When a Duluth man walked into the Minnesota Sea Grant office recently seeking help identifying a couple of weird-looking balls of of stuff he’d found on the shore of Lake Superior, science writer Sharon Moen found the answer from a sister program in Oregon.
An Internet search led her straight to Oregon Sea Grant and its free publication, “Flotsam, Jetsam, and Wrack.”
The balls found by Glenn Maxham, about 2½ inches in diameter and made of grasses, twigs, a bird feather and degraded polymer mesh, match a similar phenomenon found on the Oregon coast, where locals (and some tourist shops) have dubbed them “whale burps.”
They have nothing to do with whales; rather, it’s the action of waves and surf that gather loose natural (and unnatural) debris and roll it over the sand until it compacts into a ball. The preferred name is “beach balls” or “surf balls,” according to retired OSG marine educator Vicki Osis, who helped develop the publication. Similar phenomena have been reported in Egypt, Australia, and on the shores of California’s Little Borax Lake.
“Flotsam, Jetsam, and Wrack” is among some 150 publications available free for the downloading from Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University. Topics range from enjoying the beaches to building your own water-conserving rain garden, salmon restoration,wave energy, tsunami preparedness and safe seafood preparation. Most are available in both printable .pdf format and accessible plain-text versions.
The Oregon and Minnesota Sea Grant programs are among 30 Sea Grant college programs across the nation, organized under NOAA’s National Sea Grant program. Affiliated with major universities in the nation’s coastal and Great Lakes states, the Sea Grant programs conduct marine research, education and public outreach that foster science-based use and conservation of the nation’s aquatic resources.