White ‘Fleshy Sacks’ Wash Up on Shore, Leave Beachgoers Perplexed

by Caitlin Berard
(Photo by George W Johnson via Getty Images)

On a brisk afternoon in late October, Helen Marlow was on her usual midday walk with her dog on Marazion Beach in Cornwall, England. At first, their journey across the familiar shores was just like any other day. But then she saw it – an enormous mass of fleshy white sacks lying in the sand.

Confused and a little terrified, the beachgoer slowed her pace, approaching the strange substance with caution. Was it some sort of alien? Ectoplasm from a sea-dwelling ghost? Her dog certainly seemed to find it alarming, which likely wasn’t a good sign.

“I discovered it on the beach at Marazion, at around midday as the tide had gone out,” she recalled to Cornwall Live. “I had no idea what it was, it just looked like a huge mass of something organic. My dog went wild, it seemed quite fresh with no distinctive tears or damage and had no nasty smell. I really had no idea.”

The Cornwall resident had walked this beach countless times and had never come across anything like these strange fleshy sacks. So, she did what any of us would do and went to the internet for answers. She posted a photo of the unknown substance to the British Marine Life Study Society’s Facebook page.

Comments on the post suggested everything from ghost fishing nets to whale placenta, but none of the theories seemed to fit. “After putting it on the Facebook group, there were several opinions that had been suggested [as to what it could have been],” Marlow said. “But there was no definite conclusion. It was seemingly whale innards or intestine.”

Marine Wildlife Expert Identifies Mysterious Fleshy Sacks

To the beachgoer’s dismay, the strange fleshy sacks she found washed up on shore perplexed wildlife experts as well. Then, however, the answers finally came. Abby Crosby, a spokesperson for the Marine Strandings Network of the Cornwall Wildlife Trust recognized the substance. And, surprisingly, the earlier suggestion of “whale placenta” wasn’t far off.

“Local marine biologists thought it could have been whale placenta,” she said. “Which would have been a very exciting discovery if it meant that a whale was born off the coast of Cornwall. However, experts at the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) identified that it was more likely a gut or stomach from a whale.”

“We often get marine mammals such as dolphins, whales, and porpoises – collectively known as cetaceans – sadly washing up dead on our beaches at various stages of decomposition,” Crosby continued. “So, this unfortunately wasn’t an entirely unusual discovery. But it is a reminder that these animals live along our coastline and can become stranded.”

As Crosby explained, this is far from the first time bits of whale have washed ashore. Just last month, in fact, a suspected whale penis was found on a beach in Australia. While these discoveries can be a little alarming, they serve as a reminder that we share the planet with the massive mammals of the sea. “It demonstrates that we have some of the ocean’s giants living just off our coastline,” Crosby said.