"Penis fish" wash up on California beach

December 16, 2019 | Environment
Penis fish: an ancient and rare fat innkeeper worm | Photo: Kate Montana/iNaturalist

Thousands of penis-shaped marine creatures have appeared at Drakes Beach in Point Reyes, Northern California.

Drakes Beach is located 55 miles northwest of San Francisco.

Although commonly known as "penis fish," these marine life creatures are not classified as fish - they're fat innkeeper worm or urechis caupo.

According to scientists, these marine spoon worms are an ancient form of life that dates back to 300 million years.

The "penis fish" can be found in the shallow water areas of the west coast of North America, where it forms U-shaped burrows in the sediment and feeds on plankton.

These subterranean blobs also create underground tunnels and shelters for other marine animals.

Drakes Beach, Northern California: thousands of penis fish wash up after a storm hit the coast | Photo: David Ford/Bay Nature

A Rare Phenomenon

The unusual phenomenon at Drakes Beach took place after a cyclone hit the coast.

The storm and the swells washed away several feet of sand from the intertidal zone leaving these phallic organisms exposed to the surface.

In fact, they're so rare that many beachgoers are not even aware of their existence. David Ford, a local resident who was taking a walk at the beach, couldn't believe what he was seeing and took the picture above.

"It was bizarre, and I had no idea what they might be. These creatures were scattered everywhere for two miles," Ford explained later.

"A quarter of them were still alive, but the rest were dead. The seagulls had eaten so much that they could barely stand."

A "penis fish" can live up to 25 years. The fat innkeeper worm ranges in length from eight to 20 inches (20 to 50 centimeters).

The pulsating pink worms resembling human penises is a gastronomic delicacy in South Korea and China, but they're also a source of food for sharks, otters, rays, seagulls, and flounders.

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