Thousands of small blue sea creatures called velella velella have washed up on local beaches. It is a phenomenon that happens intermittently along the West Coast.
“About eight times a day people come up and ask us about them,” said Mac Reinhart, a Morro Bay lifeguard.
Reinhart said he has been with the department for three years and this is the first time he has seen them. They usually wash ashore every seven or eight years, he said.
The velellas have been reported on beaches throughout Northern and Central California as far north as the Oregon border. Also known as “by-the-wind sailors,” velella velella are jellyfish-like invertebrates that usually float far out to sea where they feed on plankton. They have a clear, triangular ridge on their backs that acts like a sail.
The right combination of wind patterns can drive them ashore, scientists say.
When velellas do come ashore, it’s usually not at this time of year, said Vince Cicero, a senior environmental scientist with State Parks. They normally arrive in the spring, driven ashore by strong gusting winds.
Cicero said his office has been getting calls from people wondering whether they are toxic. They are not, he said.