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!).