John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Squishy, intergalactic-looking "hydroid polyps" have washed up on beaches by the thousands.
Attention, San Francisco parents who want to gratify their child with a cheap pet: Grab a bucket and head on down to Ocean Beach, where the sands were recently bathed with thousands of squishy, purple-blue jelly creatures that are cute as a button—and almost certainly not-toxic to humans, to boot!
Well, some of them probably remain fun to poke and joggle, but as they've been washing up all week no doubt many are dead and smelling like fish intestines. The mass arrival of the sea dweller Velella velella, also known as the "By-the-Wind Sailor," began on the West Coast earlier this month and has been sporadically sliming beaches from Northern California all up the Oregon coast. The ones pictured above during a different velella fest in 2004 are sandy and hard to see. Here's what a fresh one looks like up close:
A single velella is a party all in itself, being a "hydroid polyp" composed of separate organisms feeding in harmony under a triangle-shaped sail. They use this sail to float on the water's surface in huge drifts, like a carpet made of little Vaseline-covered balloons. In the event that wind patterns wash them ashore, which is probably what happened here, they're pretty much useless, shriveling into sad, crinkling pockets that stick to the bottom of your foot. And that's OK, because although the carnivorous animals use toxins to attack their prey, a "human being would barely feel" their sting, according to the Farallones Marine Sanctuary Association. (Wikipedia advises against touching the face after handling one.)
There's great photographic coverage of this slippery invasion at Reddit, and people are slinging velella shots left and right on social media. Here are a few of them: