The Mary Quant
                 Jelly Thing
                   &
other surprises from the
sea
by Anna Tambour
 
 
A fingernail-size frond of pink coralline algae in a tossed-up tangle of kelp and other seaweeds, moved. A seaweed decorator crab. Even in the palm of my hand, this creature didn't look convincing as an animal.

Other finds yesterday:

  • five (and I'd never found one before, only pieces) whole Port Jackson shark egg cases (otherwise known as a mermaid's purse). The mother screws the case into rocks. which is why finding them whole is such a special occasion. Usually all that washes up is a thin curve of a piece, a man's big toenail made of tortoiseshell. Half-buried in the sand, they look frustratingly like fine guitar picks. 'The cases are leatherlike,' it is often written, but I think are more artichokelike, and they even dry with a similar curl. The Port Jackson shark is beautiful and harmless unless you are a sea urchin, mollusk, crustacean or a small fish.

  • Impossible sponges, still luridly coloured and some, with the most 1960s textures
     
  • The most marvelous find of all, also influenced by the 60s (it must have been a nostalgic tide) ~
The Mary Quant Jelly Thing
 
Actually, that's my common, common name.
It is properly commonly called a sea squirt,
and less commonly, but more properly called
an ascidian, and those orange and black 'flowers'
are actually little colonies of individual animals.
 
Though they do 'discharge their filtered water into
a common space,' none of them has ever written a
thing, nor even, to my knowledge, inhaled, but I
haven't checked under the microscope yet.

That, by the way, is what I could put under my scanner. A small bush of the thing with a slightly different design is in a bucket beside me, and if I had the right seawater setup, it might live to a ripe 7-year age. Instead, the piece that's pictured is now drying into a precious bookmark.
 
 
 
 
These surprises were found near Jervis Bay, on the southeast coast of Australia.
 
"The crabs are surely the humorists of the seashore."
"The Australian coasts seem almost to be one of the world's headquarters for ascidians."
- both quotes are from W.J. Dakin's classic study
Australian Seashores: A guide to the temperate shores for the beach-lover,
the naturalist, the shore-fisherman and the student
revised and illustrated by Isobel Bennett, Angus & Robertson Publishers, 1987 (A magnificent book)
 
See:
 
Andrew N. Cohen's excellent Guide to Exotic Species of San Francisco Bay
 
Ascidiacea.com
a stunning collection from Karen Sanamyan, Dirk Schories, and Hartwig Krumbeck
 
and learn all about Life on Australian Seashores from Keith Davey
 
 
"Sea squirt evolution sheds light on vertebrate evolution"
 
 
 
 
"The Mary Quant Jelly Thing & other surprises from the sea"
is a part of
Bowl of Critters
an occasional snack
a part of
Anna Tambour and Others
 
"The Mary Quant Jelly Thing & other surprises from the sea" copyright November 2005 by Anna Tambour
Bowl of Critters copyright 2005 Anna Tambour