bluefin is no ordinary tuna. These fish are absolutely huge, measuring up at just under 10 feet in size. They’re pretty heavy, too, as the largest specimens can tip the scales at over 1,300 pounds each. You certainly wouldn’t miss them in the water… So, exactly how big was the creature in West Sussex?
Well, according to a report by the Daily Mail, that particular Atlantic bluefin was over 6 feet and weighed close to 400 pounds. Unlike the animals found in Wales, though, the fish wasn’t alive when a group of specialists spotted it near Chichester Harbor. The experts ultimately lugged the body onto a boat from the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority (IFCA).
To give you an idea of how significant this massive haul was, one of the workers from that very organization spoke to the Daily Mail in September 2020. And Tim Dapling – the IFCA’s chief fisheries and conservation officer – seemingly couldn’t believe his eyes. He said to the newspaper, “This is a very unusual and positive event.”
Dapling continued, “Although it’s a pity the fish wasn’t alive, it’s the first time we’ve encountered at close quarters a bluefin tuna specimen in Sussex coastal waters. It was a quite remarkable and impressive fish. Why it was in Chichester Harbor or came ashore may never be clear, but we do know mackerel and bass are present in numbers within the harbor.”
“Perhaps [the Atlantic bluefin] entered the harbor to feed and became disorientated,” Dapling added. But what about its financial value? Is it similar to the odd-looking creatures in Wales? Well, although the giant tuna isn’t as rare as the Greens’ animals, it’s still capable of fetching a huge price at market.
Just how huge? Pretty big indeed. Back in 2019, a man named Kiyoshi Kimura forked over $3.1 million to buy just one bluefin. Kimura got a lot for his money, too, as according to CNN the fish weighed more than 610 pounds. That’s a lot of tuna! But bluefin is a must-have dish in Japan, as sushi lovers can’t get enough of it.
Now, you may feel the urge to start scouring your local beaches for anything that could’ve washed ashore. Who’s to say you won’t get lucky and find a big, expensive tuna fish? And if you’re ever in West Sussex, there’s a good chance that more Atlantic bluefins are roaming the area.
As Dapling explained to the Daily Mail, “The adult bluefin tuna are at the top of the marine food chain. And the increasing presence of top predators typically indicates the improving health of ecosystems. Of course, this was just one fish. However, I’d be surprised if it was the only one in Sussex waters.”
We can almost see the dollar signs in your eyes right now! But if just one Atlantic bluefin can be worth millions, what about the alien-like critters in Gwynedd? Well, to answer that question, we need to address something else first. Namely: what the heck are they?
Well, the shelled animals are called gooseneck barnacles. And as you can probably tell, the name perfectly describes the lengthy growths that sprout from the aquatic creatures. You may never look at geese the same way again! Other nations around the world know them by a different moniker, though.
In Spain or Portugal, gooseneck barnacles are referred to as percebes. And in much the same way that the Atlantic bluefin is a delicacy in Japan, they’re a culinary favorite in these Iberian countries. But this was all news to the Greens, who were left having to scour the internet for information after stumbling upon the driftwood.
Normally, gooseneck barnacles settle on the undersides of boats, rock formations and pieces of rope. To sustain themselves, they gobble up plankton and nearby debris, using their legs – yes, they have legs! – to grab the food. Beach-goers in the south and west of Great Britain are likely to find these barnacles on the shore following a spell of bad weather.
As for the gooseneck barnacles’ financial value, Green and his family uncovered that online, too. Gotta love the internet! The British man went on to reflect on what they had found while speaking to the Daily Mirror. And the numbers were quite mind-blowing considering the animal’s small size.
Green revealed, “It turns out [that gooseneck barnacles] are one of the most expensive sea creatures you can buy. From looking on Google, I think it’s about £25 each they go for, and on the log there were probably about 2,000 of them.” That works out at around $32 per barnacle, meaning altogether there had been roughly $64,000 worth of the critters on the beach. Kerching!
That’s absolutely staggering, but then gooseneck barnacles have long been valuable. Once upon a time in Cornwall, England, locals used to keep their eyes on incoming sea vessels. Why, you ask? Well, those boats were usually covered in gooseneck barnacles after having spent so much time in the water.
And if the boats were indeed carrying these aquatic passengers, opportunists would try to peel them off. Then they could put the gooseneck barnacles up for sale and make a tidy profit. Yes, folks have long been interested in the crustaceans as a delicious food source – regardless of just how downright weird they look.
And it’s truly remarkable how much some will pay for a batch of these barnacles. Two pounds of the creatures will set you back €360 – or roughly $423. Think of what you could buy with that! But for those who love gooseneck barnacles, such a figure is just a drop in the ocean.
