Velella Velella


Velella Velella

Velellas washed ashore the California coastline. (photo by Andrea Hackman)

I often go to Fort Funston—a dog-friendly beach just south of Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Every week the beach is a little different, but this week I was absolutely stunned to see electric blue forms scattered along the coast. At first, I thought that a container ship may have spilled hundreds of plastic blue reflectors in the ocean (weirder things have happened). These forms were stacked with perfect concentric circles that looked machine-made and topped with a rubber-looking flap that may have belonged on a bike.

It took me a good a minute to realize that they weren’t plastic. They turned out to be Velella Velella: free floating hydrozoan organisms that are closely related to jellyfish and man of war. I touched one and nothing bad happened. Though they look menacing, their sting is barely felt on human skin. I called my beau, trying to describe what these things looked like and he suggested that I take a photo and post it to Instagram. I included the hashtag #velella—the first time I’ve ever used one—and had several people like my photo. I then searched Instagram using the same hashtag and discovered that a lot of other people documented these stranded creatures along the West Coast that same week. It also turned out that thousands of velellas were stranded in Italy a few months prior. Hopefully some were able to catch the next high tide back into the ocean.

Discover more amazing images from our Photos of the Week»


Andrea HackmanAndrea Hackman enjoys the thrill of exploring new places and cultures, especially those in warm climates: Indonesia, Botswana, Nicaragua,Mexico—but Paris and London will do any time as year as well! Andrea, a native of the Washington DC area, is a curatorial assistant at SFMOMA. She is currently busy exploring the environs of her new home base, the San Francisco Bay Area. Check out her photography work at

Have you ever encountered a strange creature on your journeys? Share your experience in the reply section below.

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  1. Christina
    ChristinaJuly 24,14

    These look like Portuguese men of war. Be very careful as they are jellyfish and can sting you and give you Anaphylactic Shock and they have killed people. They often have 10 feet long tentacles and when alive will wrap around your limbs in the water. Stay far away from them.

    • Lara Dalinsky
      Lara DalinskyJuly 24,14

      Thanks, Christina! The velellas are in fact relatives of them. Fortunately, their sting is not as lethal as the man of war. But we encourage caution whenever approaching an unknown creature.

  2. Charles
    CharlesJuly 24,14

    I found these on the beach during a Crescent City vacation two weeks ago. Thanks for letting me know what they were.

    • Lara Dalinsky
      Lara DalinskyJuly 24,14

      Hi Charles, glad we could help! They are some crazy critters. We did some research and discovered that the velella’s stings are barely discernible on human skin. If you got any pics of the scene, feel free to share with is on our FB page!

  3. Caroline
    CarolineJuly 9,15

    I went camping about a month ago at Carlsbad state beach. We were walking along the beach and thought these were plastic. We picked a few up to throw away and then realized they were everywhere and definitely not plastic.

    During that trip I broke out in a mysterious rash on my hand and I had no idea how it got there. I thought it was a burn but it never hurt it just slightly itched. Weeks later I saw a doctor and they told me it was contact dermatitis.

    My boyfriend was talking to his professor and randomly described what we saw at the beach that day. His professor told him the name and we started researching it. That’s when we found out that the stings can cause skin irritations

    Mystery solved! I think I may have a picture of what my hand looked like.

    • Lara Dalinsky
      Lara DalinskyJuly 12,15

      Wow, glad that the sting wasn’t worse. It’s crazy how much these guys look like plastic or trash washed ashore. Hope your hand feels better.