Saturday, August 16, 2014

Velella Velella

The By-the-Wind Sailor is a most interesting creature. Known worldwide by its scientific name Velella velella, this jellyfish-like creature floats freely in the Pacific Ocean. Its tentacles are for feeding and to create air for buoyancy, and a stiff ridge on its back acts as a sail to propel it -- literally where-ever the wind blows.


When living, Velella are purplish-blue, a color they derive from their diet. Apparently their indigo tint is a mechanism to deal with the incredible amount of sun they are exposed to, from above and from the sea's reflections. See the General natural history section here for more. 

Depending on where you do your research (or, which branch of the Internet you browse), you may learn that:

  • Velella is a communal organism (chondrophore) -- each tentacle is a separate living thing, and all tentacles floating in the same connected unit are actually just helping eachother out (like a Portuguese Man-o-War);

~ or ~
  • Velella is a single organism (hydroid polyp) -- each floating body is its own separate living thing. Apparently, this is what more recent research has revealed, but I could not find that research, and it is easier to find seemingly reputable sources that claim the former.

Regardless, this summer seems to be a particularly "good" (depending on how you look at it) summer for Valella observations. They are washing up on the beaches all over the West Coast this year. They're such a popular observation that even the  San Francisco Chronicle has covered them recently.

Although I haven't seen them in the four previous springs I've spent here, they are apparently a fairly common vernal phenomenon in the Pacific Northwest and points south. But it's currently August and they continue to wash up, since starting in mid-July. According to this article, jellyfish in general currently abound in our oceans, and it's probably due to an imbalance in the ocean's overall health. It is also an El Niño year, but apparently its effects are expected to be mild, if anything at all, this year. Here's a great blog post explaining all that.

This morning, Catey and I observed them at Tennessee Beach. This small pocket beach has uplands immediately adjacent to it -- so as they have dried, the Velella have blown up into the coastal scrub. This creates a curious sight -- round, papery white jellyfish skeletons on the coastal hills. As Catey observed, it looks as if trash had been dumped on the beach. 

The skeletons are tough and pliable, more resembling plastic than paper. The crafty might find a way to stitch them together into clothing or bags.

"Ah, to be brainless and worry-free" was a comment I recently wrote to my good friend Toni in a discussion we were having last week about Velella. The closing sentence in the Farallones newsletter article (also linked above) led me to this chuckle of a conclusion.  These creatures' fates are solely determined by the shape of the sail that their genetic makeup creates on their backs. For the philosophical, this birthright is one worth exploring and pondering (to what coast would I have drifted if I were born a brown-haired lefty?), as we reflect on the vast scope of the natural world in both space and time.

All photos on this post were shot by me at Rodeo Beach, Marin County, California, 8/14/14, on an old roll of Mitsubishi MX-II 100 ASA film.

Friday, July 18, 2014


Catey (& Bear),

Here's to many more sunsets together. 


Thursday, June 26, 2014


24th Street BART Stairs and Escalator, (Halloween?) 2011.
Ever since about age 7, I have had a tremendous respect for escalators. It was then that a loose shoelace on my Keds shoe wormed its way into the toothed crack on the edge of an escalator at a mall. It was like a movie where the victim is oblivious, and doomed. The lace slowly lost its slack, then tugged, and pulled on my foot, tightening the shoe as I pulled away in horror. As the mechanized steps churned upward, I quickly began to envision the loss of a leg, and I pulled...pulled! The white rubber on the side of the shoe neared the jagged chrome jaw's grimace at an even pace. Rubber entered the jaw silently, pinched between the moving parts, as my foot shrunk back, into a tighter and tighter fist, away from the mechanical menace. The deli knife. Meanwhile, inches away, miles from the focus of my attention, some sharp metal object was slowly fraying the shoelace. Just as the escalator reached the top where another jagged set of teeth glistened in wait, at once the lace sheared, the rubber flap fell, separate from my shoe, and I launched, unscratched but forever scarred, to the mall floor, the only sound in my ears my own helpless shriek.

