Aliens of the Deep: Discover the Strange Organisms Taking Over California’s Shores

Over the past week, California’s picturesque beaches have seen an unusual phenomenon: millions of by-the-wind sailors, or Velella velella, have washed ashore, transforming the coastline with their glistening, translucent blue bodies. Typically found in open ocean waters, these striking, jelly-like organisms have captured the attention of both residents and tourists alike.

The Invasion Begins

It started with just a few sightings of the by-the-wind sailors, but it quickly escalated, with beaches across the state witnessing an influx of these delicate creatures. The Bay Area Telegraph first observed the phenomenon at Corona Del Mar Beach in Southern California. Over the next few days, countless by-the-wind sailors washed up on the shorelines, creating a mesmerizing yet bewildering scene.

What Are By-The-Wind Sailors?

By-the-wind sailors (Velella velella) are free-floating hydrozoans that inhabit the open ocean. They are not jellyfish, although they share some similarities. These small, disc-shaped creatures have a translucent, gelatinous body with a triangular sail-like fin that allows them to float on the water’s surface, relying on wind for their movement.

Are They Dangerous?

While the sudden appearance of millions of by-the-wind sailors on California’s beaches may be disconcerting, they are mostly harmless to humans. However, it is best not to touch them, as some people can have a sensitivity to their mild toxins. Although not as potent as those found in jellyfish, their toxins can cause skin irritation or a rash in individuals with sensitive skin.

The Cause of the Mass Stranding

The exact cause of this extraordinary event remains unknown, but it is likely due to a combination of factors such as wind patterns, ocean currents, and changes in water temperature. By-the-wind sailors typically follow the wind to travel, so it is possible that strong gusts or a shift in wind direction may have pushed them towards the California coastline.

What Happens Next?

As the by-the-wind sailors continue to wash ashore, local authorities and environmental organizations are closely monitoring the situation. While the mass stranding of these intriguing organisms may seem alarming, it is not entirely unprecedented. Similar events have occurred in the past, albeit on a smaller scale. In time, natural processes will break down the bodies of these creatures, returning their nutrients to the ocean ecosystem.


The arrival of millions of by-the-wind sailors on California’s beaches has provided a rare and fascinating glimpse into the world of these enigmatic open ocean dwellers. As researchers and environmentalists strive to understand the cause of this phenomenon, beachgoers are urged to admire these captivating creatures from a safe distance, refraining from touching them to avoid potential skin irritations.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.

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