It’s anyone’s guess why temperatures in the Pacific Ocean are heating up off the coast of Southern California. Is a natural El Niño effect occurring, or is there something more sinister happening under the blue ocean waters?
Off the coast of California, drastic signs of a rapidly changing Pacific Ocean are cropping up. Warmer currents have forced species of fish away from the coast. A massive fish migration, coupled with typical overfishing, has led to dwindling populations of key species like sardines, oysters, shellfish, scallops and krill. As the aquatic species move away from the coast in search of a better habitat, the sentinel California sea lion population is suffering. In fact, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that more than 3,000 sea lion pups have become stranded in 2015. The Marine Mammal Center is sending out veterinarians to rescue the stranded sea lions so they can be nursed back to health.
Shawn Johnson, head veterinarian for the Marine Mammal Center, reported in March: “We’re having a tsunami of sea lions… it’s been incredible.” Johnson says the most devastated areas are in southern California, and they are finding emaciated sea lions on practically every beach. “The lucky ones are making it to the beaches where we can find them,” Johnson reports. “The biologists out on the rookeries are saying that a whole cohort of these pups, thousands and thousands, are not surviving,” he said.
Record number of sea lions pups being rescued as their food disappears
It’s very unusual to see the pups alone in the winter months. They aren’t usually left alone until early summer. According to experts, the parent pups are embarking on longer journeys just to find food. The NOAA reports that May 2015 could become the worst month on record, with 215 rescued in the first five days of the month.
Justin Viezbicke of the NOAA says, “The main contributing factor that we’re looking at right now and talking about with the biologists and climatologists on the Channel Islands [a major sea lion rookery] is the lack of upwelling. We haven’t had the strong north winds that drive the currents that create it, and because it hasn’t materialized – it’s moved the prey further and deeper from the moms that are foraging.”
Laura Scherr of the Marine Mammal Center adds that the pups are more vulnerable to parasites and pneumonia than ever before. “They’re coming in very emaciated – really just a bag of bones near death,” she reports.
Experts shocked as California coast becomes like a desert dead zone
One of the most telling signs that a dangerous shift has occurred is in the appearance of the waters just off the coast. The experts are worried about the emergence of crystal clear waters. These clear, shimmering blue waters indicate that the ocean is becoming a desert land void of life.
The NOAA reports that the waters are becoming so transparent that it’s possible to see the sandy bottom below, and that’s not a good thing. As life migrates away from the coast, parent sea lion pups are leaving for up to a week at a time to find food. Bewildered pups end up on the shore, frail and disoriented. Viezbicke believes the problem is a regional one and not indicative of larger patterns of global warming. Even as rescue centers are overwhelmed, Viezbicke says the massive die-off is all part of a natural cycle and thinks that the sea lions are a victim of their own success.
Nevertheless, the NOAA plans to continue studying the travesty as researchers look for deeper, underlying problems like infectious diseases and algal blooms. While investigating further, could these regional ocean changes be sparked by the first waves of radioactivity that have leaked out into the Pacific from the infamous Fukushima explosion? As the NOAA witnesses the California coast morphing into a desert-like dead zone, could this really be repercussions of radioactive waters?