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Weird Little Purple Critter Returns to Oregon Coast, by the Millions
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff
  Sunday March 6, 2016 - 5:47 PM
 
(Warrenton, Oregon) – They were reported seen in sizable numbers in mid-February down on the southern Oregon coast, and now they've completely carpeted one beach on the north coast this week. (Velella photos by Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

Velella velella have showed up again, definitely earlier than usual, and now in enormous numbers.

"The sand was saturated with millions of tiny velella velella's near the Peter Iredale Thursday," said Tiffany Boothe, with Seaside Aquarium.

She spotted an unusually large amount of the creatures this week, just before the weekend's big storms hit.

They are well known by the name velella velella, but sometimes called By-the-Wind-Sailors or Purple Sails. While technically not a jellyfish, they are closely related to them, but even more closely to the Man-O-War – a kind of jellyfish that does sting prey and humans. At about the size of a silver dollar or two, the Purple Sails that end up on the Oregon coast do not sting. These little guys capture what they eat with tiny tentacles.

About February 19, an Oregon Coast Beach Connection reader discovered a sizable amount of them – often smaller than usual – at Face Rock at Bandon. This marks an atypically early showing of the Purples Sails, which normally don't start showing until April or even June, if they show at all.

The little creatures were found in thick numbers during many springs in the early 2000s', then seemed to disappear after 2007. In 2014, they made a small return, but in 2015 they essentially erupted all over the beaches of the coastline in one enormous inundation after another.

Velella velella present some problems at times after such mass strandings, especially if there's a run of nice weather afterwards. The little discos dry up, lose their color and begin to rot on the beaches, creating an unpleasant odor.

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

"Purple Sails have clear a "sail' that helps them catch the wind," Boothe said. "However, when the wind blows out of the Northwest, these little guys get stranded on the beach. They feed on fish eggs and small planktonic copepods."

Consequently, it's unknown why they appear more in some years and less than others. For whatever reason, ocean conditions favor them in this area at times, and since they are simply blown along by the winds, westerly wind events will bring more of the populations in.

Boothe said they can be found in most oceans of the world, preferring warmer waters. They can reach sizes of four inches in length and three inches in width.

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