Last October, we were on a road above a beach in a small town near Bar Harbor, Maine, in the Northeast United States. We looked down and saw two fishermen loading their trucks with piles of something fascinating they had just brought in from the ocean with large nets.
I'm trying to learn what they are, and for what purpose they're used.
They're round, probably 5 inches in diameter, spiky, and mostly green with a bit of brown. The fisherman was inspecting one closely in his hands, and we were able to get a good picture of that. I didn't get a close-up of the other side, but some in the pile look more puffy, so maybe those were upside-down, or right-side up, depending on what it actually is! At first I thought they were totally covered in those spikes. However, if you click to enlarge the picture and look closely in the middle, there's something that almost looks like it could be a mouth or other opening.
My guess is they either end up in salt water aquariums, or at a type of restaurant where I've never been.
I know all seaweeds are alive, so I assume they're alive at the time of harvesting, although I don't know for how much longer, especially in a big pile on a hot day. Are they some type of sea plant, or animal in the sense that we generally think of animals? If it's the latter, and they're bound for a restaurant, what and where are the individual body parts? What parts are edible? How are they served?
If they are indeed edible, and someone has actually tasted or cooked with one, and has something more familiar to compare it with, I'd love to know that.