Field report from Torie Baker (University of Alaska, Fairbanks) and Caitlin McKinstry and Rob Campbell (Prince William Sound Science Center (PWSSC)):
Torie Baker with the Marine Advisory Program station in Cordova took this photograph and reported seeing a couple acres of these creatures in a rip in the northern Gulf of Alaska, offshore of the Copper River delta area.
Photo Courtesy: Torie Baker, May 19, 2016.
Caitlin McKinstry and Rob Campbell, researchers with PWSSC, identified these jellies as Velella velella, a colonial hydrozoan (related to jellies) that are fairly common down in British Columbia, according to Rob. They float right at the surface and have a little “sail” that sits above the water’s surface that pushes them along when the wind blows. Rob added that their presence here is quite far north of their normal range. Velella velella typically lives in warm and temperate waters, but since they have no other way to move around other than their sail, they are at the mercy of prevailing winds.
Offshore boaters elsewhere have reported seeing thousands of V. velella on the water surface, just like Torie. Most years in the spring, there is a mass stranding that occurs along the West Coast of North America, from British Columbia to California, beginning in the north and moving south over several weeks’ time.
Based on this early field report and Rick Thoman’s recent post “The Blob Lives” here on the Alaska Blob Tracker (posted on May 19, 2016), we might be in for another year of unusual species sitings in the Gulf of Alaska. Stay Tuned!!!
You can read more about species range shifts coinciding with the Gulf of Alaska warm water “Blob” in a recent paper by Nick Bond (Bond et al. 2015).