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- Palolo: rare treat in the sea under the waning moon

Pacific Voyager Forum

American Samoa => Local Customs Fa'a Samoa => : ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:31:04 PM

: Palolo: rare treat in the sea under the waning moon
: ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:31:04 PM
At the special time out on the coral reef at night. There will be a great commotion and many lights out in the water. Sau ai Palolo! Deep in the coral lives a segmented sea creature that looks like a long piece of sphagetti. It can be blue or gold and they rise to breed only twice a year. Reach into the water with your fingers outspread and bring the palolo to your bucket.
The longer the creature, the better. They break easily, so be gentle.
For the best treat, you pop them into your mouth and enjoy. You can make someone real happy to bring them some fresh palolo. It must be eaten right away or frozen quickly for the future. Palolo left in the bucket will turn into a clear mass of small segments.

You have to eat Palolo, it is a unique seafood that only comes twice a year and you are unlucky to miss it.

On the reef and night, take a waterproof flashlight and a bucket....

: Re: Palolo Spawns Annual Fiesta
: ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:36:11 PM
Read more (

Samoa Palolo Spawns Annual Fiesta

It's nearly midnight on the Pacific island of Samoa. Several men are pacing back and forth along the beach, staring at the ocean. One wades into the water and lifts his Coleman lantern. Word spreads quickly: The palolo are swarming.

Whole families grab homemade nets of mosquito netting or cheesecloth and wade into the sea. Men launch boats to scoop up the worms in deeper water. All around them palolo worms are thrashing in vast numbers, as thick as vermicelli soup. The water is milky with mucous.

Time is of the essence—it will all be over in a few short hours. Hardcore palolo connoisseurs grab the wriggling green-and-blue worms and swallow them raw on the spot. Most scoop them up in clumps and dump them into buckets.

The next day there's a celebration—a kind of Thanksgiving feast, Samoan style. The worms are fried in oil or baked into a loaf with coconut milk and onions. A new daily special shows up on local restaurant menus: palolo worm on toast. It's considered quite a delicacy.

What's a palolo worm? Any of more than a dozen species of segmented coral worm that shares certain distinguishing characteristics. In the South Pacific they are relatively well studied, because their annual risings are cause for local festivals.

What does the palolo worm taste like? "A little scratchy," said Kristian Fauchald, research zoologist and curator of worms at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, in Washington, D.C. Others describe the flavor as a mix of seaweed and caviar. Fishy. Salty. Tart. Nutritious. It may be an acquired taste.

The palolo's curious behavior has attracted the attention of more than just hungry South Pacific islanders. The first biologists to describe the Samoan palolo scientifically, in the 19th century, made an interesting observation: The swarming worm has no head.

What biologists eventually discovered is that the swarming, writhing surface mass is not the actual worm itself, but rather its sperm and egg packets.

Worm Sex

The palolo worm makes its home, according to Anja Schulze of the Smithsonian Marine Station, in the shallow reef, where it uses its sizeable jaws to dig itself a burrow in the limestone substrate. Most of the year it lives quietly, feeding on algae and microorganisms, small crustaceans, and even its own young.

As the time approaches for it to spawn—which in Samoa usually happens in October or early November—the palolo worm undergoes an extraordinary transformation. The organs in its posterior end, except those involved in reproduction, begin to degenerate.

Eventually these rear segments become little more than sacks engorged with either sperm or eggs. At exactly the right moment, Fauchald said, "the rear end starts some very heavy muscle contractions and eventually breaks off."

The liberated segments then start spiraling toward the surface. They float for up to an hour until the outer casings split open, spilling out their contents. Sperm fertilizes the floating eggs in a vast reproductive frenzy that happens just once a year and lasts only for a few hours.

But successful fertilization is not guaranteed. "There are several complicating factors," Fauchald said. "You must have an adequate sperm concentration. There must be enough mucous present to keep everything together, so that the spawning mass is not fragmented or washed apart. A storm would be a big problem." So would large quantities of predatory fish.

A few hungry islanders, by comparison, are the least of the worm's problems.

Once a successful swarming is over, the zygotes—fertilized eggs—live in the open water for only a few days before sinking to the bottom. There they burrow into the coral and grow into the next generation.

But what happens to the parent worms who so recently lost three quarters of their back end? "They don't necessarily die," Fauchald said. "Once the posterior has broken off, the anterior end promptly starts with wound-healing. They have to get their digestive tracts working fairly quickly, otherwise they won't be able to swallow." It takes about a week until they're fully healed, and then they start producing new segments to make up for the ones that were lost.

Timing Is Everything

Successful reproduction depends on getting all those packets to the surface at exactly the same time. But how does a worm that spends its life in a darkened burrow know when to release its sperm and eggs?

It's a question that interests the Samoans as well, and everyone has a favorite date.

