Some called them ‘alien-orbs’, others worried they were poisonous, but the majority were simply intrigued when thousands of tennis ball shaped sea creatures washed up on the shores of some of our favourite South West beaches over the summer.
The unusual arrival of these ‘funny furry’ sea objects stirred national interest across the country; you really would have thought they had come from outer space!
Fortunately for the hundreds of bemused beach-goes, they were just little sea potatoes aka sea urchins, which had washed up in stormy conditions.
The common type of sea urchin was first spotted by a freelance photographer who was out surfing on a beach in Cornwall. He saw several of the sea potatoes, as did a number of visiting tourists who were concerned they were poisonous, but marine experts swiftly settled any speculation.
Professor Martin Attrill from Plymouth University said that although the ‘tennis ball’ sized creatures were usually covered with little spines, they were harmless and had probably washed ashore during stormy conditions.
The heart-shaped sea potatoes or ‘Echinocardium Cordatum’ are usually 6cm in length and grow up to 9cm long. They tend to live in a permanent burrow in sandy sediments, which explains how they came to appear on our shores.
So if you’re taking a stroll along the beach, don’t let your pooch mistake the urchins for play things; it might look like an old tennis ball, but it’s not!
Image: Nick Higgs, Plymouth University Marine Institute