Fishermen in South West Nova and along the South Shore have been pulling strange squishy creatures out of the water this fall and winter. 

Salps are gelatinous, mostly transparent, and have long, cylindrical, hollow bodies.

They are similar in appearance to jellyfish, but are actually classed as tunicates, a marine invertebrate. 

Katie Baker lives on Tancook Island, N.S. Her husband, David Baker, is a lobster fisherman there. They both spotted several salps the size of a human hand on the ends of lobster traps they hauled up in late November.     

David Baker says he's seen the occasional salp in his nearly 30 years of fishing, but that they never grew larger than a thumbnail. 

In ecosystems where they are common, salps vary in diameters from a few millimetres at birth and to about 10 centimetres. 

Individuals form a colony during the sexual phase of their lifecycle. 

Katie Baker posted photos of the creatures on the LFA 33 and 34 Lobster Fishermen Facebook page shortly after catching them. 

Several other members responded with their own photos of hand-sized salps, with observations from Bridgewater to Grand Manan and Maine. 

Invasive species? 

Fisheries and Oceans scientists say there were several salp blooms reported in various locations in the northwest Atlantic Ocean in 2014, including in the Gulf of Maine and the Bay of Fundy. 

The department's communications manager, David Jennings, says the department still doesn't have a good handle on what controls salp blooms in the region.  

Sarah Stuart-Clark is an assistant professor of shellfish aquaculture at Dalhousie University's Truro campus. 

She's helping colleagues in Newfoundland figure out whether the salps are an invasive species due to climate change, or whether the creatures are natural to the region and are just going through a more populous phase.

Stuart-Clark says salps can grow rapidly and in large numbers in warmer waters, given how they reproduce both sexually and asexually. 

She and her colleagues want to hear from people who've spotted salps or have kept specimens. You can email aquaculture@dal.ca.