Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Surprises at Sea

One of my favorite parts of ocean sailing is the joy of seeing something interesting in the water, ideally a creature of the sea. You would be surprised by how little you typically see out there, but I always hope. The other day we went out for a day sail off the southeast coast of Bermuda on Event Horizon with new found cruising friends from Maine. A few miles out we started spotting small objects several meters apart floating in the water. Is it trash? Is it some type of line in the water? Upon closer approach, one of our guests was able to identify the mystery object as a Portuguese Man-Of-War, a jelly-like marine animal that looked like a fragile blue bubble. Man-of-wars are well known for their painful and powerful sting, apparently seventy-five percent as powerful as cobra venom, and can be found in warm water all over the world. (I regret not spending money on cable TV to receive an Animal Planet education.) They are not Portuguese but named for their resemblance to a Portuguese battleship with a sail. These sea creatures are four different polyps that rely on each other to survive. The body is a gas-filled translucent bag-like float. It can be anywhere from 3 to 12 inches (9 to 30 centimeters) Underneath the float are clusters of polyps, from which hang coiled stinging tentacles of up to 165 feet (50 meters) long. The crest above the float is only a few inches tall and acts like a sail. Like us, it relies on the wind to move it from one place to another. Man-of-wars commonly float along in large groups and can deflate their floats so that the weather will not harm their delicate structures. Above is a close-up view from one of our sightings.

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