Strange jellies washing up on LA beaches


This weird, weird Pacific wildlife season continues with the arrival in the local surf of by-the-wind sailors, or Velella velella, a type of jelly related to the Portuguese man-of-war. Crucially, the velella's sting is nothing like the man-of-war — barely discernible if at all — but Heal the Bay warns just don't rub your eyes after touching one on the beach. From Tara Crow, programs manager at the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium:

We knew they were coming. We’d heard reports of them washing ashore in San Francisco last month, then reports of them hitting some of the southern beaches in the Bay last week. Finally, this weekend, the velellas arrived at the Santa Monica Pier. I’ve been with the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium since 1999 and this is only the third time I can remember seeing velellas on our beaches, so it is definitely a rare sight to be enjoyed and taken advantage of...

Each velella is actually a colony of tiny hydroids working together to create one whole organism. The base of the velella is an amazing cobalt blue and works as a float with stingers across the bottom to catch its plankton food. The top of the velella is a clear sail that looks almost like plastic. The sails catch the wind and takes these organisms all over the world. When the winds and currents move in our direction, we can end up with an event like we’re seeing now, with millions of velellas washing up on beaches all over the state -- and as far north as Oregon. The fact that velellas are showing up now is probably an indicator of the El Niño event that is expected later this year.

A juvenile gray whale, by the way, has been spotted inside the Long Beach-LA harbor breakwater. Wrong season for a young gray whale to be here — this year's calves are back in Alaskan waters by now — but it happens. Per Pete Thomas Outdoors, whale researcher Alisa Schulman-Janiger posted Friday on Facebook:

"NOAA is asking for vessels to please keep give this whale some breathing space. It may decide to linger in our harbor for a time, possibly feeding on benthic (bottom) fauna; in the 1980's, a young gray whale stayed and fed in Long Beach Harbor for four months!"

More by Kevin Roderick:
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