A History of Strange Creatures Washing Up on L.A. Beaches

A Poralia jellyfish floats through the ocean.
A Poralia jellyfish floats through the ocean.

That red tuna crab infestation that’s blanketing beaches in L.A.? As it turns out, it’s nothing new. In 1858, the crabs washed up on the shores of Monterey in huge numbers. Although people at the time knew that that the crabs amassed occasionally, they didn’t have a name for the species — until 1895.

More recently in 1998, the red crabs appeared and birds stuffed themselves so full that they couldn’t take off. Unfortunately for humans, the crabs, at just 1 to 3 inches long, don’t make good eats — so put away that Old Bay seasoning.

Scientists say that warm water brings the crabs up from Baja. And warmer ocean temperatures in summer often bring weird swarms of creatures to SoCal shores. Here’s a quick glimpse at some weird past invaders:

A dead squid washes up on the beach.
A dead squid washes up on the beach.
Wikipedia/Hmwith

1990: Humboldt Squid

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In August of 1990, thousands of squid washed up on the beaches of Orange County. Pink, black and gooey, the animals weighed between 4 and 20 pounds. The squid, which typically live in coastal waters near Peru, Chile and Ecuador, are brought to California shores by unusually warm currents every few decades.

“I've seen little squid before, a few dead seals, but never anything like these," surfer Israel Paskowitz told the L.A. Times.

2005: Poralia Jellyfish 

In the summer of 2005, thousands of tire-sized jellies began washing up on beaches in Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties. Biologists said the invasion might have been related to the hot weather and warming ocean temperatures. The invertebrates are black in the water, but appear to be a deep red or plum color once they're beached.

Huntington Beach lifeguards told the L.A. Times they treated more than 1,500 people for jellyfish stings in one weekend. Contrary to popular opinion, urine doesn’t help jellyfish stings — the best treatment involves rubbing the affected area with vinegar, which eliminates the sting.

Kelp flies feed on stranded and rotting seaweed.EXPAND
Kelp flies feed on stranded and rotting seaweed.

2011: Kelp and kelp flies

In June 2011, swarms of black kelp flies — scientifically known as Coelopa frigida — landed on beaches in Torrance, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach. The flies were attracted by a sudden abundance of stinking, rotting kelp — a perfect location to lay their eggs. Fortunately, the flies live only about 11 days – so the infestation was over quickly.

2011: Dead sardines 

The scene looked like a smelly, rotting silver carpet: Thousands — or perhaps millions — of fish piled up in King Harbor at Redondo Beach. The mass was more than a foot deep at points. Scientist suggested that a storm surge and hungry dolphins had chased the mass of fish toward the harbor, where they ended up suffocating. The harbor, at only 22 feet deep with little water movement, doesn’t have enough oxygen to support the influx of fish that ended up there. The marina was no stranger to dead fish: similarly massive quantities of fish ended up dead there in 2003 and 2005.

"It is a naturally occurring — but unusual — event," Andrew Hughan, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Game, told the L.A. Times. "It's just a mess."

Velella velella usually skim the ocean's surfaces, though they occasionally get beached.EXPAND
Velella velella usually skim the ocean's surfaces, though they occasionally get beached.
Flickr/IngridTaylar

2014: Velella velella 

Velella velella, also known as “by-the-wind sailors,” are related to jellyfish, but they’re actually hydrozoans, related to the Portuguese man-of-war. Fortunately, the Velella don’t sting — instead, they use their unique bodies to sail over the oceans. Scientists says that each little organism, measuring about 2.75 inches long, is actually a colony of hundreds of smaller creatures, each with a specialized function such as feeding (on plankton) or reproduction. Every few years they blow to shore, causing thousands of beachgoers to puzzle what they could be.


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