We can almost see you booking your trip to Gwynedd right now. But hold fire for a second. As you may remember, Green decided against sharing the precise spot of his barnacle discovery. And that choice actually could’ve been more important than he realized at first. You see, gooseneck barnacle wrangling has a real dark side to it.
For starters, gathering gooseneck barnacles from the water can be incredibly dangerous. Stories have also emerged that gangs in Galicia, Spain, have moved into the barnacle-collecting business, using violence to get ahead. And while the thought of people fighting over something so small may elicit a smile, it really isn’t a laughing matter.
You’re probably wondering how people go about harvesting the gooseneck barnacles. What makes it so hazardous? Well, luckily, the YouTube channel Eater produced a video on the subject, which dropped in January 2020. And happily for all of us curious types, a chef named Jacob Harth laid out the process.
While standing near the rocky shore on an Oregon beach, Harth says, “So, basically, the barnacles all grow down here on the rocks. When the tide is high, the surf hits them. We’re gonna try and find some that appear when the waves come back down, and we’re gonna swoop in and harvest them.”
And it becomes abundantly clear why there’s so much danger in this line of work. Harth and his partner have to contend with some unforgiving waves – ones harsh enough to prompt them to call off the hunt. That leaves them no option but to kick-start their harvest later in the evening after the tide has receded.
In Spain, on the other hand, gooseneck barnacle harvesters aren’t afraid of carrying on in hazardous conditions. In fact, one of the world’s most beloved chefs saw that for himself a few years ago. We’re referring to Gordon Ramsay, who took a look at the gooseneck barnacle during an episode of The F Word.
Ramsay caught a glimpse of two harvesters dodging some turbulent waves before hacking away at the rocks below. And while the chef’s known for his colorful language at the best of times, he really turned the air blue watching the men from above. We can’t blame him, either! It was a truly jaw-dropping sight.
Then, once the harvesters return, Ramsay makes an intriguing point. He asks the pair, “Now you hit the rocks, and the idea is that you get a bit of rock underneath [the gooseneck barnacles] so they don’t die straight away. Is that right?” The harvesters confirm this.
And Ramsay says on The F Word, “The more the goose barnacles are pounded by the waves, the more muscle they need to cling on to the cliff. So the juicer, fatter and tastier they become.” But once the animals have been harvested from the rocks, how are they prepared in the kitchen? Is it a straightforward process?
Harth explains all in the Eater YouTube video. He says, “The barnacles are prepared in a very specific way. We cook them in seawater that we use from just redissolving salt from Netarts Bay seawater. Then the barnacles are blanched really quickly for 45 seconds to a minute.”
From here, Harth reveals that the gooseneck barnacles will be ready to clean once they’ve cooled down in icy water. If they’re left for too long in the liquid, the taste can be affected, so it’s a delicate procedure. But now you’re no doubt curious as to the barnacles’ flavor. And who better to ask than Chef Ramsay?
Ramsay sat down with a plate of gooseneck barnacles during that episode of The F Word. And the chef notes, “Now, they don’t exactly look like the most appetizing of seafood, do they? But the secret here is to twist [the shell] quickly and pull. [It tastes like] a razor clam and a sort of mussel.” Well, if it’s good enough for Gordon…
Still, even the star of Kitchen Nightmares may be shocked at another freakish beach-dwelling creature – one that Hunter Lane sees on a walk near the sea. When Hunter spies a flash of bright color in the sand, his solitary beach exploration suddenly gets far more exciting. For while the electric blue creature he’s spotted appears to be a kind of jellyfish, it’s unlike anything Hunter has ever seen before. He wonders, have I discovered a new species? And then the curious young man scoops up the mysterious animal to show his parents… Yet, as Hunter is soon about to discover, that is the very last action the boy should have taken.
Given the creature’s striking color and strange shape, though, it’s not hard to see why it drew Hunter’s attention. The animal’s stunning blue hue cuts a stark contrast against golden sandy beaches, after all. And the outlandish creatures must have astonished quite a few unsuspecting Texans when they began washing up on the state’s shores.
But it’s not just the alluring shade of one of these mystery lifeforms that interests beach-goers. Its shape also makes it look like something akin to a dragon – and naturally arouses the curiosity of passers-by. Bizarre wing-like projections that end in darker tips protrude from the side of its body in several different places, too.
So, just like Hunter had, many people may initially think that these things are a species previously unknown to science. And while experts are aware of these creatures, the animals are exceptionally rare – and can be incredibly dangerous. That’s why visitors must heed the advice of wildlife professionals regarding Texas’ beach invaders.
In fact, the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) has even issued a warning about the creatures. And according to the organization, if you do see any electric blue wildlife on beaches, you shouldn’t approach them under any circumstances. So stay away and don’t touch them – because these spectacular visitors pose more of a threat than you might think.
