NEWPORT— The Oregon coastline is again experiencing a “blue tide,” when beaches are strewn with an aquamarine layer of jelly-like organisms. Each spring, there are innumerable bodies of by-the-wind sailors or Velella velella, and their strandings are a regular, but still fascinating phenomenon on the coast.
Ranging in size from a few millimeters across to 7 centimeters, these brilliant blue and purple animals sometimes wash up on the beaches in alarming quantities, this “blue tide” poses far less of a risk to animals and people than the red variety.
The common name of these gelatinous creatures — by-the-wind sailor — refers to the clear, triangular sail at the top of the animal’s body which catches the wind and propels it across the surface. Short tentacles hang from the underside of the sail. Found in all the world’s oceans, these animals have no independent form of movement and will drift at the whim of the breeze.
Despite Velella’s simple yet effective sail, heavier winds during the spring and summer months may nevertheless cause mass strandings. During such conditions, it isn’t uncommon to see miles and miles of Oregon beach carpeted with stinking heaps of Velella, which quickly die and decay on shore, turning from a metallic blue to a lifeless white.