Blue, Mysterious, and Coming in Millions: Alien-like Creatures Cover U.S. Coasts | Environment



FBlankets of alien-like blue creatures are washing up on rocky beaches from Oregon to California.they are velera vHerreraa small colony of creatures with sombrero-like fins protruding from the top and tentacles dangling below.

Millions of them have been sighted along the U.S. West Coast this spring, much to the surprise and delight of beachgoers who gleefully posted footage of them on social media. Some people call this “blue tide.” This occurs in most spring waters, but it does not always occur in equal abundance.

Although it appears to be a single organism, Velera, also known as wind sailors, is actually a colony of a class of organisms called hydrozoans that use the wind to propel themselves. They spend most of their lives in the open ocean, exploring the water column below with tentacles that sting fish larvae and zooplankton, but are harmless to humans. One part of the colony is responsible for eating, and another part for reproduction. Corals are colonial creatures, but encountering such colonies on land is rare, said Anya Stajner, a doctoral student at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

There are several theories as to how this animal acquired its bright blue color. Living at the interface between air and sea, they don’t have many places to hide from predators like giant sunfish, which suck up Berera like candy. Their coloration may help them blend in with waves and hide, Stanger said. Another theory is that the colors protect us from strong UV rays, or act as a kind of sunscreen.

Beaches in Marin County, California covered with Velera Velera. Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Julia Parrish, a marine biologist at the University of Washington, said Berella lives for several months and migrates widely around the Pacific Rim. Typically, they travel down the coast of California to Central America, then past Hawaii to Japan and back again, gliding along the water like kite surfers.

During this journey, the creatures go through cycles of rise and fall and go through different life stages, “all of which are completely different from each other,” Parrish said. When there is plenty of food for them in the water column, their numbers explode and they wash ashore together. This often happens in the spring and sometimes in the fall.

Wrasses are actually not widely studied in science, even though people often encounter them. One of the reasons is because of their lifestyle. Marine biologists have had great success in finding ways to keep jellyfish in tanks for scientific research and for the public to see up close. But scientists still haven’t fully resolved the question of how to create the conditions for breeding velera in captivity, as they live on the ocean surface and take on a variety of forms throughout their lives. That means we know less about jellyfish than most jellyfish, which live underwater, far from human eyes.

One current area of ​​research is the relationship between Berera and ocean temperature. In 2021, Professor Parrish uses data collected from 20 years of citizen scientists’ observations to uncover patterns in Berella mass strandings, showing that the phenomenon is more likely to occur when winters are warmer than normal. I discovered that.

The reason for this is still under investigation, but Parrish thinks it may have something to do with the rough winter seas. “In really stormy winters, with days of very high storm waves, small, nascent colonies can be broken up,” Parrish said. “But if we have a mild winter, they have a better chance of survival and more colonies will start to grow in earnest towards the end of winter.

“That’s our hypothesis,” she added, but it will take a huge effort to study life on the continental shelf to prove it.

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a Velera Velera colony. Photo: Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images

Little sailors are ephemeral in nature and do not follow the same pattern every year. But when they do show up in large numbers, it’s usually in multiple locations at the same time, Parrish said.

When they come ashore, a blanket of shiny blue creatures creates stunning scenery for photographers and beachgoers. But when they dry out, the creatures lose their color and “look like crunchy potato chips or candy wrappers,” Stanger says. It also plays a role in transporting carbon and nutrients that would otherwise be in the ocean to the shore.

They are loved by beachgoers because they are cute, shiny, easily recognizable, and produced in very large numbers. But fans may not realize they’re actually looking at a colony of struggling and dying creatures, Parrish said. “Instead, what you see is something beautifully colored, harmlessly small, and very strange and interesting,” she added.

As the world’s oceans continue to warm as part of the climate crisis, more Berella colonies are likely to come to our shores and thrive in the ocean as well. This leads scientists like Parrish to think that these charismatic little blue-capped creatures may have a more complex impact on our oceans than we realise. For example, wrasse eat zooplankton, fish larvae, and especially fish eggs, which can begin to have a negative impact on fish species.

“There is some evidence that starved berella are present enough in populations that they can actually alter the population dynamics of some forage fishes, such as anchovies, which are also found in California’s current water systems,” Parrish said. To tell.

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