If you’ve been walking along the beach lately enjoying the odd hot weather that El Niño has been causing you’ve probably seen thousands of what look like blue condoms all rolled up on the sands. Apparently I hadn’t realized that people who moved here hadn’t been here long enough to know the story of the Sea Condoms.
No, they are the leftovers from an orgy that Poseidon had out in the ocean, but they’re a hydrozoan with the proper name of Velella velella. Commonly known as sea raft, by-the-wind sailor, purple sail, little sail, or simply Velella. They are from the family of ocean dwelling organisms called Cnidaria which you may have heard of Velella’s famous relative the Portuguese Man-O-War. Velella have stinging cells just like the Man-O-War, but they’re pretty weak and harmless to humans. If you bother to pick one up they might feel a little bit sticky to you, but that’s about it. You won’t have to worry about falling over scream and writhing in pain because of one since they’re harmless and if they’re on the beach they’re pretty much dead as well.
Velella spend their lives pretty much just floating around and hoping something they can eat gets stuck in it’s tentacles. Imagine spending your whole life just sitting around doing nothing and eating when food just happens to be in the neighborhood. Not very interesting and pretty boring which I guess is OK when you don’t have a brain. Usually you see them on the beaches in the Spring coming up with the warm water, but because of El Niño we’re seeing them in late summer and fall now.
The biggest thing you’ll have to worry about will come in a couple of weeks when they really get busy rotting on the beach. The stench will be practically unbearable. It has a smell kind of like rotting seafood mixed with sewage. I suppose that’s in part to the fact that they can’t be too picky about what they eat when they’re just floating around all day and night. When I first started to see them as a kid I had to grab a few and bring them to the aquarium at the Academy of Sciences because in between their research they like nothing better than to look at something dead and smelly and identify it to make a little kid happy.
I brought my bag in and handed it to someone in Invertebrate Zoology [see, I was a smart kid and knew that it wasn’t a fish] and they said, Oh, it’s a Velella and tossed it aside. Apparently these sea condoms as we called them just aren’t that interesting unless you have to deal with the smell of their rotting corpses. They’re actually a colony of a group of animals that over about three weeks time join together into a little sea tribe of hydrozoans to eat and breed together before they end up washing up and rotting on a beach somewhere, so calling them sea condoms wasn’t too far off since sex is at least involved. From their medusa larval stage to sea condom takes about three weeks and then that’s pretty much it for them.
They’re here, they’ll be rotting for awhile and you probably don’t want your dog to eat any because, well, they’re rotting. You can touch them if you like. They feel kind of rubbery, but other than that there isn’t too much to say about them. It’s actually once of the bizarre things about San Francisco that there isn’t much of an interesting story behind, so you should at least refer to them as Sea Condoms.
I wrote about the makeover Great Highway was going to get a few months ago and I’m glad, in a way that it’s finally started. That being said, the beach is not the best place to go right now.
My wife [hear after known as wife because she doesn’t like public attention like I do] and I like to shop at the beach Safeway because it’s bigger and the lines are smaller. We took our once a week trip out there as opposed to our trips to the worst Safeway in San Francisco, but we were in for a rude awakening this day.
Construction workers were everywhere. The road was torn up all over the place and our usual trip of driving out Lincoln Way and making a right had to be re-routed due to the construction. On the upside, there are a lot of construction workers there so that means that the job will usually be quick. The down side is that it’s not a pleasant place to be right now which is a bit of a shame with the warm weather starting to grace our coastline and giving us sunnier days [side note: wife hates sunnier days. I think she was given up for adoption by a young Viking girl because the foggier and more unpleasant it is the happier she is.]
Right now if you need to cross the park down by the beach do it at 45th and Lincoln Way and drive through to 43rd and Fulton. It will be a much easier drive for you than having to go all the way to the end and then having to snake around the west end until you can find the exit at 47th and Fulton. Just give the workers some time to finish off the job they’ve started and I’m hoping it’ll become a nicer place.
All this being said, I am hoping that this makeover will bring back a little of the beach area we once had. You have to be a very stalwart type of person to love Ocean Beach, but there was no reason for it to be left as a Russian industrial park looking place. I would like to see some food trucks out here on weekends and it would be nice if there was a way to have some craftspeople to set up shop on the large walkway on the sunny days that we do get out here. The first thing that needs to happen is a good marketing game played by the city to make people want to come out here. It’s a great place to relax and watch the surfers if you’re not going to surf yourself.
I have to give thanks to two of my friends Beth Wise and Lincoln Shaw who work at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. I follow their posts to facebook about the work they do and when I heard about a sea lion they called Silent Knight I was happy. Not so much for the sea lion as it had been shot in the face with a shotgun and was now blind, but I was happy that they got to care for him and bring him back around.
Sea lions tend to not be bothered by people so they tend to act rather friendly towards us. Then some idiot has to pull out a shot gun and shoot at them to get them to move away from them. While that sounds like a good idea in some parts of San Francisco, it’s not a good idea when it comes to marine mammals.
I’ve had a love of seals, sea lions and all other marine mammals from a young age. I remember taking a class at the now defunct Junior Academy at the California Academy of Sciences and we had a field trip down to Año Nuevo Beach where the elephant seals come to breed. I remember jumping over a log with the rest of the people in the class only to turn around after and realize it wasn’t a log, but an elephant seal. These are pretty impressive and intelligent creatures and many of them moved from Seal Rock out near me to Pier 39 now where they put on a show for the onlookers and manage to stink up the place a bit due to their diet of oily fish which makes their poop smell a bit on the unbearable side.
Sea lions have always been the Marx Brothers of the pinniped world used in movies because of their humorous antics that mimicked human behavior if people had finds instead of hands and feet. They can adapt to living in these confined conditions, but they aren’t their happiest when they have to. This is part of the reason I’m glad that Silent Knight has been moved to the San Francisco Zoo. While he’s recovered from the shotgun blast, he’s still blind and can’t be released into the wild like the Marine Mammal Center normally does. The San Francisco Zoo stepped in and offered to care for him so he can live out his years with support and care from people who know how to take care of animals.
The Marine Mammal Center volunteers have a job that isn’t the best and they don’t get paid. Imagine going to work and having to blend up lots of oily smelly fish that you then have to more or less force feed to a sick not very willing animal. You probably don’t come home smelling very good and on top of it there’s no pay, no benefits other than knowing in your heart that you’ve helped an injured animal.
So cheers to Beth and Lincoln and all the other hard working people at the MMC. Maybe I need to get all the other members of my old band together and take up a collection to donation to one of their residents named Black Wolf [my band was named Black Wülf, note the umlat and U to make it look even more metal.]