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Purple Velella Velella Start Their Gooey Return to Oregon Coast

Published 03/29/2017 at 5:03 AM PDT - Updated 03/29/2017 at 5:13 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Velella Velella Start Their Purple-Bodied Return to Oregon Coast

(Oregon Coast) – Those strange, little – but now-familiar – faces and purple / blue tops have returned to Oregon coast beaches. Velella velella have started showing up rather early in the season in great numbers, although this time they're quite tiny. They started popping up in small amounts and even tinier sizes already back in February, but now it looks like they're coming in for a major showing. (Photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Reports this week have them in big numbers in Newport and Cannon Beach, covering the beach almost completely in many spots. Other areas report sporadic numbers, like Seaside.

However, they are all clearly young ones as they are quite small. Most that appear on these beaches are around the size of a silver dollar or just a bit bigger. These are often smaller than a penny.

Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium said this doesn't surprise her as many of the winds have been from the west in recent weeks, which is what it takes to bring them in such large amounts. She also said that by late April she expects a huge surge.

“I think that by Earth Day we'll have a ton of them,” Boothe said.

Velella velella are closely related to salps, which in some ways are like jellyfish in that they too are gelatinous in nature. But biologically salps have more in common with mammals than jellyfish. They don't sting at all, but they are more closely related to the Man-O-War – a kind of salp that does sting prey and humans.

These little guys capture the phytoplankton they eat with tiny tentacles.

Normally called velella velella, they are also referred to as By-the-Wind-Sailors or Purple Sails. They have no real means of propelling themselves, so they are at the mercy of the winds. If it's westerly winds pushing onshore for awhile, the seas draw them onto the Oregon coast's sands.

It is unknown why they appear more in some years and less than others.

While they can't hurt you, officials say you should not touch them or walk on them barefoot. They are, after all, something formerly alive that's now rotting on the beach.

The Purple Sails first started appearing in such a magnitude in many springs of the early 2000's, which seemed to a surprise many back then as most experts hadn't encountered those large populations before. Then, about 2007, they stopped showing up. By 2015, they were erupting everywhere again, having created quite a sight since.

Back in the 2000's, they made the news periodically but it didn't have the same effect. There weren't any cellphones like there are now to capture photos of these wild incidents. In more recent years, of course, the rise of social media has created a much bigger stir, and many more beachgoers have come to know what they are.

Of course, the big downside of these Purple Sails is the stench they create. After a couple of days, especially if the sun shines on them for awhile, they begin to stink. Sometimes it's nearly unbearable and you find you have to drive past some Oregon coast beaches with your window rolled up.

In April of 2006, this was so bad that the Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce reported the number one question they’d been receiving from visitors was “what is that fishy smell?”

Now, the strange find that's slowly being discovered by the masses are the strange-looking pyrosomes. They too are related to salps, and show up on the beaches as tube-like objects that resemble plastic. Where to stay for this - Where to eat - Map and Virtual Tour







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