Strange Sea Creatures Wash Ashore On California Beaches

Thousands of small, strange sea creatures have washed ashore on California's beaches, startling residents and setting off a social media firestorm as concerned locals wonder just what the tiny creatures are.

Despite being described as "strange," "mysterious," "bizarre," and even described as "aliens," the unusual sea creatures are a known and named species, NBC Bay Area reports. Called Velella velella by marine researchers, the creatures are distantly related to jellyfish. Colloquially known as "by-the-wind-sailor," the small marine invertebrates are characterized by a clear, semi-circular sail that raises up above the water.

Velella velella float on the surface of the water, and are commonly found in warm, temperate oceans. Though they can sting like a jellyfish, the creatures are harmless, according to IFLScience. In the past, The Inquisitr has reported on several sea creatures that posed a danger to beachgoers when they washed ashore. Despite the vast number of them that have ended up on beaches across California, the Velella velella are not considered to be a threat.

While it is common for Velella velella to wash up along beaches in late spring or early summer, it has been more than 8 years since they have been sighted in California. The tiny sea creatures generally float offshore, yet they can sometimes be blown to land in large numbers. It is unclear why so many have washed up on beaches this late in the summer.

According to Rich Mooi, curator of invertebrate zoology and geology at the California Academy of Sciences, strong winds are most likely responsible for driving the tiny sea creatures ashore. Despite the fact that so many have dried out and died on California's shore, the species is in no danger, according to the L.A. Times. Mooi says that he doesn't know why the tiny silver and purple creatures bloomed so late in the summer, yet he contends that the event doesn't mean that there is something wrong with the ocean.

Crowds of spectators posted photos on Twitter this week of the tiny sea creatures along Central and Northern California shores. The creatures were not only spotted along local beaches, but also in Monterey Bay.

[Image via Twitter]