Mystery of the Goose Barnacles


Today was what outdoor, stuff and nonsense types would call “a tad bracing”.  It was what I would bloomin’ freezing but mercifully dry.  So this made it the kind of day especially invented for a brisk stroll on the beach wrapped up like a plum pudding.  All of this was undertaken on the strict proviso that a hot bowl of soup and a sandwich would be the reward.  Not, however, until it had been earned.  The wind blew us up towards Putsborough and acted like an icy buffer on the way home, cultivating rosy cheeks and a good appetite.  Dogs ran for balls and just for the hell of it, the flighty gulls paddled and watched the kitesurfers soaring to the skies.

All very fine and non-mysterious.  There was however something curious afoot.  Along the way there were a diverse assortment of objects, all covered in the equally bizarre creature that is known as the goose barnacle.

There were an assortment of buoys.


Bottles, both plastic and glass


A long piece of slate, looking like a maritime chainsaw.


A valentine in polystyrene, I would have preferred chocolate but beggars can’t be choosers.


and many other bits and bobs.

The tide was on the turn and they were arranged at intervals along the high water line.  Some of barnacles were alive, Medusa like necks searching for the water they filter feed from.  Where had they  come from?  These crustaceans are considered a great delicacy in Northern Spain where they can fetch high prices and men risk their lives on the rocky water’s edge to harvest them.  One of the floats was stamped with the words Plasticos de Galicia.  Due to my extensive travels and in depth knowledge of the Iberian peninsula I ascertained from this that it was made in the north west corner of Spain.  Admittedly it helped that it had Made in Spain written on it.

But I digress, we are no closer to solving this mystery.  How did such an obscure collection come to be deposited along a beach in North Devon?  Any ideas would be much appreciated.

ps  A few goose barnacle facts for you:

  • These creatures live on exposed coasts where they depend on the movement of the sea to feed on the plankton they depend on.
  • Their name derives from the fact that they were thought to be the eggs of the barnacle goose. Before we had caught on to bird migration, no one had ever seen a barnacle goose nesting.  When they saw these long-necked water-lovers emerging from egg shaped shells it all seem very obvious!
  • They have populated the oceans for approximately 500 million years, homo sapiens (laughably Wise Man) have been around about 200,000 years.  In comparison we are just a load of blow-ins!



27 thoughts on “Mystery of the Goose Barnacles

  1. A fascinating post Gill. I had never heard of goose barnacles. Hard to imagine something having been around for all those years and most people don’t know about them. Your photos are amazing—I could almost feel myself walking along the beach with you.


  2. They are like marine works of art.
    The only minus is that some of it is man made rubbish floating in the sea. Based in Worcestershire it is good to follow a beach walk at this time of year.


  3. Gerard’ s Herbal has a wonderful piece about the Goose Barnacle tree. He said that there are orchards of these trees in Scotland. He prised a barnacle open and saw little naked bird shapes. The ones that were open had little birds covered in soft down ready to fall out. They spawn in March and April, the geese are formed in May and June. So he said.
    Lovely photos.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’ve just popped over from Jessica Rusty Duck, and have thoroughly enjoyed reading back through your January posts. We have a holiday flat in Berwick, and spend a lot of time on the beach, but have never encountered goose barnacles. Love the photos!


  5. How architectural they look! I confess that during the years that we lived in a waterfront house with bulkheading and a boat, barnacles were regarded as The Enemy: a perpetual threat to be fought at every turn. However, they were not nearly as attractive as your goose barnacles. 🙂


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