The Joys of Alaskan Rock Vomit

Dude, I told him not to mix tequila and whale blubber.
Dude, I told him not to mix tequila and whale blubber.
My missive to the masses today may not be about what you think it is. Not that the subject matter isn’t kind of gross, it is, it’s just a different kind of gross. And maybe not even as gross as the story about the lady who went in to the hospital to have her kidney stones removed only to deliver a 12 pound baby instead. I’m not exactly sure how incompetent a doctor has to be to misdiagnose pregnancy for kidney stones, but this story certainly shows the importance of getting a second opinion. For the three of you who care, the baby’s doing fine. Of course, that’s what the doctors are saying, so take it for what it’s worth. The kid could have three arms and magnets for eyes for all we know.

But our story today has nothing to do with medical malpractice. Actually, it starts out kind of cute. There is a creature which lives under the sea. It’s called a sea squirt. All it wants in life is a good rock to live on and some plankton to eat. It inhales to get the plankton and exhales to get rid of the unwanted water. Thus its name. You can watch it squirt water all day and night. It’s just this cute little squirter. In fact it’s so cute I’m surprised it’s not a corporate mascot somewhere.

But, like all cute things, it has an evil cousin. One of those nasty, creepy, cousins who’re never invited to any of the cool parties. A sinister being who seems heck-bent on destruction to no purpose, As MNSBC reports, that cousin has a vile name. It is called Rock Vomit (which actually sounds like a good name for the lead singer of a punk band) and it does bad things wherever it goes.

Researchers in Alaska are planning a strategy to attack an invasive species with a heck of a nasty nickname: rock vomit.

Known scientifically as Didemnum vexillum, it’s a type of sea squirt discovered in a harbor near Sitka last June — the first confirmation of the non-native anywhere in Alaska.

Rock vomit is so named for its penchant for spreading over hard surfaces such as piers, ship hulls, large seashells and rocks. It feeds on the tiny plankton and decaying plant material it filters from seawater, and can be lethal to other creatures — including commercially important species of fish.

“It’s a crazy organism,” Linda Shaw, a biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said in a NOAA release. “It smothers other creatures while producing acidic toxins that in turn prevent anything from growing on it.

“Rock vomit creates a type of barrier between groundfish and their food,” she added. “It’s been causing problems worldwide.”

Divers searched the harbor last fall and again in January but could not cover the entire area due to the depths.

That led to the deployment of a remotely operated submersible, which videotaped much of the area and areas just outside.

“We can say that there are no big infestations outside the harbor,” said Shaw. “But there are some things we want to take a closer look at as we review the video.”

Once that review is complete, NOAA and state officials will launch an eradication campaign.

Maine in 1993 became the first state to detect rock vomit, which was probably introduced by ships dumping their water ballast. Since then the species has spread to other parts of New England.

On the West Coast, California, Oregon and Washington also have infestations.

See? they don’t visit, they infest. Left unabated these vile creatures could have a seriously bad effect on many local economies. They are 100% lethal to the fish that you and I enjoy eating. And if all the fish die so do lots of other things. As a scientist friend of mine noted, “If they had their way they would end all life in the sea and that would lead, ultimately, to the end of all life on the planet.”

Well, then, this one’s easy. Kill them all, pickle them or make them into a zesty stew and enjoy your salmon in peace.

Listen to Bill McCormick on WBIG AM 1280, every Thursday morning around 9:10!

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