Strange blue blobs are mysteriously washing up on the shore across California. “Along the U.S. Pacific coast, droves of alien creatures about the size of a doughnut are washing up on beaches and leaving a mat of briefly blue debris that soon fades to a crackly white—hiding just how bizarre these animals are,” Scientific American writes.
NPR explains that the “tiny disc-like critters are colonial hydrozoans, classified under the phylum of cnidaria, and their eponymous genus of Velella.
Formally titled the Velella velella, you may know them as by-the-wind sailors. The sailors are a couple of inches long, and vary in striking shades of cobalt and baby blue while they’re alive. They have a similar build to jellyfish, but have a small sail protruding from their bell, explaining the name and their migratory patterns.
California beachgoers have reported seeing thousands of the Velella velella along the shoreline recently, though they typically live far offshore.”
Meet Vellela vellela, or By-the-wind-sailor!
These have been washing ashore #CrystalCove lately.
They are related to #seajellies but are not #jellyfish themselves. They are #hydroids w/ stinging #tentacles they use to paralyze #plankton for food. Notice their “sails” up top. pic.twitter.com/cO0HftuNxr
— CAStateParksOC (@CAStateParksOC) April 10, 2023
If you’ve been to a beach, you may have walked on them and not even realized it. Scientific American continued: “Most people experience them as some kind of weird, off-white, old-toenail-color crunchiness that you walk on on the beach,” says Julia Parrish, a marine ecologist at the University of Washington. “They have no idea that they’re actually walking across billions and billions of organisms.”
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The Daily Mail reported that “marine experts say the Velella velella often show up on beaches after strong winds push them ashore. California’s recent spate of strong storms is likely a factor in their arrival this time around.
Each batch of young has some animals with a right-hand sail and some with a left-hand sail. This ensures they don’t all get blown in the one direction at the same time.
They are found in open waters but may drift near shore due to tides and winds. The sail allows the organism to catch the wind and travel on ocean currents, using its stinging tentacles to prey on young fish and other small animals while it travels.”
Although by-the-wind sailors are intriguing to look at, it’s best to resist the urge to approach them. According to experts, their stings pose little to no threat to humans or pets, but could cause skin irritation. So, it’s better to just admire them from a safe distance.
SF Gate writes, “if you see them wash up on a beach near you, don’t be alarmed. Steven Haddock, a marine biologist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute who runs Jellywatch, a website dedicated to tracking sightings of jellyfish and related species, said the number of by-the-wind sailors that wash ashore can be very high, reaching the trillions. It’s not at all out of the ordinary, he said — it’s just the nature of their complex life cycle.”
We’re just glad it’s not aliens.