Fierce storms in 2006 brought plenty of visitors to the Isle of Wight at the end of November and during the first week of December. However, these will not feature within Tourist Board statistics! These were oceanic visitors cast ashore along much of the south coast of England. An extraordinary number of the floating hydroid Velella velella (L.), or “by-the-wind-sailor” were washed up all around the coast of the Isle of Wight with specific records from Compton, Totland, Ventnor and Gurnard. Perhaps even more interesting was the fact that this was the third mass stranding since 2002. Hitherto, the species was regarded as a very occasional visitor and the only previous records for the Isle of Wight are in 1986 and 1925.
The strandings on our beaches in 2002 and 2003 occurred in early summer and the animals were quite small, being only 20-30mm across. Those stranded in late autumn of 2006 were much larger reaching 50-80mm. Predators of Velella include Sun Fish (Mola mola), now a relatively frequent sighting along the coast, and a violet sea snail (Janthina janthina), which makes a float rather like bubble-wrap. This striking species was found washed up during the earlier strandings but I have had no reports on this occasion.
Also stranded in recent gales were many Goose Barnacle (Lepas anatifera) attached to wood, bottles and other structures. If you find these again, check to see whether a small Columbus Crab (Planes sp.) is living amongst them. Several were found in Dorset.
Dr. Roger Herbert, Marine Recorder