Goose barnacles still flummox people today

Ooooo! Look at this! A giant piece of very cool stuff washes onshore and people freak out. It’s my favorite kind of story.

New Zealand locals reportedly flocked to Muriwai Beach yesterday, to catch a glimpse of the so-called Muriwai Monster – a sprawling mass that looks exactly like something you’d drag up from the depths of the ocean.

People are freaking out over this ‘monstrosity’ that washed up in New Zealand

Photo from Melissa Doubleday, Facebook.

Photo from Melissa Doubleday, Facebook.

Science Alert and other news outlets did a fine job of identifying this as a giant piece of wood covered with goose barnacles. As typically happens, the average person strolling along the beach is flummoxed by the organic remains that are ejected from the depths and assume they are some mutant or monster. It’s the way we humans have always been. Goose barnacles are weird looking and have a curious folkloric history when people thought the shells were eggs and birds hatched from them. People used to believe some very quaint things about the animal world. Pulling out my illustrated bestiary by Colin Clair, I find the Tale of the Tree that Bore Geese from which I quote Giraldus de Barri (1187):

There are here many birds which are called Bernacae, which nature produces in a manner contrary to nature…from fir timber tossed about at sea, and are at first like geese upon it. […] In the course of time, [having] been clothed with a strong covering of feathers, they either fall into the water, or seek their liberty in the air by flight…

goose-barnacleThis myth was repeated for several centuries. In 1569, Geraard de Veer related that it was a mystery how the barnacle goose hatched their eggs but some people thought they sat in the trees, dropped their eggs into the water and become goslings. By 1662, Gaspar Schott shot that tale out of the water saying the goose incubated eggs on a nest like all other geese. Still, the story persisted until more intrepid zoologists actually pulled apart the barnacles and noted they were “fish” like other shells. barnacle-gooseYou can read more about it here at the Tale of the Barnacle Goose.

It seems like this strange animal, a crustacean, still confuses us.

  10 comments for “Goose barnacles still flummox people today

  1. Lagaya1
    December 13, 2016 at 10:11 PM

    Wow! I would have freaked out, too! That’s great!

  2. Bob Jase
    December 14, 2016 at 8:09 AM

    I’d have recognised it but still would be amazed at the size of it – Long Island Sound being the only piece of ocean I’m familiar with.

  3. December 14, 2016 at 11:00 AM

    anyone checked for MH370 underneath? :/

  4. December 14, 2016 at 11:03 AM

    It’s a really large piece of “wood”. As usual, there are no details.

  5. Eve Siebert
    December 14, 2016 at 12:44 PM

    Just for the sake of clarity: “Giraldus de Barri” is more commonly known as Giraldus Cambrensis or Gerald of Wales.

  6. December 14, 2016 at 2:03 PM

    That was in the text. I didn’t think he’d be offended if I left that detail out. Also, the other Geralds in Wales might be.

  7. Eve Siebert
    December 14, 2016 at 2:42 PM

    Fair enough.

    By the way, there is a possibility that this post sent me down a barnacle goose rabbit hole (another weird place to find geese).

  8. Chris
    December 14, 2016 at 8:07 PM

    Did barnacle goose rabbit hole lead you to some Portuguese delicacies? When I was a kid we lived across the street from a family whose grandfather immigrated from Portugal to fish out of Monterey, CA (think “Cannery Row”). We were often invited to their seafood feasts (Grandpa who retired up the hill still provided part of the menu).

    This was on the menu:


    I really only tried the crab and mussels. Also, my mom was not too happy that us kids liked their rice pudding, but not hers (my brother and I really hate raisins in food).

  9. Daran
    December 14, 2016 at 11:23 PM

    At first glance I thought it was a walrus covered in Barnacles, but the real story here is the speed of the raising of the seabed by the quake, so many kilometeres/second 3?

  10. Christine Rose
    December 18, 2016 at 12:03 PM

    Wow, close up pictures look way more like geese than I’d expected. But what is the advantage of having a hard shell on the end when the bulk of the body is exposed?

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