Giant Sea Cucumber    Parastichopus californicus

The largest of the sea cucumbers, it is characterized by it’s deep red color and spike-like body projections. This species is very common on the shallow sandy subtidal areas of Southern Puget Sound between the intertidal zone and a depth of several hundred feet.  They occur from Alaska to Baja California. 

Measuring up to 20 inches long (the one in the photograph is only 8 inches) they move slowly along the bottom in large groups feeding on decaying organic material using their white frilly tentacles.  They are fed upon by the Sunflower Sea Star.  However they do not passively submit to a hungry  sea star.  Instead they can sense the chemicals given off by the sea star as it approaches and then try and escape by flexing their body muscles producing a violent wiggling action that thrusts them off the bottom allowing them to swim away.  If this doesn’t work they have another defensive option.  When agitated or threatened they will throw out their internal organs.  The mucous from the organs can entangle the  predator.  The organs will be re-grown.

Because of their large size they have been subjected to human harvesting for a number of years.  The five sets of body muscles and the skin are eaten.