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Bizarre Finds on Oregon Coast: Pyrosomes, Dolphin, Deformed Velella, Freaky Jellies

Published 11/18/2017 at 5:45 PM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Bizarre Finds on Oregon Coast: Pyrosomes, Dolphin, Deformed Velella, Freaky Jellies

(Seaside, Oregon) – It's insanely early to find them, but velella velella and pyrosomes have been spotted on the Oregon coast. Tiffany Boothe, of Seaside Aquarium, made a host of unusual finds in the last 48 hours, including velella (otherwise known as Purple Sails, Purple Sailors or by-the-wind sailors) that were strangely deformed, a dolphin, weird jellyfish called medusas and even some live oysters. (All photos courtesy Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).

The Purple Sails and pyrosomes were all very small, indicative of how young they are at this point in the year. These were found at Seaside, Gearhart, Del Rey Beach, Fort Stevens and at Arcadia Beach, near Cannon Beach.

In Seaside, Boothe and the crew discovered two that were deformed, with part of a second sail up top instead of just one.

Fawn Custer, a Seal Rock resident who is a local scientist and the volunteer coordinator for CoastWatch, said finding velella this early in the year is rather remarkable, and the deformed ones are just plain “weird.” Mutations are a regular occurrence in nature, however.

“Happens all the time,” Custer said. “That's why we have children born with random mutations. When the DNA is forming maybe it misses some loops.”

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Mutations are one possibility, but just as likely is the fact velella are colonial hydrozoids and this is a facet of their early development.

“They start out as microscopic jellies, then they go through a metamorphosis to become a body part,” Custer said.

In this case, they are a type of hyrdozoa which start out as tiny jellies but then morph into larger clumps that in turn morph into body parts of the purple sail – what scientists call a colony. They become the sail or one of its other parts. The deformity could be a glitch of that part of their early life.

“It's very early to see them so maybe they're still forming colonies,” she said.

Normally, velella don't show up until spring, but Custer did find some last March, and what was happening with them at such an early development stage back then lends evidence to what's happening now.

Striped dolphin found near Astoria, photo Seaside Aquarium

“They showed up last year in March, which was very early,” Custer said. “And I scooped up a few off the beach and examined them. I found these were still in metamorphosis and that was really interesting.”

Of course, the inevitable (and often laughably conspiratorial) questions arise about radiation leaked into the Pacific from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan back in 2011. Custer and Boothe dismiss those, as no credible evidence regarding mutations – including smaller organisms – has ever been found, even in the waters off Japan. Real life is not a Godzilla movie.

Also found by Boothe and the Aquarium crew were the remnants of hatched eggs from Western Nassas (a kind of mollusk), and the really weird Red-Eyed Medusas.

“We found a dozen live bay oysters on the beach near the Peter Iredale!,” Boothe said. “Finally we made it to our stranding call: a six-foot striped dolphin had washed ashore near the South Jetty. The animal was already dead when it came ashore. We recovered the dolphin and will be transferred up to Portland State University where Dr. Debbie Duffield will do a necropsy on it to see if she can determine the cause of death.”

Numerous others along the Oregon coast are reporting finding small velella velella and pyrosomes. Where to stay to look for these creatures - Where to eat - Maps and Virtual Tours More of these creatures below:

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Tiny Velella and pyrosome

Above and below: a red-eyed Medusa jellyfish

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