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Lyall Bay sea creatures a mystery

Last updated 14:36 04/11/2011
WASHED UP: Lyall Bay is littered with thousands of sea creatures.
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ

WASHED UP: Lyall Bay is littered with thousands of sea creatures.

WASHED UP: Lyall Bay is littered with thousands of sea creatures.
KENT BLECHYNDEN/Fairfax NZ
WASHED UP: Lyall Bay is littered with thousands of sea creatures.

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The identity of a mystery clump of alien-like creatures found beached in Lyall Bay yesterday has puzzled experts.

Thousands of the tiny creatures were spotted washed up yesterday afternoon.

The transparent creatures with black eyes and little legs could be from deeper water as they were darker than what is normal for intertidal species, a Niwa spokeswoman said. Auckland University associate professor Mark Costello said the creatures could be either Phronima or Hyperia amphipods.

Phronima lived inside salps - gelatinous animals that float in plankton - and fed on their innards while using the tube for their home. Hyperia live inside jellyfish.

Both swam through the water using their back legs and despite their gruesome appearance were harmless to humans.

"I wonder if the maker of the movie Predator had seen them as they could inspire some good sci- fi," Mr Costello said.

But Victoria University PhD student Lisa Bryant said it appeared to be a Themisto australis, which is the only species found in coastal mainland New Zealand.

They formed in dense swarms and other strandings had been reported in places such as England and Canada.

Themisto were some of the top predators in the plankton community, she said.

Mr Costello said such a beaching was unusual and the creatures were probably washed ashore by the wind.

Their eyes and legs were too large for sandhoppers.

Have you seen these on the beach? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.

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- Wellington

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