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Kooky Purple Creatures Return to Oregon Coast: Velella Velella

Published 04/23/2019 at 4:53 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Kooky Purple Creatures Return to Oregon Coast: Velella Velella

(Oregon Coast) – Theyyyyy’re baaaack.

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The infamous (and famously beautiful) velella velella are starting to hit the Oregon coast again. Also known as Purple Sails or By-the-Wind-Sailors, the freaky little fishy-smelling creatures aren’t showing up in great numbers, not like many years in the past when the beaches have been carpeted with them. (Photo above: a washed out velella velella, courtesy Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium).

So far, Seaside Aquarium and the Friends of Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach have noticed them, and a member of volunteer organization CoastWatch spotted some in and around the Fort Stevens area. They’ve been documented at Hug Point in recent days as well, and Oregon Coast Beach Connection readers are chiming in and reporting them at Lincoln City and Newport recently.

It is now a good opportunity to start looking for them on any beach.

These creatures begin popping up when west winds kick in and the right currents have brought them closer to shore. 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 sands of the Oregon coast.

Velella velella are closely related to salps, which are gelatinous in texture as well – but it doesn’t mean that either creatures are related to jellyfish. They’re biologically more connected to mammals, strangely enough.

They are, however, closely related to the Man-O-War, which is a larger salp that can sting and poke humans. Luckily, those don’t exist on this shoreline. Velella velella do not sting or prick humans in any way. While they do have that capability for smaller organisms, they’re sting isn’t nearly strong enough to be felt by humans.

Even so, Oregon officials say you should not walk on them barefoot or touch them. The issue there is that they are a rotting organism on the beach which can carry infection.

Purple Sails popped up on and off in the years just before and after 2000, really making a striking display at times. This was just as the Internet and Oregon coast publications began paying attention to them, so they really only became somewhat known then.

In the early 2000s through to almost 2010, they mysteriously stopped showing up. Since then they’ve appeared rather regularly, sometimes in more enormous numbers than usual. By this time, cellphones and other media formats on the Net turned them into a well-known sensation.

Only when they’ve first washed up do they have that distinct purple color, but after a day or so on the beach they lose their hues and become translucent. Another characteristic of their manifestation: they unfortunately begin to stink really badly if they’re lying around in the sun for more than a day or two and the tide hasn’t washed them away. Velella velella are notorious for occasionally stinking so bad that motorists driving by the beaches have to roll their windows up. Photos below courtesy Seaside Aquarium:

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