The small animals known as Vellela vellela to scientists and informally as “little sails” and “by-the-wind sailors” have been spotted beached en masse from Southern California to British Columbia since mid-July.
“They’ve been showing up on our beaches too,” said Keith Benson, fish and wildlife biologist with Redwood National and State Parks. Redwood Parks does not study Vellela since the mass beaching is “an infrequent occurrence, and they spend most of their life cycle a quarter mile offshore” away from the park, Benson said. But they have been seen on Redwood Parks beaches in the past.
“Our techs have seen them, and we’ve seen them before. It’s uncommon, but it happens — it’s not rare,” Benson said.
It’s normal for the small ocean animals to congregate near the coast in large numbers during the spring, but scientists have said it’s unusual for large numbers to wash ashore at the same time, especially this late in the summer.
The creatures live on the surface of the ocean and have a small ridge on their topside that acts like a sail.
Steve Rumrill, an expert at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, told Reuters that unusual winds seen this year could have caused the land-based presence of millions of “little sails.”
“This is a wind-driven event, and winds are unusual this year,” Rumrill told Reuters.
The Vellela can only last about one to two hours out of the water, after which they dry out and die, appearing as jellyfish-like potato chips.
Although commonly mistaken for a type of jellyfish because of their translucent, rubber-like appearance, Vellela are actually a combination of much smaller creatures, each performing individual tasks, that clump together to appear like a single organism.