Nowadays, I enjoy photographing their steps, which turn into a blurring river when a long exposure is employed.

I think the above photo must have been from Halloween. Doesn't the guy ascending the escalator look like he's wearing a jail suit costume? I am not the best about notetaking when I shoot, so I can only guess that's the case. The roll was developed in November 2011 (remember film? no date-stamp on the file), so that strengthens the case. 

I shot the photo below in Vegas this past April. Without a tripod, I was lucky to notice that a railing is positioned perfectly for a camera. You can guess what my decision was. First, what better way to kill time while waiting for your bag? That's what I figured, even though I didn't check any bags. 

First Las Vegas Decision, April 2014.

With my rediscovered love for escalators*, I was curious, and had to do a quick Google search on "escalator function"...somehow I didn't get that far, but I found this. Here's a video that I'm certain would go viral with a little editing and a fitting soundtrack. The title is also unfortunate and -- don't worry -- very misleading. [Really, really dumb title, guys.]

-- follow up edit, 8/16/14: The following video should certainly be referenced. I think this is what I had in mind in the above paragraph. Since this has already been done, really nothing could be done with colorful balls on escalators to come close.

Sony BRAVIA Bouncy Ball Advertisement.

*I know this is obvious, but this is the great thing about the internet for our generation. So many things from our past that inspired curiosity or wonder when we were children, before the internet, and only encyclopedias, can now so easily be learned, or re-learned. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Earth is Expanding

Surely you're familiar with the term "wormhole." This is an internet time-burrow that one enters into when a topic crosses one's mind. If you google a single word like "Chee-tos", the search engine returns a thousand tangential keywords, videos, images, items available for purchase, and soon you've made a bad decision: a) Slouched for 3 hours over a laptop watching war archive films; b) Purchased a box of a thousand discontinued keychains; or c) Applied for a falconry apprenticeship in Brazil.

The one I entered into this afternoon is one that I don't regret. I think I've just been converted to believe that the Earth is expanding, rather than believing what I've been taught all my life: that the seafloor is spreading, and parts of the crust are burying back into the mantle simultaneously.

Here's how I got there.

I recently ordered a book off Amazon for an amazingly low price. (I don't recall what got me on the internet that day, but it wasn't specifically to buy this book!) I first saw it in a bookstore last Christmas and was tempted to pick one up for one of the frequent-flying members of Catey's family. America from the Air, co-authored in 2007 by  Daniel Mathews, a natural history writer, and James S. Jackson, a geology professor at Portland State. It's written for commercial jet passengers (and employees) who share my habit of gazing at landforms and civilization-caused shapes, and guessing what they are as I fly. I have photographed only a few because of the low quality that usually ensues through those plastic double windows. Here's one near Las Vegas showing a solar farm that I've tried unsuccessfully to find on Google Earth. 

Where the Sun is Grown, near Las Vegas, April 21, 2014.

Accompanying the book is a CD-ROM with a nationwide flight map and USGS Map #i2781: The North American Tapestry of Time and Terrain (downloadable PDF file). Zooming in on the Great Lakes, after some study, I thought to myself that it looks like the Great Lakes sort of exploded from the center of Michigan. Can see what I was imagining? Different colors reflect different ages of underground geology -- click on the link above to see the entire map and its legend.

Geologic Bubble Centered in Michigan - Source: USGS i2781
So I googled: "is the earth's volume increasing". The common secod way of digging further into our wormholes is the Wikipedia page. And, I was in.

It turns out there's a comedian and graphic artist Neal Adams who has promoted the concept of the earth expanding. If you want to save yourself from the risk of wormholing, skip Wikipedia and watch this 10-minute video. I think you'll be convinced too. (Forgive the odd soundtrack that spans from 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Nutcracker Suite.)