Ode to a Sea Cuke

During our trip to Bamfield Marine Science Centre this weekend, I fell deeply in love. No, not to a human, but to a slimy, spineless creature. The sea cucumber.


One of two glorious sea cukes we pulled up during our dredge (photo credit: Maddy Kerr)

Sunday morning we travelled out into Barkley Sound on the Alta to do a dredge. We pulled up all sorts of cool creatures, such as sea urchins, chitons, flat fish, sea stars, hermit crabs, huge moon snails, and two chubby sea cucumbers covered in slimy bumps and beautiful colours. I was instantly obsessed, and had a chance to spend more time with some later in the day during the open lab. I was so fascinated by theses Holothuroideans that I decided to write a poem about them.


Sea cucumber showing feeding behaviour using tube feet around its mouth (video credit: Maddy Kerr; GIF made by giphy.com)

My life changed at Bamfield when I held my first cuke

While out on the Alta and wearing my toque.

 We pulled up two beauties from Barkley Sound’s floor

Using a dredge to see what we could score.

 These tubular creatures are lacking a spine;

To the broad group invertebrates, they are assigned.

 Phylum echinoderms, specifically, along with sea stars,

Sharing pentaradial symmetry and ambulacral bars*.

 They breathe through their cloaca, an unusual trait,

Bringing water with gases, and sometimes “roommates”.

 Small animals can move into the cucumber’s anus,

Some cukes will eviscerate them in a process quite heinous.

 Tube feet surround their mouth and sift for food,

Poking and prodding to see what’s been brewed.

 Typical scavengers, they patrol the ocean bed,

Eating plankton, organics, and many things dead.

 During spawning season, they broadcast their sex cells,

This annual process can happen when the environment “tells”.

 Resources, warmth, light, or other cues,

Can trigger spawns, thus more egg and sperm fuse.1

 Sea cucumbers are distributed in waters worldwide

In some cultures a delicacy, they’re eaten dried or fried

 Chris Harley described his experience, I heard him mutter

“Cook in garlic and butter, they’ll taste like garlic and butter”

 Their main predators, however, are sea stars and fish1,

And they surely don’t prepare them in a garlic butter dish

But back to my point, these creatures are incredible

Their value doesn’t lie in the fact they are edible

Just one of many discoveries made while at B.M.S.C.

Was my love for these vegetables under the sea.

*The specific term is ambulacral grooves or regions

If the edible nature of these marine invertebrates caught your attention, check out this thrilling clip of Bear Grylls eating a raw cuke in an episode of Man Vs. Wild (VEGETARIANS BEWARE).

1Lambert, P. (1997). Sea Cucumbers of British Columbia, Southeast Alaska, and Puget Sound. https://books.google.ca/books?hl=en&lr=&id=DyyJIb2IvKAC&oi=fnd&pg=PA1&dq=chances+of+fertilization+in+sea+cucumbers&ots=oJQD4KfBsJ&sig=U2ICOqCUqQZJsRUBOQUlCuthp4s#v=onepage&q=chances%20of%20fertilization%20in%20sea%20cucumbers&f=false

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