By-the-wind Sailors, Sunfish and Sea Anemone at Ocean Beach, California

September 12, 2014


Sun fish


Photographer: Mila Zinkova; Mila's Web site
Summary Author: Mila Zinkova

The creature at top looks a bit like a toy sailboat. It's but one of millions that have been washing ashore on California beaches for the past several weeks. It's name is by-the-wind sailor or Velella velella. By-the-wind sailors are related to jellyfishes. Their central mouth is surrounded by feeding tentacles and reproductive polyps. The gas-filled body is topped by the transparent sail. They live in open oceans and rarely are driven to shore. The last time California saw such invasion was in 2002.

The middle image shows by-the-wind sailors and a sunfish, in foreground, that have recently washed ashore at Ocean Beach, in San Francisco. Sunfish find jellyfish tasty, but now sunfishes have also developed a taste for the abundant by-the-wind sailors. On the other hand, California sea lions love to dine on sunfishes, but usually they take only fins -- the mutilated fish bodies are washed on shore. In this way the predator and its prey end up together at Ocean Beach, San Francisco.
At bottom is an underwater photo showing a sea anemone attacking a by-the-wind sailor. Normally sea anemones feed on small fish, but they'll devour by-the-wind sailors that are literally delivered straight to their mouths.