Unfortunately, though, Hunter didn’t get that message – and had no idea what he’d found along the shore that day. The seven-year-old boy made his amazing discovery on one of the beaches that form part of Padre Island National Seashore. He was visiting the locale with his parents, Trey and Leah Lane, in May 2020 when he spotted the creatures.
Padre Island officials report that Hunter was one of the first people on the beach to find the rare animals, too. But what was the child combing the beach for in the first place? Well, Trey told CNN it was his son’s passion for aquatic animals that led him to the discovery.
“Hunter loves sea creatures and thought he had found a blue button jellyfish,” Trey later informed the TV news network. It was an easy mistake to make, too. Blue button jellyfish not only share a similar color – hence their name – but also grow to roughly the same size as the mysterious creature that Hunter found.
That’s why Hunter picked up the creature – thankfully using one of his toys – and took it to show his father. On the trip back, though, the inquisitive boy must have realized that he’d stumbled upon something else entirely. “He proclaimed to me that he had discovered a new species,” Trey recalled.
Clearly, then, Hunter was delighted with his find. In fact, Leah recalled that her son “really wanted to touch” the creature because of its squishy-looking appearance. Even at his age, though, Hunter was well-informed enough to know that would have been a mistake. He wisely decided against petting the enchanting animal.
Incidentally, PINS later identified the creature as the Glaucus atlanticus – or blue dragon. So it wasn’t a jellyfish at all, as Hunter had first assumed. What are they, then? Well, scientifically, the creatures are mollusks, which puts them in the same group as clams, octopuses and even common garden snails. And while that may not sound particularly threatening, just wait until you hear what they can do.
You see, creatures in the mollusk family are invertebrates, meaning they have soft bodies and no backbones. Some of them, such as snails, have evolved to use shells to protect their vulnerable forms. Blue dragons, on the other hand, belong to a group of sea slugs – called Nudibranchia, or “naked gills” – that never develop shells.
The name is a reference to the fringed feelers or horn-like appendages that commonly grow on the nudibranch’s back. Although they look akin to protective spines or tentacles, in reality, they’re external gills and used for breathing. These mollusks do have tentacles, though.
The nudibranch’s tentacles are called rhinophores. Rhinophores commonly grow in pairs on a mollusk’s head, and they act as sensory organs. That is to say, nudibranchs use them to feel for and detect potential food sources, which are generally responsible for their usually lurid pigmentation.
Yes, a blue dragon’s bright body color is typical of nudibranchs, which are generally vivid hues. Although there are a few drabber specimens, their stunning colors are a result of their diet. You see, these creatures are often found among vibrant deep-sea life such as coral and anemones, which serve as their snacks.
So, alongside the many advantages the nudibranch’s diet provides, it also allows them to blend into their surroundings. But don’t let their alluring pigments deceive you; these slugs are aggressive hunters. In fact, they’re predators that feast on prey lots of other creatures would rather avoid – and for good reason. That even includes their own species.
Considering the blue dragons’ voracious appetite and intimidating name, then, you might imagine them as deep-sea giants. But if that’s the case, prepare for a surprise: blue dragons reach just three centimeters in length on average. Yet while the sea slugs are small and can’t breathe fire, they live up to their namesake in many other regards.
One reason blue dragons are draconic in nature as well as in name is the way they move. With the finger-like appendages on their sides, the swimming slugs look like they’re flying through the water. Perhaps the most surprising thing about this, though, is that blue dragons swim upside down.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, these elegant creatures have stomach sacs that fill with gas to assist their floating. And the blue dragons’ bright colors are actually on their underside, so they have to flip over to display them. This way, any predators passing from above will spot the hues and realize that sea slug is off the menu.
Meanwhile, a blue dragon’s darker body portion will conceal it from predators lurking below. Now, you’re probably wondering why creatures usually living in tropical waters were washing up on the beaches of Texas. After all, they’re clearly not native to the area. This made their appearance all the more puzzling.
The creatures are usually found in the oceans around Australia, South Africa and Mozambique. Yet this is not the first time that they’ve arrived on American shores. In fact, Florida Today reported that there have been similar reports of blue dragon sightings on U.S. soil in recent years. There was a spate of them washing ashore in 2017, for instance.
Yes, the rare sea slugs surprised beach visitors at Cape Canaveral with their unexpected arrival. Florida Today reported that several people were either less wise or less fortunate than Hunter, though. You see, officials with Brevard County Ocean Rescue said some witnesses had touched the blue dragons – and learned why their name was so apt.
Yet the enchanting color and appealing shape of the blue dragons have earned them other, less intimidating nicknames. Some people know the creatures as sea swallows or blue angels, for instance. However, these monikers only further conceal the slugs’ more devilish qualities. Yet humans have been aware of these creatures for centuries.
