A Rastafarian whale, a beach Christmas tree and an alien time-pod capsule – just some of the creative suggestions offered by online commenters to explain the unusual object that washed up recently on Muriwai beach in Auckland, New Zealand.

Photos of the dreadlocked "creature" (dubbed the "Muriwai Monster") were posted on the Muriwai & Waimauku Area Community Facebook group last week by local resident Melissa Doubleday.

"I actually thought it was a washed-up whale as I approached it, so weird,” Doubleday explained to stuff.co.nz. The photos sparked intense interest and debate online, with some residents rushing to Muriwai Beach to catch a glimpse of the unusual discovery.

For Auckland local Rani Timoti, the weird wash-up was a first. "It's got a putrid smell when you're downwind, and when you look closely, it looks like wiggling worms," she said.

So what exactly is it? According to the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society, this is almost certainly a piece of driftwood covered in gooseneck barnacles (though we're not ruling out alien time capsule just yet). These marine crustaceans can be found in temperate waters across the globe, and like all barnacles, they attach themselves to the surfaces of driftwood or rocks. Using a biochemical cement and a specialised stalk called a peduncle, the larvae of gooseneck barnacles can glue themselves onto objects underwater. Once fixed in place, they use water currents to wave their feathery feeding appendages in order to filter out food particles.

Barnacle "glue" has long interested scientists, who have gone to great lengths to understand exactly how these crustaceans are able to form such strong bonds underwater. The trick to this natural superglue is a tiny drop of oil that's released just before the barnacle larvae attach themselves to an object. This clears the water and preps the area for the super-sticky phosphoprotein adhesive. 

When they aren't being studied by biologists and geneticists, barnacles, like those found on Muriwai Beach, often end up on a plate. In Spain and Portugal, the tube-shaped gooseneck barnacles are considered a delicacy thanks to their sweet flesh. (Probably safer to convince everyone you're sea monsters, guys.)


Header image: Alex Derr