The winds shifted and the bright blue jelly-like creatures sailed to shore, creating wonder for those who came across the exotic “by-the-wind sailors” at beaches from Oceanside to Pismo, over the past week.
Locally, the Velella velellas were spotted on the sand in San Pedro, at the Balboa Pier in Newport Beach, in Dana Point and near San Clemente. Beachgoers took to social media to inquire about them, wondering if they sting like their cousins, the jellyfish.
“They won’t bother anybody. They are just small bluish animals, really hard to spot, people probably won’t even notice them,” said Jeff Landesman, chief aquarist for the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro, who noticed a handful washed up dead near the aquarium. “They aren’t harmful or anything.”
Others were seen bobbing offshore in waters off Malibu and further out near Catalina Island – signaling that more could be washing up on beaches in days to come, depending on how the wind blows.
“Wind drives them everywhere — the currents and wind are what really pushes these guys,” said Landesman. “That’s why they call them what they are. They have that little flap on top, and the winds push them.”
Though they haven’t washed up in masses as they did from 2014 to 2016, when they came to shore in piles as far north as Washington, their sporadic appearance offers a glimpse at creatures that don’t frequent local waters very often.
“Every now and then, the wind direction will change and blow them close to shore,” said Dave Bader, director of education for the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. “They have sails, they drift about at sea. Their typical home is the open ocean. The prevailing wind typically keeps them out to sea where they want to live. Every now and then, the wind direction will change and blow them close to shore.”
The by-the-wind sailors don’t swim, rather they sail on the ocean’s surface. Some turn clear when they wash up dead.
“That clear part, the sail, that’s a structure the organism secretes. The blue part, the sticky blue part, is the flesh and tissues,” Bader said.
Though they don’t sting, some people who come in contact with them may get a mild skin irritation.
“They are sort of like daddy long-leg spiders. They are spiders, but no one has to worry about getting bit by them,” he said.
By-the-wind sailors do have venom, but their stings generally aren’t harmful to humans. People are advised to avoid them, however, because stings can cause mild skin irritation.
Todd Mansur, a captain for Dana Wharf Sportfishing, first spotted them last week during an overnight charter at San Clemente Island, about 50 miles from the Dana Point coast.
“It was like having lilies on a pond completely cover the water,” Mansur said last week.
The by-the-wind sailors are like the pelagic red crabs that sometimes show up in piles, and the sweet potato cucumbers that appeared on shore not long ago. They all exist in abundance far offshore — it’s only when they come to shore by wind or current that we get to see them, Bader said.
“These are things that exist, they happen quite commonly where they are common,” Bader said. “But it’s the uncommon event that brings them into view – and lets us know the ocean is a pretty cool place.”