This past weekend my wife and I spent a few days exploring the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. One of the more interesting discoveries we made involved innumerable blue marine invertebrates (Anthomedusae: Porpitidae: Vellela vellela) that had washed up on the Pacific beaches of Olympic National Park.
Although vaguely similar to jellyfish, these animals are more closely related to Portuguese man 0′ wars. These colonial carnivores float above the water and project tentacles filled with stinging cells down into the ocean below. Prey that happen upon them are paralyzed and slowly consumed. These hydrozoans move about by means of a simple sail that grows upward and are at the mercy of wind and water patterns.
Every few years particularly strong and persistent westerly winds can strand vast numbers of these animals on beaches where they die. In recent weeks billions of these animals have washed up on the Pacific coast from Washington to California. Since this is a relatively uncommon event I thought we were pretty lucky to happen upon it. Good for us, not so good for the purple sailors.