Velella velella, By the Wind Sailors return to California beaches

If you've visited one of the beaches along California's coast recently, you may have noticed some strange little blue creatures washed ashore. 

Now while they may closely resemble the poisonous Portugese Man O'War, these little creatures are not poisonous and aren't even jellyfish. They're known as Velella velella - or By-the-Wind-Sailors. 

According to the Point Reyes National Seashore, these hydroid polyps - cousins of the jellyfish - are actually pretty common. They live in the open ocean but make their way onto beaches in the spring and early summer months when strong winds push them ashore. 

Hordes of tiny ocean creatures called Velella velella, or by-the-wind sailors, wash up on Northern California beaches on March 27, 2024 in Marin County, California. (Photo by Liu Guanguan/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)

It's been about a year since we've seen Velella velella wash ashore. Research suggests that these "washups" are associated with warmer ocean temperatures in the northern California current.

By-the-wind sailors use their blue stinging tentacles to capture prey, such as plankton. While these seafarers don’t have many known predators, they are eaten by nudibranchs and purple sea snails.

"They have a firm and upright triangular sail attached to their body which causes them to be caught up by the wind and blown across the surface of the water, giving them their name ‘By-the-Wind Sailors.’ Don't worry about those little blue tentacles that hang from their body! These tentacles don't sting humans but will gather up plenty of zooplankton or fish eggs for them to eat," officials explained.

"You may come across a fresh wash-up of Velella, tinging the stretch of shoreline blue, but if they've been there a while, they will look like crinkly and dry ovals of cellophane. So, if you happen to be out for a stroll and encounter these brilliant blue creatures, promise that you’ll jump up and down repeatedly shouting ‘Velella velella!’"

According to Point Reyes, Velella Velellas pose little threat to humans, but if you do decide to pick one up, be careful when touching your face and eyes afterward because they can cause slight irritation to your skin.