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Climate and Environment

What We Know About The Odd Blue Creatures Washing Ashore On SoCal Beaches

A blue gelatinous object sits in the sand
Thousands of velella velella have washed up on SoCal beaches, all thanks to the historic winter storms earlier this year.
(Mickilu/Getty Images
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Thousands of velella velella — strange, blue jellyfish-like creatures — have been seen up and down Southern California's shores this weekend.

Why that's unusual

These small creatures usually live in the open ocean about 100 miles offshore. However, brisk winds from the onslaught of recent storms have swept them onto Zuma Beach down through Manhattan Beach, into Huntington Beach and beyond. The storms have also caused larger algae blooms — which the creatures feed on — causing an uptick in their population.

Another possible reason for their mass stranding could be climate change. Research from the University of Washington found that there have been higher strandings reported as the Earth gets warmer.

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About these creatures

David Ginsburg, a professor of environmental studies at USC, explains that they are also known as "By-The-Wind Sailors," a nickname given to them due to their movement being at the mercy of the wind.

“Well, they are small jellyfish that essentially have a little flap of tissue that allows them to sort of act as a sail and they can blow across the water,” says Ginsburg. “And sometimes people think that they look a little bit like a Portuguese Man O' War, which is a type of jellyfish that could give you a pretty nasty sting. But these, these are not actually.”

They aren't dangerous

So while they might look intimidating, they are relatively harmless. They can sting, but aren't poisonous. Ginsburg says they have a sort of plasticky feel to them, a bit like acetate.

“This is an animal that was living in the pelagic ocean that's been blown in. And it's, you know, really kind of one of the few opportunities a lot of people would ever get a chance to see this kind of animal. So I think that’s pretty neat," he said.

What's next

The velella velella will remain on local shores until eventually (sadly) drying up underneath the sun. Another flash mob of the blue blobs could happen again, but another exceptional wind event and algae bloom must coincide.

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