For the past couple of weeks, visitors to the beaches along the 18 miles of Pacific Ocean coastline just south of Grays Harbor have noticed thousands upon thousands of little white-to-blue jellyfish strewn along the sands for miles. Drying in the wind, walking through the critter ‘drifts’, creates a crunching sound and considerable curiosity as to just exactly what these unusual creatures are that appear to have tiny sails attached, and how so many have beached.
The following is an excerpt from an article by former longtime South Beach Bulletin columnist, Gregory Books, who was a regular contributor to this publication for several years while living in Grayland:
Heralds of albacore to come
And why is it that this, the tiniest sailor on the sea, the little blue jellyfish known as Velella, has come ashore in miles-long cobalt-colored drifts that stain the beach from the South Jetty to the mouth of Willapa Bay?
Velella has tiny tentacles, slightly poisonous, on the bottom of its jelly-like blue body, and on the top it has a triangular whitish membrane set like a sail diagonally to its length.
On our side of the North Pacific, these tiny sails are set in a northwest to southeast direction, and as long as the winds blow gently, the animal tacks at about 45 degrees away from a following wind; this keeps it offshore.
When winds are strong, however, Velella loses its tacking ability and begins spinning and following the wind more directly. Its sails permanently set, it is swept to disaster on the beaches.
On the other side of the North Pacific, Velella’s sails are set northeast to southwest, and in the southern hemisphere, its sails are reversed-another marvel of adaptation.
The sometimes incorrectly called Portuguese man-of-war, Velella may mildly irritate skin. Persons who touch it should not then touch their eyes or put fingers in their mouths.
Squishing through the drifts may result in smelly footwear.
The beaching of Velella is a hopeful omen to commercial and charter fishermen. Usually, great quantities of the jellyfish in offshore waters presage the movement of albacore tuna north off the Washington Coast later in the summer.