In 1777 explorers encountered the blue dragon back in 1777 and recorded their experience. A live specimen wasn’t caught until almost a hundred years later, though. That achievement went to the crew of a famous expedition that set out from London, England, in 1872. The name of the much-vaunted vessel was the HMS Challenger.
The Challenger was turned into a seafaring laboratory designed to explore the ocean and catalog what it found. The team’s journey turned up a massive 4,700 species previously unknown to science – and they even took specimens. One such find was a 1.2cm blue dragon, which scientists preserved with glycerine.
The Challenger’s blue dragon was later donated to the National History Museum in England – where it’s remained ever since. So what exactly makes these beautiful creatures potentially dangerous? Well, their garish color is a hint. To answer in full, though, we have to backtrack a little and look more closely at the animals’ feeding habits.
Remember when we said that blue dragons make some questionable digestive choices? Well, jellyfish and other venomous sea critters are below them in the food chain. And nudibranchs have developed a method of not only sustaining themselves, but also using their diet as a means of defense. Specifically, they eat the toxin of creatures many times their size.
Blue dragons even target cnidarians such as the Portuguese man o’ war, which is often incorrectly mistaken for a jellyfish. That’s likely because the Portuguese man o’ war and the jellyfish are both collections of lifeforms that live and act as one, known as siphonophores. The Portuguese man o’ war does have something in common with its jelly counterpart, though: an array of stinging tentacles.
These tentacles are one of a Portuguese man o’ war’s four lifeforms, and they’re coated with toxic nematocysts. A man o’ war uses them to kill or stun prey. But a blue dragon isn’t deterred by this armory; it’s immune to the sting and just sees the tentacles as a potential meal. That’s where the slug’s flotation sac comes into play.
So a blue dragon swims up to its prey and latches onto it with its feet. Then it feeds on the nematocysts, drinking up the toxin and absorbing it into its own body. The slug stores the biggest nematocysts in the ends of its “fingers,” more accurately described as cerata. And, in conjunction with its diet, this behavior gives the blue dragon its color.
The slug then uses its borrowed toxin to defend itself against predators – but it packs an added punch. Because the toxin is concentrated in one spot, it’s even more powerful than when the man o’ war employs it. And this is the reason why you should avoid touching blue dragons: they can introduce you to a world of pain.
So, as a result of Hunter’s find on Padre Island, PINS put the boy’s photos up on its Facebook page in May 2020. It accompanied the pictures with a wise warning for those who might be tempted by these colorful creatures. The post introduced them with the ominous words, “Here there be dragons.”
PINS continued, “Blue dragons are very small, generally only three centimeters. But don’t let their size fool you, they have a defense worthy of the name dragon.” It went on to say how visitors should look but not touch. “If you see a dragon in the park, be amazed as they are a rare find, but also keep your distance!”
Both Leah and Hunter admitted that touching the blue dragon was initially tempting. Hunter’s mom later told TV station KSAT, “Hunter really wanted to touch it. And I don’t blame him, I did too as they look very soft and squishy. But we discussed that since we have no clue what they are, we [had] better not.”
Leah continued, “After thinking about it, he even said, ‘He might be like the poison dart frog, mom, he is kind of brightly colored, which is a warning.’ Smart kid.” But of course, there’s still the mystery of why the blue dragons have been arriving on Padre Island in the first place.
After all, Trey informed CNN that until now he hadn’t seen any blue dragons in the 30 years he’d been visiting Padre Island. He’s not the only person who has been discovering the stunning slugs for the first time, either. Jamie Kennedy, who works as a spokeswoman for PINS, said it was a new experience for her, too.
Kennedy revealed that she’s worked at PINS for two years and that this is her first time seeing blue dragons. There has been an increase in their appearances over recent years, though, as the PINS’ Facebook page proves. It had even uploaded some pictures of the sea slugs along with info about them back in 2016.
“A lot of people are finding them lately,” Kennedy remarked. But while they’re certainly rare, she had a theory as to why so many of them were appearing across Padre Island. She thought a large group of them had become beached at once and scattered across the shore. And other experts concurred.
According to KSAT, another PINS spokesperson agreed. They said, “A lot of people are finding them lately. That will often happen with animals that a bunch will wash up at the same time.” Another wildlife expert confirmed this and elaborated on the subject in an interview with TV station KVEO in May 2020.
David Hicks from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley told KVEO it tended to be all or nothing with blue dragon sightings. The Director for the School of Marine Sciences said, “It’s pretty rare. We don’t see a lot of them, but they are reported from Texas. That community of organisms… they kind of go around in masses of water. If you see one, you see 1,000 of them.”