Not a panda bear, or a dolphin. Not a clown-fish or a seal. Nope. This comment was exclaimed—and echoed by the Harbor Explorers at Pierce Park this morning when we found—wait for it.... a tunicate colony?
Mostly regarded as pests, these small invasive critters resemble slime-mold more closely than they do a marine mammal or a teddy bear. Tunicates are usually seen as fouling organisms: small animals that attach to moorings, docks and boats—rotting the wood, getting in the way, and even slowing down boats (think about how some runners shave all there hair off before races—every little thing sticking out can slow you down, just a little bit). Hardly cuddly. What’s to love? These little animals are not lonely clumps of slime they appear to be, but actually clusters of hundreds, if not thousands, of individual organisms all related and living “colonially”—basically an enormous family, brothers and sisters clustered together, forming stars and patters imperceptible to most grown ups, but visible and “ADORABLE!” to the sharp-eyed Harbor Explorers at Pierce Park this week. Maybe this proves the truism: one man’s trash is another man’s treasure; As one camper put it, these pesky critters can also be seen as: “una familia grande!!”