A Blues Planet

Part of our social distancing strategy has been taking advantage of early Sunday mornings by the sea. Around the time some are taking their first sip off coffee, and a few hours before the scent of fish fries line up folks in masks for days, we flee to our favorite salty-aired spots.

This morning, we came across hundreds of Velella velella, also known as the by-the-wind sailors. They are hydrozoans (cousins of the “man-of-war”), propelled by winds pushing them along the ocean’s surface.

Check out this fantastic video—which had me at, “A benthic organism living in an inverted world.” —from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute to discover more about Velella’s life cycle and story.

We normally see Velella along our Northern California beach walks in the Spring. Their blue, protective pigment stands out against the mixed-browns of sand pebbles, as if the ocean just delivered her finest sapphire jewels. With blue being more rare in nature, it feels like an extra special sighting.

According to Rick Prum, a bird biologist at Yale,“Blue is fascinating because the vast majority of animals are incapable of making it with pigments. They have evolved a new kind of optical technology…to make this color.” Check our this short, NPR piece on “How Animals Hacked the Rainbow and Got Stumped on Blue.”

The irony of the of the limited appearances of blue in nature, is that we live on a blue planet.

If your mind and imagination are craving a deeper exploration of this topic, I highly recommend the book, Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols. The current, precarious scenario is a beautiful and rare opportunity to deepen our connection with nature, its inhabitants, and ourselves.

We cannot underestimate the lessons we will learn when we take time to draw from nature's inspiration and example.

At a time when life feels extremely tilted, Velella washes ashore and demonstrates how a species can thrive even when it lives the majority of its life upside down.

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