Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Blue Phenomenom, My Encounter with Velella Velellas! Inspired by the Sea.

Bright blue Velella Velella mixed with other sea life
So if you live on the west coast of the United States or particularly in California or even on the west coast of Ireland, perhaps you saw this beautiful bright blue creature this past summer?
Unfortunately they were washing up by the hundreds all along the West Coast.  At first I thought...Wow! what on earth caused this phenomenon??  Was it caused by the radiation from Japan finally circulating our shores?  Or is it something else?  And what are they?  I've lived here all my life and never saw them.  But the color is gorgeous!!!  And of my business name suggests...anything blue catches my interest.

love the mustard color of sea weed mixed with the bright blue Velellas
Of course you know me by now...first thing I had to do was....well actually the second thing.  First I had to take pictures!!!  Wish I could share them all but I have things to do :)  So here are a few.  Anyways, the second thing was to go home and Google it!
these little guys already lost their sails :(
Of course Wikipedia gives a great scientific (hard to understand) description of what this beautiful creature/animal is and why they ended up on our shores.

"By the wind sailor"  see the clear sail?
"Velella is a cosmopolitan genus of free-floating hydrozoans that live on the surface of the open ocean. There is only one known species, Velella velella, in the genus. Velella velella is commonly known by the names sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. (Wiki)

They are carnivorous, they catch their prey by means of their little tentacles that hang down in the water, but they are very short so it only catches small surface fish and plankton, the mouth is located in the middle of the underside of the body and has no tentacles.

Will they harm you if you touch them?  They do contain toxins in their "nematocysts" which are harmful to their prey but not to humans.  Although everyone's sensitivity level varies so best not to touch eyes or face after touching them.  Could cause itching to the area that has been exposed. Besides ,we did touch them and they are kind of slimy and probably won't want to.

Off the Central Coast.  Shell Beach area.
I think it would be so cool to be out in the middle of the ocean on a sailboat and happen upon thousands of these just floating around together.  What a beautiful sight that would be.  If I were a painter I would love to paint that scene.  But why do they swarm up onto the beaches and then die? Because it is a kind of sad sight to see such beauty decomposing on our beaches.

Well as their name "by the wind sailors" suggests, they are governed by the wind.  Due to weather conditions the wind catches their sails and brings them to shore. Wiki says "Having no means of locomotion other than its sail, V. velella is at the mercy of prevailing winds for moving around the seas, and are thereby also subject to mass-strandings on beaches throughout the world. For example, most years in the spring, there is a mass stranding that occurs along the West Coast of North America, from British Columbia to California, beginning in the north and moving south over several weeks' time. In some years, so many animals are left at the tide line by receding waves, that the line of dying (and subsequently rotting) animals may be many centimetres deep, along hundreds of kilometres of beaches. Mass strandings have been reported also on the west coast of Ireland.

Here's some of my collection with the bright blue like V. Velellas
One thing I learned that I thought was so interesting is that the way the direction of the sail is placed on their body determines which coast it will end up on! 
"The sail, which is situated on a diagonal to the long axis of the Velella's body, is found to be diagonal in the direction of the northwest to southeast on specimens cast upon northeast Pacific beaches. The other form of velella, which occur on the western side of the Pacific and in the Western Hemisphere have the sail runing from northeast to southwest. Since the geographic range of velella also includes the Southern Hemisphere, the same strange distribution of the two forms takes place, although here they are reversed. Biologists speculate that both forms are mixed up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and are sorted by action of the wind. Due to the angle of the sail, which is 45' to the wind, southernly winds will push velella away from shore. But a strong wind will cause them to spin rapidly and follow the wind more closely."
Well that's my summer story!  It was fun to spend hours walking along the beach and observing this amazing animal.  We happened upon them as they were arriving on the shores so they were still very bright blue and had sails on still.  But as they start to decompose they begin to lose their color and turn clear.  So next spring if you are in the areas they wash up...keep your eyes open and your cameras handy!
Have a great day and go for a walk on the beach if you can!!
Renee of SomethingSeaBlue

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