The alarm was raised when thousands of tiny, translucent “jellies” were found washed up along a 10-kilometre stretch of Phuket’s west coast on Sept 18, with reports that contact with the jellies resulted in a rash.
Lifeguards were notified and tourists along the beach were warned not to touch the creatures. (See story here.)
However, Charatsee Aungtonya, a Ph.D jellyfish expert at the Phuket Marine Biological Centre (PMBC), this week confirmed that the creatures were harmless.
“They were not jellyfish, but a sea creature called salp,” Ms Charatsee explained to The Phuket News.
Salp are barrel-shaped, free-swimming “tunicates” – organisms enclosed in a tunic that pump water through their gelatinous bodies. Salp look much like jellyfish, but are actually close marine ancestors of fish and vertebrates. Salps have a heart, gills, and even a rudimentary placenta.
Salp move and feed at the same time, straining the water through internal feeding filters to graze on phytoplankton. They are are mostly transparent, tubular, gelatinous animals that are typically between one and 10cm long.
“They are actually more common here than most people realise. The region around Phuket experiences several salp blooms every year,” Ms Charatsee said.
“Salp are not poisonous, but some people will feel irritation or itchiness when their skin comes into contact with them,” she added.