Southern California

Velella Velella, Jellyfish-Like Creatures, Washing Up on SoCal Shores

Beachgoers might be surprised to find these creatures in the sand along the shoreline

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They’re blue and purple, they can sting and they’re washing up on the shores of Southern California.

No, these aren’t jellyfish, though they kind of look like them. The jellyfish-esque animals, also known as cnidarians, have been washing ashore by the thousands on beaches from Zuma to Manhattan and south to Huntington, according to some reports.

Experts say it's unusual because the creatures, often called “by-the-wind sailors” and Velella velella, typically live way offshore, sometimes as far as a hundred miles out.

Whatever you call them, experts say enjoy the way they look, but try not to touch, since they have stinging tentacles that hang down to catch plankton.

“I picked it up anyway, stupidly, because now I'm told I could've gotten stung, but I didn't,” Encinitas resident Jane Hendrix said.

Another bit of advice: don't touch your face if you've touched one; the residue can stay on your fingers and potentially hurt your eyes or mouth if you touch them.

“It's beautiful at nighttime, when they come up and the waves come with them,” Tustin resident Tiffany LeFever said.


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One of the reasons they’re so close to shore is recent storms: water runoff has caused algae blooms up and down the coast, meaning bigger colonies of plankton for verella verella to feed on.

Climate change is another. Ocean experts say changing – and stronger – wind patterns may be pushing the little sails on the creatures and bringing them to the shore.

“A lot of the normal jellies, they'll actually reproduce sitting on the ocean floor. What these guys have decided to do is, kind of, swap upside down and use the ocean surface to reproduce. So it's a very cool adaptation,” said Josh Wagner, an expert on "jellies” at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

He said that in the spring, Velella velella can be found as far north as Alaska.

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