the year has started here in cornwall with tens of thousands of tiny sailed vessels floating in to our shores. beaches from sennen to longrock to poldu and many on the north coast have been covered in stranded by-the-wind sailors (velella velella - a pelagic hydroid).
|found at longrock bay january 1st - photo by elaine brennan|
these amazing little creatures (which are actually not a single organism but a colony of hydroids) live on the open ocean. they have either a left handed or a right handed diagonal sail which determines which side of the wind they travel. it is made of chitin which is the same type of material as insect wings. most that wash up on cornish shores have a sail that twists to the left.
|probably some of the same fleet at trenow cove 4th jan|
i love the deep indigo blue of their jellyfish-like base. they use these blue pigments to screen themselves from the sun's radiation. their predators include sea slugs and violet sea snails (janthina janthina) which are born male and develop into females over time.
a couple of years ago i had an idea for a piece of work i wanted to make using the dried skeletons. these become opaque and papery as they shrink and dry. i've still not been in the right place at the right time to find more than a few handfuls but gradually i will collect enough to work with.
i was hoping it might be possible to extract the blue pigment but like other experiments i've done drying jellyfish it just turns into a dark smelly sticky mess and the pigment turns brown. some do keep a purpley hue when dried whole.
so i laid them out in rows and as they began to dry i undressed them to remove their skeleton.
this was so much fun that it was virtually impossible to leave the house to go to something i really wanted to go to. when i returned home i eagerly continued until midnight.
once they are dry there is a beautiful veined texture like a finger print. and their de-hydrated skins also leave their mark upon the paper.
for further information about velella velalla there is a nice little youtube film - 'the secret life of the velella: adrift with the by-the-wind sailor" here.