I’d never heard of this little creature before we found a beach full of them during our summer visit to Washington’s Olympic Peninsula but I’ve since learned we stumbled upon a rare summer beaching of thousands of Velella Velella.
Millions of tiny blue sea creatures are washing up on beaches along the Pacific Northwest for the first time in years, igniting the curiosity of beach-goers from California to Oregon.
At first glance the creatures resemble something like a jellyfish, but according to Jim Watanabe, a lecturer at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, they’re actually a much different invertebrate known as a velella velella.
“In terms of taxonomy, they are as different from jellyfish as mammals and birds would be among vertebrates,” Watanabe told the San Francisco Chronicle
Unlike jellyfish, velellas float along the surface of the water and use a sail-like anatomy to catch shifting winds, blowing them about the ocean like a tiny blue catboat. The creatures float face down and use a dangling tentacle-like apparatus to snatch up and eat zooplankton and small fish, NBC Bay Area reports.
Normally, the velellas hangout just offshore, but as Watanabe notes, changes in wind patterns can push the critters onto beaches and out of the water.
That’s certainly been the case this summer. Some tweets place the velella velella hoards as far north as British Columbia, Canada. Some of the earliest reports came in early July, when sightings of a blue mass first popped-up along beaches in Oregon, according to KING5.
“We saw probably this population about 40 to 50 kilometers offshore and they just covered the sea surface,” NOAA Fisheries Biologist Curtis Roegner told Washington’s KING5. “There were millions and millions of them as far as we could see. It was quite impressive.”
Now, the velellas are showing up much further south, along beaches in California, for the first time in years.
“It’s been eight years, plus or minus, that we’ve seen them,” Monterey Bay Whale Watch marine biologist Nancy Black told the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
But the creatures are there in great force now, with more and more blowing ashore each day. And while the sight of a clump of blue, alien-like creatures might strike fear into your heart, the velellas are very much dead without water and pose no threat to humans.
Published Jul 31 2014 04:46 PM EDT