VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) -- Mysterious, smelly blobs washed ashore in Virginia Beach over the weekend.
The Virginian-Pilot reports that the softball-sized, blackish to grayish lumps were spread along about a half-mile stretch of Chick's Beach by Saturday evening.
This isn't the first time foul material washed ashore this summer. Smelly specimens turned up on Chesapeake Bay beaches in July. Health Department officials said they couldn't identify them because no one saved a sample, but it's possible that they were skunk sponges.
The malodorous blobs didn't stop people from playing at the beach Saturday. Children ran in and out of the water, and some people sat on the sand close to the blobs, as if they didn't exist.
The Virginia Institute of Marine Science says they're potato sponges, which are usually attached to the seafloor with a network of protein fibers and glassy, needle-like “spicules” that form something like an anchor.
When weather conditions cause large waves and strong currents to scour the seafloor, they can dislodge large numbers of these sponges, freeing them to float to the surface and wash ashore. Clogged with storm debris and no longer able to filter feed, the sponges die. Then they start to smell as decay and bacteria move in to consume the carbohydrates and collagen that form their body, according to the VIMS Website.
The Norfolk Health Department tested the water and the blobs and Monday officials confirmed that they are potato sponges.
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)