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The Velella Velella returns

  • The beached Velella Velella at Golden Bay. Photo: Sharklab.

    The beached Velella Velella at Golden Bay. Photo: Sharklab.

The living miniature sailing boat Velella Velella kept its appointment with Maltese beaches this year, as evidenced by the reports of massive beaching of this species at Golden Bay.

The Spot the Jellyfish team said Sharklab volunteers reported the species, in sizes from 1.5cm to over 6cm, beached at Golden Bay.

Alan Deidun, who heads the Spot the Jellyfish team, said the Velella Velella normally appeared in Malta in spring, mostly between April and June.

Its early appearance this year could be due to a prolonged period of strong north-west onshore winds this year, since this was a surface, wind-propelled species.

This species, often mistaken as a single jellyfish individual, is a floating colony, propelled by means of a 6cm-wide triangular flap, made of chitin, which acts as a veritable sail, beneath which 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 plantkonic 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.

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 Spot the Jellyfish initiative is coordinated by Dr Deidun, Aldo Drago, Joel Azzopardi, Adam Gauci and Martin Galea Degiovanni. It enjoys the support of the Malta Tourism Authority and Nature Trust, Friends of the Earth, EkoSkola, the BlueFlag Malta programme and Sharklab.

The reporting is done by matching the sighted jellyfish with a visual identification guide, giving the date and time of the sighting, and indicating the number of jellies seen. Sightings can be also reported online (www.ioikids.net/jellyfish), or submitted through an SMS on 7960 4109, or email to [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 of the species.

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