Meet the salps: They're slimy, they're gelatinous, and they're not jellyfish

Thalia democratica, or salp, are small, harmless, andmay even help by ridding the water of bacteria.
Thalia democratica, or salp, are small, harmless, andmay even help by ridding the water of bacteria. (New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection)
Posted: July 02, 2011

They're slimy, gelatinous sea creatures about the size of a dime, and they're washing up on Ocean City beaches.

The clear, blob-like salps appear every few years, usually driven in by winds and ocean currents, state officials said.

They don't sting or harm bathers. They're just annoying, especially when encountered in clusters.

Salps "pop up when the conditions are right, then they're gone a short time later," said Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. "You might not see them for five or 10 years, or they could be back next summer."

"They can actually be beneficial because they clean the water," Ragonese said. "They live on bacteria."

The barrel-shaped salps go where the currents take them, said Steve Evert, a marine scientist and manager of the Richard Stockton College Marine Science and Environmental Field Station in Port Republic, Atlantic County.

"They could be 20 miles offshore or along the beach," he said.

"There should be zero alarm, and no concern about swimming," Evert said. "They might be an annoyance, but the kids think they're neat."

The blobs have shown up on beaches in many communities, Ragonese said.

"It's more than just Ocean City," he said. "There are a lot of reports along the coastline," though he said he could not specify where.

They "look like baby jellyfish, but they don't sting at all," said Tim Kelly, director of public relations for Stockton College and a surfer who was riding the waves last week.

The first reports of a possible jellyfish invasion alarmed some officials, including Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group.

The seasonably early "arrival" of jellies was a sign that New Jersey was failing to protect its beaches and oceans from nitrogen runoff from "sprawl and overdevelopment."

"Jellyfish like warm and polluted water," Tittel said.

The ocean-water temperature at some shore locations has hovered around 73 or 74 degrees, according to state officials.

After it became clear that the jelly-like masses along the shore were something different, Tittel revised his statement. Salps are "not as clear an indicator" of polluted water as jellyfish, he said, though he still blasted Gov. Christie for failing to have "a strong plan to clean up stormwater entering our coastal water."

Ragonese said Tittel's quick linking of the creatures to the state's environmental policies was misinformed.

Salps "don't pose a threat to anyone," he said. "They could be gone tomorrow."

Big jellyfish are showing up, too. See Amy Rosenberg's blog:

Contact staff writer Edward Colimore at 856-779-3833 or


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