Sea vomit: Why DFO is worried about an invasive species with a disgusting name

While sea vomit may look like exactly what the nickname implies, it's actually made up of thousands of small, interzooids that can settle on the sea floor.  (Fisheries and Oceans Canada - image credit)
While sea vomit may look like exactly what the nickname implies, it's actually made up of thousands of small, interzooids that can settle on the sea floor. (Fisheries and Oceans Canada - image credit)

Fisheries and Oceans Canada is asking fishermen to keep an eye out for an invasive species in the Bay of Fundy — one that has an unforgettable nickname.

Pancake batter tunicate — more commonly known by its colloquial name sea vomit — has been spotted on the east coast of North America since 1982.

The species is a creamy white colour, is slimy to the touch and is native to the ocean around Japan.

It's only been confirmed north of the U.S. border since 2013, but there is some evidence the invasive species is growing more prevalent in New Brunswick waters.

Claire Goodwin, a research scientist at the Huntsman Marine Science Centre in Saint Andrews, said at first researchers would only find small samples of the species, but the samples have grown in size.

"This past year we found very, very large patches near Deer Island, sort of living room-size patches really spreading over the sea beds," said Goodwin.

"Fisheries and Oceans Canada have been reviewing some video footage and they've also seen what they think are very large patches … So we do think it might be spreading."

Found on wharfs, sea beds

While sea vomit may look like exactly what the nickname implies, it's actually made up of thousands of small zooids which are interconnected into a gelatinous sheet that can settle on the sea bed or man made structures like wharfs.

Goodwin said when the species comes to rest on the seafloor it can suffocate native species that also make the seafloor their homes.

"It could stop … say commercial species like scallops settling on the sea bed and being able to grow," said Goodwin.

Huntsman Marine Science Centre
Huntsman Marine Science Centre

You're unlikely to find a lot of sea vomit while walking on the beach, which is why the request for reports is targeted to fishermen and boaters.

"It's a good idea to have a look on the hulls of your boats because it can grow on those. If you're down on the dock fishing, sometimes you see it hanging off underneath docks," said Goodwin.

"Fishermen are likely to bring it up in their drags if it's present."

Goodwin's asking for anyone who may encounter sea vomit to save a sample for identification.

She said the sample of suspected sea vomit can be frozen so it can be identified later.

People with a sample or a sighting should contact the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.