Swimming slug? from Greece

July 13, 2002
From: George Sherman

Dear Dr. Rudman:
While on vacation in Greece, my fiancée and I had a fascinating encounter with a sea animal which I now believe must have been some kind of sea slug. It happened on June 17, 2002 at a sandy beach in the little town of Pylos on the Mediterranean in the most south-western portion of the Peloponissos peninsula. It was in the morning with very few people at the beach and a very smooth water surface with excellent visibility. We were standing just outside of the water at its very edge, when we notice something swimming slowly towards us about 15 or 20 yards out. A small portion of it remained out of the water and on either side of that, small portions of it periodically and simultaneously lifted up above the water surface and then back down again. I thought that it was some kind of ray swimming as if flying with broad wings. But when the creature got close to us, it was obviously neither a ray or any other kind of fish. It did, indeed, swim like a ray and it was flat and roundish, but it had a long neck (perhaps 2 or 3 inches) sticking out directly in front of it with a head slightly larger in diameter than the neck. No eyes, ears, nose, or mouth were visible, but it had two tentacles sticking out forward from the top, front of the head, which reminded me of the "antennae" on the heads of snails. These were the only tentacles it had. The color was a nearly uniform dark brown. Its motion was slow but steady in direction, taking perhaps a minute or two to travel the 15 or 20 yards. It came directly up to our feet and stopping there in about two inches of water for about 30 seconds to a minute. While there, it lifted its head up out of the water and banged it on the sand at the water's edge several times. Then it turned around and swam back out. When I pointed it out to a waiter in a outdoor plaza restaurant overlooking the water, he said he had not seen one of these for many years. When I asked what it was, he said, "It is not the kind of fish that you eat."

It started heading towards some young boys and a teenage girl who where swimming in waist deep water. When we pointed the creature out to them in the water, it became clear that they had no idea what it was. They lifted it out of the water with a long stick and laid it on the sand. On the stick, it just hung down on both sides as if it had no bones. On the sand, it lay still, flattened out to about 1 or 2 inches thick, with its neck retracted to about 1 inch and its tentacles barely visible. In this position, its main body was shaped like the symbol used to represent a heart. The heart was about 12 to 14 inches high and almost as much across in the widest part. The neck stuck out of the indentation at the top of the heart. There was a small flat (horizontal) tail at the bottom point of the heart. In the central area of the heart, was a large, irregular, kind of gelatin mass sticking up about a half inch or more above the otherwise smooth surface. (I believe that this is what stuck up out of the water when it was swimming.) The boys petted it with their hands all over its flat back without any unpleasant experience. We found a fishing line wrapped moderately tightly around its neck which we cut off with a knife. It was out of the water perhaps about 5 minutes without apparent ill effects. When we placed the animal back in the water, it released a very small amount of a milky substance which seemed to appear from underneath toward the rear. It then swam over to some large, partially submerged boulders, and began rubbing the underside of its head on the vertical surfaces of the rock in what appeared to be a feeding activity. It was swimming all of the while without attaching itself to anything.

We pointed this creature out to several passing Greeks and described it in detail to several locals. No one had any ideas about what it might be.

I have several very clear photos of it, one on the sand, two of it in the water at our feet with its tentacles out, two while it is draped over the stick, and two while it is swimming on the water surface quite a ways out. If you would like, I will send them to you by "snail" mail.

I would appreciate any comments you can give about what this must be. Until I found your forum, I was very baffled. I had ruled out sea slugs in my mind because it wasn't crawling on anything. The swimming and its shape (apart from the neck and head) made it seem like a fish, but it obviously was not.

Thanks for your help. Let me know it you want me to mail copies of the photos.

George Sherman


Sherman, G., 2002 (Jul 13) Swimming slug? from Greece. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/7540

Dear George,
I suspect your animal is a Sea Hare, and most probably Aplysia fasciata. Have a look at Xavier's recent message with photos of a swimming A. fasciata from southern France. Most Sea Hares can secrete both a reddish-purple and a milky white secretion. Have a look at the page on Aplysia brasiliana for photos of another species that swims.

If your animal doesn't look like these then perhaps you could send me copies of your photos.
Best wishes,
Bill Rudman

Rudman, W.B., 2002 (Jul 13). Comment on Swimming slug? from Greece by George Sherman. [Message in] Sea Slug Forum. Australian Museum, Sydney. Available from http://www.seaslugforum.net/find/7540


Aplysia fasciata

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