Perched at the northwestern entrance of the Bay of Biscay, Penmarch is a sleepy little French port town best known for Phare d'Eckmühl, a 19th century granite lighthouse that, at 213 feet, is amongst the tallest lighthouses in the world. (Open to the public, Phare d'Eckmühl is so iconic that there’s a popular line of canned cod liver named in its honor. Mmmmm. Canned cod liver.) Throw in plenty of thatched cottages and peaked boatman’s caps and you’ve got yourself typical coastal Brittany.
But thanks to a rather foul natural phenomena recently captured on video, Penmarch, quaint and historic Penmarch, is now likely to be known as a town besieged by sea foam — massive, road-engulfing waves of burbling gray sea foam.
The GIF-spawning video, filmed just last week by a particularly brave soul, depicts what happens when the fierce winds produced by Storm Imogen transformed the Atlantic into a variable washing machine. Just replace your standard liquid detergent with a mélange of sea salt, proteins, fats, pollution and dead algae, churn it all together in one incredibly tumultuous sea and voila … sea foam is born.
While sea foam production isn’t necessarily a bad thing — in fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) describes it as an “indication of a productive ocean ecosystem” — the density and sheer amount of sea foam that overtook the streets and sidewalks of Penmarch's main fishing port, Saint Guénolé, suggests that there are large blooms of decaying algal matter lurking offshore.
If anything, the video demonstrates that the good people of Penmarch are somewhat accustomed to sea foam-y disruptions. You can hear a bit of shrieking at one point but the denizens of Penmarch certainly aren’t running for the hills — or to atop the lighthouse — as if they are living in a nightmarish Breton version of “The Blob.” Instead, they’re standing around filming it. Even letting their kids wade around in the quivering, sardine-scented mass. It’s like a snow day but 100 percent more disgusting.
In January, Business Insider shared a video of another bubbly sea foam blitz overtaking Penmarch.
In March 2014, a storm named Christine (or not) also brought some serious bain moussant action to the streets of Penmarch.
And I wouldn’t call it good company, but Penmarch is in some kind of company. Here’s a video shot in November during the height of Storm Abigail in Blackpool, a British seaside resort town where you'll also find plenty of foam parties of the non-oceanic variety:
Hold on to your hats folks: Here's Maroochydore, Australia in 2013:
And how can I forget the agitated seawater-based insanity unleashed on Ocean City, Maryland, by Hurricane Irene in 2011. “It doesn’t sting a whole lot. It feels kind of soapy … but it doesn’t smell great.”
By the way, Tucker Barnes, a meteorologist for Washington, D.C.-based Fox affiliate WTTG, ultimately emerged from that particularly frothy deluge of spume unscathed. Likely highly traumatized, but unscathed. Pity the news van driver that had to sit next to him on the ride back ...