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Live 'sailing boat' Velella Velella returns

The living miniature sailing boat Velella Velella has kept its spring appointment and showed up on Maltese beaches, as evidenced by the numerous reports received about the species by the Spot the Jellyfish team.

This dark-blue species, often mistaken as a single jellyfish individual, is a floating colony propelled by a 6cm-wide triangular flap, made of chitin, which acts as a veritable sail. Beneath it, there are thousands of separate 3mm-individuals surrounding a large central mouth.

The float contains a number of sealed air-filled compartments which ensure its buoyancy. Dangling below the float are short tentacles which ensnare unwary planktonic individuals but which do not impart a sting to humans.

Velella is a cosmopolitan species, being known from warm, temperate seas all over the world. Its most intriguing aspect is that two types of floats, which are mirror images of each other, exist within the same population such that the entire population is not propelled in the same direction but is dispersed in different ones.

The Italian moniker for the species is Barchetta di San Pietro, yet another marine species being named informally after St Peter.

The Spot the Jellyfish initiative is coordinated by Alan Deidun, Aldo Drago and staff of IOI-MOC, and enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority, Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola, the BlueFlag Malta programme and Sharklab.

The campaign is an IOI-Kids Programme initiative, which follows a citizen science approach and relies on the collaboration of the public, mariners, divers, and the younger generations through their teachers and parents, by recruiting their assistance in recording the presence and location of different jellyfish through the use of a dedicated colourful reporting leaflet.

The leaflet can be directly downloaded from www.ioikids.net/jellyfish, which is replete with snippets and anecdotes about different jellyfish species. With the support of MTA, large posters have also been projected on boards along major bays on both islands.

The reporting is done by matching the sighted jellyfish with a simple visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of jellies seen. Sightings can be also reported online or submitted through an SMS on 7922 2278, e-mail: [email protected].

Strange jellyfish not included on the leaflet should be caught and kept in a bucketful of seawater prior to contacting IOI-MOC staff for retrieval to attempt a definite identification. If this is not possible, photos should be taken.

The Spot the Jellyfish campaign, launched in May 2010, has received international recognition for its citizen science value.

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