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While hiking the beach at Cape Scott in British Columbia last summer, I kept on seeing these weird pieces of organic flotsam. I'm familiar with kelp, dead jellyfish, sea urchin shells, etc... but these seemed really different. And I've never seen them before anywhere else in BC or elsewhere.

First, from a distance when wet, they look more like dead organs of some fish or sea mammal, because of the red and white coloring.

Second, if you touch them they actually are dry and have the feel and consistency of rubbery silicone kitchen utensils.enter image description here

Yes, I can see how something like a plant or jellyfish may dry out to that texture. But I'd expect that to slime up/lose consistency as soon as it got wet again.

enter image description here

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    Maybe it actually is some sort of manmade substance. Can you put some in a fire and see if it melts? (An outdoor fire, of course; plastic smoke is not something you want indoors.) Make note of what texture it is after partially burning, like whether the partially burned bits crumble to ash, or bead up like solidified droplets of melted plastic.
    – csk
    Feb 24 at 20:57
  • I don't think so. They did look organic and they were all topping out at about the same size. If it had parts of some ripped up manufactured thing, the sizes of the bigger pieces would have varied more, I think. Anyway, point is moot, this was last summer and I did not bring any back. Feb 25 at 5:29
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    Could it be a piece of molted shell from a crab or other crustacean perhaps?
    – Nate W
    Feb 25 at 18:11
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    Has some similarities to skate egg casings? Or sea weed bladder?
    – Jon Custer
    Feb 25 at 21:33
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    Those look a lot like sea weed to me. I'd suggest having a look for images of seaweed other than kelp
    – Rory Alsop
    Mar 4 at 10:16
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It looks a lot like dried Turkish Towel seaweed, or Chondracanthus exasperatus.

Turkish Towels are often solid red when alive, but

then changes to shades of brown, pink, cream, and translucent as it dies and dries on shore

The other big tell is the texture. Turkish Towel and the distantly related, but similar looking Turkish Washcloth, both have distinctive papillae, the bumps that reminded someone of a towel or a washcloth (and towels apparently originated in Turkey - who knew?).

I'm a little surprised to hear that you haven't seen them elsewhere in BC. Having grown up in Washinton, I thought of this seaweed as pretty common.

And it's range is definitely not limited to the southern part of the Salish Sea. Here's a picture from Vancouver Island:

turkish towel

And some extra pictures, if I haven't made a strong enough case:

another turkish towel

third turkish towel

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  • Nice. I didn't see it on the Salish Sea, rather at Cape Scott, which is on the extreme northwest side of Vancouver Island, totally exposed to the open ocean. Could be you don't usually see them in more sheltered areas because you need a strong storm to rip them out and cast them ashore? One question: are they used for anything? That seems like a drying rack. Aug 15 at 16:01
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    Like other red sea weeds, they can be used to produce caraggeenan, a sort of vegan gelatin substitute. They're definitely not the main source of caraggeenan, though. As far as I know Turkish Towel is not widely used for anything.
    – Juhasz
    Aug 16 at 16:26

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