Morning visitors to Drakes Beach in Northern California last week witnessed thousands of strange 10-inch phallic fish washed up on the shore.
The strange creatures are known as “fat innkeeper worms,” and they have been spotted on other nearby beaches in California in the past. They usually wash up on beaches after storms, similar to the storms seen around Drakes beach last week.
Scientists call this creature Urechis caupo and it is classified as a type of spoonworm. The picture below was taken on a different occasion earlier this year, when fat innkeepers washed up on Bodega Bay back in June.
This photo illustrates why the fat innkeeper is sometimes casually known as a “penis fish.”
Photo by Kate Montana, iNaturalist Creative Commons
At Drakes Beach last week, thousands of these things washed up on the beach, making it entirely impossible to walk the beach without stepping on them.
The following images posted to Instagram were taken on December 6th, after the storm around Drakes Beach.
SHOOK 😳 Thousands of these marine worms—called fat innkeeper worms, or “penis fish”—were found on Drake’s Beach last week! These phallic organisms are quite common along the West coast of North America, but they spend their whole lives in U-shaped burrows under the sand, so few beachgoers are aware of their existence. ⛈🌊 A recent storm in Northern California brought strong waves that washed away several feet of sand from the intertidal zone, leaving all these fat innkeeper worms exposed on the surface. 🏖 Next time you go to the beach, just think about the hundreds of 10-inch, pink sausages wiggling around just a few feet under the sand. 🙃 . . Get the full story in our new #AsktheNaturalist with @california_natural_history via link in bio! (📸: Beach photo courtesy David Ford; Worm photo by Kate Montana via iNaturalist)
Even when you don’t see them on the beach there is a very good chance that they are many feet below you, burrowed under the sand. During storms, the layers of sand that were once covering them are washed out to sea, leaving the innkeepers exposed to predators, including seagulls, sharks, stingrays, and other fish.
Some cultures also see the strange fish as a delicacy. In South Korea for example, the dish is known as “gaebul.”
Of course, the strange phallic appearance of the fat innkeeper seems to attract far more attention than the many other sea creatures that wash up onshore throughout the year.
Researchers estimate that an individual fat innkeeper can live for up to 25 years if they manage to avoid predators. As a species, fossil evidence shows that these creatures may have been around for over 300 million years.