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A type of jelly, the by-the-wind sailor sports a deep-blue, rectangular float topped with an upright, triangular sail. By-the-wind sailors often drift across the ocean’s surface in large numbers, sometimes in the tens of thousands. In late spring or early summer, they’re often blown ashore, blanketing coastal beaches.
These animals are made up of many individual polyps or zooids, making them a colonial animal. The zooids have different functions. The gastrozooids feed for the colony, using their tentacles to capture plankton. The gonozooids are the polyps that serve a reproductive function, constantly releasing tiny medusa (2-3 mm) that are the sexual reproductive stage of this animal.
The population of by-the-wind sailors isn’t in danger at this time. However, like all creatures of the sea, they’re vulnerable to contaminates such as motor oils, paints, paint removers, pesticides and herbicides. You can help protect all ocean life by keeping these pollutants and others out of oceans and watersheds.
By-the-wind sailors look like miniature sailboats permanently set for tacking before the wind.
Some sails are oriented to the right (right-handed), and some are oriented to the left (left-handed). On our coast, by-the-wind sailors are right-handed; the prevailing northerly winds keep them offshore. However, when strong, prolonged southerly or westerly winds blow, the jellies wash to shore in huge numbers.
Scientists think both types of by-the-wind sailors mix together in the central Pacific, and that the winds sort the right-handed from the left-handed, pushing them onto different sides of the Pacific Ocean.