I'm a little bit late to the game on this one, but back in December of 2019, before we were all in quarantine, there was a major event that could perhaps be seen as a foreshadowing for the year to come. You see thousands of creatures that looked remarkably like pink, plump, penises washed up on the shoreline of Drakes Beach, in Inverness, California.
This remote beach in Point Reyes National Seashore requires a long, scenic drive to reach. What you will see when you get there is beautiful scenery and if you are lucky, thousands of Urechis unicinctus, known as the fat innkeeper worm or Chinese penis fish.
When you look at them from a distance, they look strange but not altogether disturbing.
When you look at them close up, though, the fat innkeeper worm has a shape that is quite distinctive.
This isn't the first time we have seen such a phenomenon either. Pajaro Dunes, Moss Landing, Bodega Bay, and Princeton Harbor have all seen their share of these creatures. While the shape of this worm leaves much to be desired, they are perfectly shaped for what they need to do. This member of the spoon worm family lives and burrow in the sand or mud. They burrow U shapes in the soft sediment of the seabed. In case you aren't offended enough, they actually create what's referred to as a mucus net by exuding it as they burrow backward which sticks to the walls of the burrow and the mucus catches food for the worm to eat.
How did so many of them end up on the beach you ask? Remember the massive storms we were hit with right before Thanksgiving? Turns out that Drakes Beach got dumped with an inch of rain and 45 miles per hour winds. That storm most likely caused the worms to surface. Usually, they don't bother, coming to the surface as gulls and otters love to eat them. The last time we saw phenomenons such as this one, was in 2010 and 2016 and the strandings, as it's called, was related to El Niño.
The urechis unicinctus is also eaten as a food. In Korea, they are eaten raw, served with salt and sesame oil. In China, the worm is stir-fried with veggies or dried and powdered and used to enhance umami.