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Everyone Can Calm Down: These Little Sea Rafts are Normal

Everyone Can Calm Down: These Little Sea Rafts are Normal

California’s beaches are turning purple with the bodies of dead sea creatures, and members of the public as well as the media are panicking. What’s going on? Is the world coming to an end? What’s happening to cause this unprecedented bloom, and is it a sign of something more sinister?

Actually, no — though the increased media attention and public concern are unusual, there’s nothing weird about these particular beach visitors.

They look like jellyfish, but these marine organisms actually aren’t — not that it makes much of a difference to many people walking on beaches along the West Coast of the United States. By-the-wind sailors (also known as Sea Rafts, or Velella velella) are washing ashore in droves, and some media outlets, as well as members of the public, are wondering where they came from and what’s driving them on to shore. No, it’s not an alien invasion, although you might be forgiven for thinking so when you see beaches covered in the tiny blue-purple animals.

The life of Velella velella starts in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when hundreds of creatures get together to form a colony, creating what’s known as a hydrozoan, and these creatures are carried by wind patterns (hence their common name) to cluster in mass colonies off the shores of the West Coast. Such blooms are in fact common, especially in the summer, and some organisms do wash on shore, but usually not in such unprecedented numbers, or this late. Social media, however, are exploding with reports of the tiny creatures, but in fact, scientists say, the perfectly earthly visitors have a reasonable explanation.

Doctor Rick Mooi, responding to a query from the San Jose Mercury News, said that:

“[Strandings] are common, happen to a certain degree pretty much every year, and have been happening for a long time, probably even long before there were humans here to notice it. Some years there are more washing up than in other years, this just seems to be a good year for it…[They are] also not a special indicator of ‘something wrong’ with the ocean or its ecosystems. Stuff happens, and this just seems to be a good year for Velella to wash up (but not a good year for those particular Velella, of course).”

So go the facts of life; Velella velella are being blown ashore by winds, which are highly variable, because they live at the mercy of the wind, moving by means of the sails embedded into their bodies. Unfortunately for them, once they get on shore, they can’t catch a ride back out to the ocean, and they dry out quickly. Like many marine organisms, their bodies don’t retain water because they’re surrounded by it, and they have no evolutionary reason to do so. Even the wind patterns associated with their movement on shore aren’t necessarily a precedent for something ominous, because wind patterns do change, and aren’t necessarily linked with climate change or other environmental events.

In the meantime, beachgoers might want to avoid handling these dying beach residents. In addition to being a bit unpleasant to touch, they also carry a venom that can irritate mucous membranes. While accidentally stepping on or touching a by-the-wind sailor isn’t going to result in a painful episode, handling them and thoughtlessly touching the eyes, nose, or mouth might result in an unhappy experience. For those who do come into contact with a by-the-wind sailor, it’s a good idea to wash thoroughly with cool water and soap, and those who notice irritation should contact a doctor.

The situation is a classic example of a normal environmental phenomenon blown out of proportion by concerned members of the public and media trafficking on what seems like a good story. When something seemingly unusual happens in the environment, it may have a lot of explanations — and not all of them are sinister. Sometimes, all it means is that you never noticed that particular iteration of the natural world before.

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Photo credit: Dan.

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58 comments

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3:43AM PDT on Sep 26, 2014

I live in Malta and we had a few days this summer were certain beaches were covered in them! Not something I had ever seen before. I do hope you are right in saying that this is just a normal thing to happen.

2:39PM PDT on Aug 17, 2014

Thank you, very interesting for me.

4:15AM PDT on Aug 15, 2014

I know that this does happen. We see them on the beaches in British Columbia as well, but usualy not in these numbers.

8:29PM PDT on Aug 14, 2014

No, haven't heard of these.

5:59AM PDT on Aug 14, 2014

Thank you.

2:40AM PDT on Aug 14, 2014

ty

10:39PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

Poor creatures...

10:32PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

This article is incredible bullshit. The oceans are DYING. The Pacific is going first but the contribution of FUKU to this planet is a death knell. Brought to you by the psychopaths that are running this planet. PSYCHOPATHS. A death cult. Like most religions seems to be also. What is YOUR gut instinct to all that you are seeing? Huge die-offs of fish and mammals in the seas? Huge uptick in birth defects caused by radiation poisoning. Do some reading if you can handle it. Check out enenews.com. This is what a ELE looks like. Show some love to your people and your planet. And recognize that consciousness is FOREVER. We are an electrical force. It goes on forever. Fill your heart with love and show you're not a psychopath.

9:52PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

Or...maybe they are actually little alien creatures from outer space that have landed on our shores and are just waiting for us foolish humans to let our guard down so they can take over our puny planet. Ha! Makes more sense than anything at all coming from the Tea Baggers anyway.

9:20PM PDT on Aug 13, 2014

pffft NORMAL, yeah right, normal according to NWO?????

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