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By the Wind Sailor

Posted by Jody on August 23, 2014

Greg and I recently returned from another fantastic visit to the Bay Area (and points north).

Stinson Beach

Stinson Beach

While strolling Stinson Beach one perfect July afternoon, we happened upon a large number jelly-like oval-shaped creatures¬†washed up¬†on the sand. ūüė¶ They were the most¬†striking deep blue in color.¬†I recognized them right away, even though I had never seen one of¬†these¬†strange little¬†life forms¬†in person before.

By the Wind Sailors on Stinson Beach

By the Wind Sailors on Stinson Beach

By the Wind Sailors on Stinson Beach

By the Wind Sailors on Stinson Beach

Their¬†distinctive “sail” was the give-away!

By the Wind Sailor

By the Wind Sailor

By the Wind Sailor

By the Wind Sailor

Nobody (except¬†the scavenging gulls) seemed to pay them any mind at all. Harmless to humans, these amazing marine organisms¬†are called “by the wind sailors” (Velella velella ). They live on the surface of the ocean and can be found on both the¬†Atlantic coast and the¬†Pacific coast of the United States.¬†By the wind sailors are commonly seen scattered about the sands of Stinson Beach during the late spring and early summer, and along the west coast as far¬†north¬†as Washington State, when especially strong winds can cast counteless numbers of these ill-fated critters¬†ashore.

Look closely for the By the Wind Sailors.

Look closely for the By the Wind Sailors.

Harmless to humans: blue stinging tentacles around the rim.

Harmless to humans: blue stinging tentacles around the rim.

According to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s SIMoN website:

Velella velella is incredibly stabile and seaworthy by design. The sail is triangular, slightly thicker at its base, stiffened by superficial thickened ridges, and yet still quite flexible. This incredible design allows smooth bending when its sail is under load, recoiling when the wind lets up, and overall minimizes the risk of kinking. The whole animal tilts when under sail, hull broadside to the flow of oncoming water.

Velella velella drifts before the wind, almost always tacking about 45 degrees to the right of the prevailing northwesterlies. This is normally enough to keep them offshore, however southerly or extremely strong onshore winds can cause them to spin around and follow the wind at a much closer angle that brings them toward land. Once washed ashore, the animals die and disintegrate within a few days.

And here’s a little something extra for your next beach/trivia party! According to Oregon State University: The sail is set diagonally to the long axis of the animal. On our side of the north Pacific Ocean, their sails are set in a northwest to southeast direction. On the other side of the north Pacific, the sails are set in a northeast to southwest direction. In the southern hemisphere, sails are reversed.”

Apparently, 2014 has been a bang-up year for the beaching of these remarkable, translucent, ocean-going creatures. Stories of mass sightings abound.

Here are a¬†couple more¬†helpful links in case you’d like to learn more about the (often hyphenated) by-the-wind sailor.

Bay Nature.org

National Geographic.com

Serenity, Sand and (yes) Sharks of Stinson Beach (Stinson Beach)

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14 Responses to “By the Wind Sailor”

  1. That’s amazing! You show us the BEST stuff and even get educated in the process! I’ve never been to Stinson Beach, hub just looked at the pic and told me all about it without having read your post! He says they sail around – pretty cool. And we’re getting ready to go back to big sur, any suggestions about campsites or hikes???

  2. Remarkable. I’ve not heard of these before.

  3. Beautiful! I’ve never seen anything like them.

  4. Amazing things! Never heard of these before Рinteresting to learn a bit about them…. RH

  5. Fascinating info, and photos, Jody. I’ve never heard of these Wind Sailors before. ūüôā

  6. seapunk2 said

    I’ve been noticing the ‘sails’ all over our beaches lately, and wondered what creature they came from! Now I know. The seagulls must be having a field day!

  7. WOW! I love Stinson Beach but I didn’t know about these guys on the white sharks that patrol. You are SO smary!

  8. sorry i meant ‘only” the white sharks…..

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