Purple Critters Mysteriously Return to Oregon Coast After Absence
(Oregon Coast) – Something that hasn't been seen for a while on these beaches has returned – almost as mysteriously as it disappeared ten years ago. The Purple Sails are back, cast up on the beaches of the Oregon coast in various areas and getting ready to wear out their initially lovely little welcome as they start to rot and stink.
Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium sent along these photos and observations from the Seaside area over this weekend.
The Siuslaw News out of Florence is reporting heavy strandings around Florence, Coos Bay and up towards Yachats. Facebook has lit up with finds around Lincoln City and Cannon Beach, among other beach areas.
“While walking along the beach, you may have noticed slimy, iridescent blue discs,” Boothe said. “These discs are a type of animal called Velella velella, commonly known as Purple Sails or By-The-Wind Sailors. Purple Sails have a clear 'sail' that catches the wind and pushes them across the ocean’s surface. When the wind blows from the west, these little guys get stranded on the beach.”
They show up periodically, usually in the spring and summer months. In recent years they've been on the rarer side, however, while in the early 2000's you'd have many years where they washed up quite often around that change of season. The strandings would get really heavy and then – well, extremely smelly.
Once the little creatures dried out they started to rot quickly, and some days in the years between 1999 and 2005 would get awful and stifling with beaches emitting a nasty fishy odor. It was, at times, difficult to have your window down as you drove on Highway 101.
That has not happened for many years, and in fact it seems like the Purple Sails had virtually disappeared since 2006 or earlier.
Or at least, there used to be a lot more of them - with a higher frequency.
Boothe said once they're ashore they become food for beach-dwelling creatures or dry up quickly.
“Purple Sails do not sting their prey; they capture their food with small sticky tentacles,” Boothe said. “Velellas feed on fish eggs and small planktonic copepods. Found in most oceans, Purple Sails are frequent visitors to the Oregon coast. They can reach a size of 4 inches in length and 3 inches in width.”
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