Some say it happens three days after the new moon in October or November. Or a little after the last quarter of the first full moon in October.

Everyone agrees that the spawning follows the lunar cycle, and that it usually happens somewhere around the seventh night after the full moon that follows the autumnal equinox. If it's a weak showing, then a second rising can be expected in November.

To help find their way to the surface, the worms have a row of light-sensitive eyes along one side of their bodies. "Even on a cloudy night the surface will be lighter than the ground behind them," Fauchald said, "and that's enough to get them to the surface.

"Once the first worm goes, the presence of spawn in the water sets off all the others."

: Re: Treat in the sea under the moon: Palolo
: ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:38:13 PM
read more by Ryan Wells (

Samoan Delicacy - Palolo

Once a year, sometimes twice, the diminutive Pacific worm known as palolo gets to have sex. After waiting patiently all year for a mysteriously preset date in October or November, males and females alike orgasmically release their sexual organs into the ocean. These tiny pink and blue-green spaghetti-like strands wriggle gaily through the night in a biological orgy, to then dissolve in the morning sunlight releasing the sperm and eggs held inside - Pacific procreation.

Probably to the displeasure of these creatures, Samoans have developed quite a taste for this rare island treat. Known by many names "balolo" to Fijians, eunice viridis, an annelid worm, to scientists - the "worms" are harvested by eager connoisseurs in the dark predawn during a palolo rise.

I am fortunate enough, or unfortunate, depending on your palate, to visit Samoa during this time, and I am not only obliged to sample this delicacy, but to get myself out of bed in the middle of the night for the tapalolo (palolo fishing) as well. Armed with a cloth net and a flashlight to attract the palolo - they have a lone, light-sensitive "eye" - I help scoop mounds of these creatures into the boats, if, that is, they aren't eaten raw by the handful at the moment of capture.

To take part in this tradition based on coitus wormus, I have traveled to the tropical destination of Samoa. Formerly known as Western Samoa, it is home to many attractions that make a visit worthwhile - unspoiled white sand, on-the-beach accommodation, a rising surfing reputation, and perhaps the most well-preserved of the Polynesian cultures. Samoa also has its share of other unique practices as well - fire-knife dancing, body tattooing for men and women, kava drinking ceremonies, and the ever popular faíafafine - a thriving subculture of transsexuals. But palolo, that's something else. It only happens once a year.

These little "worms" are actually only the detached back portion of the actual 12-inch long worm. This epitoke is the portion containing the reproductive gametes. These creatures burrow in the coral reef, rarely to emerge, and then release their vital parts all in synchronized perfection. Predicting this marine group-sex event is as much an art as a science. Some watch the flowering of the mosoíoi tree or the behavior of coconut crabs as a sign, and others rely on the smell from the reef or weather patterns or moon phases. Regardless of any individual's claim to the perfect sign of palolo foreplay, everyone starts watching in October, when the first rising always occurs. If this is weak showing, then a second rising can be expected in November. Of course, just to keep everyone guessing, this differs between the islands as well.

The morning after the palolo harvest, even for those who didn't take part in the late-night sex-party crashing, there is plenty of the overpriced delicacy at the market. Even restaurants like the Gourmet Seafood, inappropriately named but charming, have an added handwritten special on their board today - Fried Palolo on Toast. Sauteed with a little butter and onion, the palolo takes on a translucent green quality making it even harder to swallow for some, even more delicious for others.

As much as a worm's sex organs may not sound appealing to some weak-stomached individuals, most people in the Samoan islands can't wait until those crazy worms do their business each year. It is not just an item to be bought, sold, and eaten, but also to be prayed for and revered. By getting to the islands during a rising, I am delighted by a nighttime spectacle and a mealtime treat unlike any other. And when it is all said and done, as the locals and I enjoy the salty, tart "caviar of the Pacific" the poor palolo, probably exhausted and craving a cigarette, must wait twelve more months to have their fun again.

: Re: Palolo: treat in the sea under the waning moon
: ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:47:45 PM
Palolo has an scary looking head, but you don't catch or eat that part.
They are like textured spaghetti, and go down easily despite that fact that they move around a little until they are chewed. They are two-color, tan and blue-green when you first catch them.

Just spread your fingers and scoop them out  of the shallows over the coral and slide it into your mouth. Usually it is pretty dark unless you have a lantern.   You get a little sea salt on your palolo pasta and it is surprisingly easy to partake.

If you have a net you can fill a bucket and be a hero with your friends back on the beach.  They are best fresh, but you can freezwe them to to extend the joy fora  few months before another palolo run may come.

: Re: Palollo: rare treat in the sea under the moon
: ipacific March 01, 2010, 04:53:44 PM (

The guys at seapics have somenice pictures from American Samoa of the palolo.

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