6 Bizarre Sea Creatures You Might Find on the Outer Banks

Have you ever been walking along the shore of the Outer Banks and stumbled across a creature you weren’t able to identify? Clear jelly discs, black rectangle pouches, slimy round balls, and more can be scattered among the shells that wash ashore daily.

Below we’ve compiled a list of 6 Bizarre sea creatures we’ve found on our beach walks. 

clear and transparent moon jellyfish on the Outer Banks beach

Strange Marine Creatures Found on the Beach

In our quest for candle inspiration, we’ve embarked on countless Outer Banks beach walks, carefully observing and documenting the strange marine creatures we encounter. It is with great pleasure that we present to you a curated list of six of the most peculiar sea creatures we’ve discovered during our explorations.

Each of these captivating beings possesses unique characteristics and adaptations that make them both intriguing and unusual. By shedding light on these remarkable creatures, we hope to enhance your appreciation for the awe-inspiring biodiversity that thrives in the waters surrounding the Outer Banks.

Whether you’re a seasoned OBX beachcomber or a curious visitor, join us as we delve into the fascinating world of these six extraordinary sea creatures. Get ready to be captivated by their otherworldly appearances, peculiar behaviors, and the vital roles they play in maintaining the delicate balance of the coastal ecosystem.

#1: Moon JellyFish

If you’ve ever come across a clear, round jelly disc then chances are you’ve found a Moon Jelly! Moon jellies typically wash ashore when they get too close to the waves and can’t swim fast enough in the other direction.

They are harmless to touch because their sting cannot penetrate human skin. They are carnivores and thrive in warmer water where plankton is plentiful.

Circular moon jelly with lots of dots and transparent texture found on the Outer Banks beaches

They travel in groups called blooms and are able to communicate with each other via chemicals they release into the water. If you find one of these washed ashore or floating next to you in the water on your next beach visit, be sure it’s a moon jelly before grabbing it. Any jelly with tentacles still attached should be avoided! 

#2: Sea Onion

A sea onion is one of over 1,000 different types of sea anemones! It spends its days not far offshore buried in the sediment with its tentacles poking out ready to catch its next meal.

You aren’t able to see the tentacles once the little sea onion has washed ashore as they will retract once the anemone detaches from the rock or shell it’s anchored to. Sea onions are carnivores waiting for plankton or small fish to swim by.

They have a bulbous shape just like an onion and use a filter and suction system to burrow. These small animals are usually found more easily at low tide or after a big storm. 

When I found sea onions, they have been located in or near shell beds. I normally can find shell beds accumulating near many Outer Banks piers.

Sea onion in a shell bed on the Outer Banks

#3: Sea Cucumber

Sea cucumbers are a lot of things, but cute is not one of them. These brainless, nocturnal sea creatures are relatives of starfish and sea urchins.

Their life span ranges from 5-10 years and they do not need a mate to reproduce. In addition to not having a brain, they also do not have a heart or lungs– they operate with a radial nerve ring that detects chemicals and touch.

Sea cucumber found on the Outer Banks

Sea cucumbers are surprisingly valuable as they are used for pharmaceutical purposes in other countries. Whatever sea cucumbers lack in attractiveness they make up for usefulness! They are known as the vacuum of the sea, helping clean and filter the sea floor which helps keep the ocean healthy and fights climate change. 

#4: Mole Crab

Around here, we often refer to these small crabs as Sand Fleas (and sometimes we collect them on the shore to later use as fish bait!) Also known as Sand Crabs, Mole Crabs are typically found by bringing up handfuls of sand right where the waves break onto the shore.

However, you might find a few that fell victim to predators (or small children collecting them in their buckets!) scattered among the shells. Their hard exoskeleton helps them survive the constant pounding of waves in the surge zone.

Mole crab found in the sand on an Outer Banks beach

They prefer an area of maximum flow as they filter plankton from the water and will follow the tide up and down the beach. If you are able to gather a handful of these small crabs, they will try to burrow, harmlessly scurrying their legs into the palm of your hand.

Drop one back into the sand it will take them about 1.5 seconds to burrow completely out of sight. Flip them to their underside and you might see bright orange – those are eggs!

Because they are easy prey to other sea creatures, Mole Crabs work primarily at night. Chances are if you are out at the beach catching a sunset you will find these scurrying around! In some countries, they are considered a delicacy to eat, but here on the Outer Banks we usually release them back in the sand after carefully admiring them. 

#5: Mermaid’s Purse

While not an actual creature, these black pouches known to some as a Mermaid’s Purse once protected the eggs of rays and sharks! By the time they have washed ashore these egg casings will be empty (try not to think of all the new baby sharks swimming around in the ocean).

You might find these egg casings individually or in large groups anchored to seaweed. In fact, the more seaweed on the shore, the more likely you are to find a Mermaid’s Purse! The leathery pouches are made of keratin (like your fingernails) which makes them tough but flexible.

Black mermaid's purse that holds the eggs of sharks and rays in the Atlantic Ocean

Mermaid’s Purses come in different shapes and sizes depending on the animal that laid them. The best way to determine the type of egg casing you have is to rehydrate it so you can see its true color and shape! 

#6: Whelk Egg Casings

Whelk egg casings can be startling to come across and wound up like a snake in your path. This string of capsules can be up to 3 feet long and each capsule contains upwards of 100 whelk eggs!

If the casings rattle when you shake them, open them up to find baby whelks; you may need a magnifying glass to see them clearly though.

Fun fact: these egg casings are sometimes referred to as a Mermaid’s necklace!

Whelk egg casing found on the shores of an Outer Banks beach
Baby whelk found inside their egg casing
Fully formed whelk shell

Bizarre Sea Life on the Outer Banks

The Outer Banks is a treasure trove of bizarre and captivating sea life. From the translucent Moon Jelly to the bulbous Sea Onion, and from the peculiar Sea Cucumber to the tenacious Mole Crab, these remarkable beings offer a glimpse into the fascinating world beneath the waves.

As we wander along the shorelines, it becomes clear that the diversity of marine life is as vast and intriguing as the endless expanse of the ocean itself. Encountering these peculiar creatures reminds us of the incredible wonders that nature has to offer. It highlights the importance of preserving and protecting our fragile coastal ecosystems, ensuring that future generations can also marvel at the enigmatic creatures that call the Outer Banks their home.

So, the next time you find yourself strolling along the sandy shores, keep your eyes peeled for the unexpected. You never know what mysterious and extraordinary sea creature may reveal itself to you. They are a testament to the remarkable diversity of life on this planet and a reminder of the endless mysteries waiting to be explored.

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