What is THAT on the beach?! If you think it looks odd, wait until you smell it
NEWPORT, Ore. - Beachcombers may encounter "alarming quantities" of organisms washed ashore by recent winds, Oregon Coast Aquarium staff said.
Don't be alarmed.
The jelly-like creatures are velella velella, commonly known as "by-the-wind sailors."
The name comes from the triangular sail fixed atop the organism.
The wind normally pushes the creatures away from shore.
Velella velella in different parts of the world's ocean have "sails" angled in different ways suited to that location, aquarium staff said.
"Despite Velella’s simple yet effective sail, heavier winds during the spring and summer months may nevertheless cause mass strandings of these animals," the aquarium said in a statement. "During such conditions, it isn’t uncommon to see miles and miles of Oregon beach carpeted with stinking heaps of Velella, which quickly die and decay on shore, turning from a metallic blue to a lifeless white."
So maybe you should be alarmed. By the smell.
Still, there's ample opportunity to indulge your curiosity.
Consider these FAQs answered by aquarium staff.
WHAT DO THEY EAT? "By-the-wind sailors feed mainly on plankton drifting near the ocean’s surface. They capture these tiny animals by stinging them with barb-tipped cells contained within their tentacles."
ARE THEY DANGEROUS? Yes - and no. "Their venom is considered harmless to human beings, but beachcombers are cautioned not to touch any jellies or jelly-like animals found washed up on shore, as some may react more strongly to the venom than others. Other, more dangerous jellies might also be mixed in with Velella."
ARE THEY JELLY FISH? No. "Although originally classified as a jelly, current research suggests that by-the-wind sailors are actually a unique species of large hydrozoan (a class of predatory animals, distantly related to corals, sea anemones and jellies, which live mostly in salt water)."
DO THEY LIVE IN GROUPS? "By-the-wind-sailors are not singular organisms but in fact colonies of animals. Each Velella is a colony of all-male or all-female individuals (called polyps), which are divided into separate groups within the colony. Some polyps specialize in feeding and reproduction, while others protect the colony and provide structural support. All polyps of an individual Velella are connected by a canal system that distributes food and eliminates wastes."