#23: Salps

From reading our blog you are aware that so far this season we have documented two newly entangled whales this summer/fall in the Bay of Fundy (Catalog #3279 and Catalog #4001).  The last couple of weeks of the field season have been frustrating since we have been plagued with high winds, rain and fog.  Inclement weather can be very frustrating so when we were faced with a small weather window we jumped at the chance to get on the water.  After days of high winds, we were able to sneak out a half day on the water thanks to our friends at  Campobello Whale Rescue Team (CWRT).  With two small and fast boats, a couple of extra people and a full disentanglement kit aboard we were able to survey most of the Grand Manan Basin in an afternoon. With the priority to search for either of the entangled whales, our afternoon was a joint effort between New England Aquarium, CWRT and Coastwise Consulting .

The afternoon proved to be gorgeous.  Unfortunately, we never found either of the entangled right whales.  However, we did find salps!

Salps are barrel or tube shaped planktonic, filter feeding tunicates.  Salps feed on Phytoplankton (plant plankton) and can respond quickly to phytoplankton blooms by budding off clones at astonishing rates.
A closer look of a salp chain in Amy's hand.  Photo: Monica Zani

We had been seeing salps for a few weeks and on one occasion the salps were so thick in spots that water appeared to have a purple tint to it.  I felt as if I were to hop off the boat I would be held up by a gelatinous sea of salps.

Amy and Monica stop and take a closer look at salps in the Bay of Fundy. Photo: Chris Slay/Coastwise Consulting

Though these look like such simple creatures, "salps appear to have a form preliminary to vertebrates, and are used as a starting point in models of how vertebrates evolved. Scientists speculate that the tiny groups of nerves in salps are one of the first instances of a primitive nervous system, which eventually evolved into the more complex central nervous system of vertebrates" (via Wikipedia, sourced from this paper by Lacalli & Holland). Isn't that amazing?!

And while you're learning about salps, why not check out their bizarre tunicate relatives, pyrosomes. Unless you're grossed out by 60 foot-long gelatinous tubes, you won't regret checking out this article and video (which also features our salp friends!). 



  1. I am looking for and I love to post a comment that "The content of your post is awesome" Great work!

  2. Great blog. I'm currently in progress of a salp blog. I was wondering if I would be able to utilize your photo? Full credit will be given for the photo. This is for an university salp blog project. I can provide the website where it will be posted. (If I would be able to contact you via email, that would be phenomenal) A reply would be appreciative.

    Thank you Monica for taking the time to read this message.

    Michael Yue


    1. Hi Michael, thanks for your interest in the photo! Please email me: mhagbloom@neaq.org