Gone in one gulp! The tiny “by-the-wind-sailors” that have been appearing on area beaches also happen to be a favorite snack of the enormous ocean sunfish (Mola mola), which can grow to be the size of a small car! (photo by Jodi Frediani)
By-the-wind sailors (Velella velella) are actually hydroid polyps—jelly-like invertebrates.The “sail” helps propel the animal on its journey across the ocean. In late spring and early autumn, hundreds of thousands of these drifting sailors wash up on the beaches of Northern California.
The velella stays on the surface of the open ocean for most of its life. To remain buoyant in the ocean, it has a series of sealed air chambers in its float. They travel in groups of thousands, and capture small fish with short tentacles that have stinging cells dangling underwater. (Although their sting is strong enough to stun a tiny animal, a human being would barely feel it.)
Learn more about the ocean sunfish
Mola mola are the sloths of the ocean.
Plankton of the world, beware! While most nudibranchs, or sea slugs, crawl and graze, the melibe sweeps its hood through the water like a net, capturing unsuspecting tiny drifters. A fringe of tentacles interlock and trap prey as the hood collapses to help the slug digest its meal.
Melibes may be expert plankton snatchers, but how do these soft-bodied invertebrates escape being a meal? Researchers have followed their noses to the melibe’s uniquely fruity smell—noxious secretions which may ward off nibbling fish. They can also “swim” away from predators by wiggling from side to side.
Living on giant kelp fronds or sea grass, melibes live higher up in the water column than most seafloor-bound nudibranchs. They’ve adapted well to the vertical life—as you can see in the background, their white ribbon eggs hang and sway with currents.
also known as pom-pom crabs, Boxer Crabs are a genus of small crabs in the family Xanthidae (mud crabs). the name pom-pom/or boxer comes from the mutualism that they hold with sea anemones, in which they hold the cnidarian in their claws and use them for defense, and in turn the sea anemone gets more food by moving around.