Marine life feels the heat

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1997:

Global warming and krill fishing by Russia, Japan,
and the Ukraine have tipped the biomass balance of the
Antarctic to favor salp, another microscopic creature of little
food value to marine mammals, Antarctic Marine Living
Resources program researchers reported in June.
Generating red tides, salp blooms kill as well as
compete with krill. The rise of salp and decline of krill reportedly
coincides with a 35% drop in the krill-dependent King
George Island population of Adele penguins.
The decline of Antarctic krill is not why record numbers
of blue whales and other baleen whales gathered this summer
off the Farallon Islands, experts said, since North Pacific
baleen whales migrate no farther south than the equator, but
warm water currents called El Nino, also tentatively linked to
global warming, have depleted the cetacean food supply in
parts of the North Pacific.
The depletion hit sea birds too, especially common
murres, who failed to nest this year along the Oregon coast.
Northern currents have reportedly warmed so much that southeast
Alaska salmon netters recently hauled in a one-ton Mola
mola––an oceanic sunfish usually found off Mexico. Pacific
mackerel have followed the warm currents to hit newly
released chinook salmon hard off Vancouver Island.


Sockeye salmon stayed in Canadian waters, a boon
to fishers who contend their U.S. rivals overfished chum,
pink, and chinook salmon earlier in the summer, and blockaded
the Alaskan ferry M a l a s p i n a for three days at Prince
Rupert in protest. Canadians took 88% of recorded sockeye
landings, half again more than usual.
Whatever El Nino does to whales, fish, and sea
birds, the California Marine Mammal Stranding Network
expects seals and sea lions to suffer. During the 1992 El Nino,
2,600 seals and sea lions were beached along the California
coast, alive and dead, from all causes combined; in 1994,
the first full year afterward, strandings fell to just 1,600.
As expected, a record 80 adult harbor seals washed
up at Point Reyes National Seashore between April and
August––four times as many as usual for a full year.
Investigators think the seals were killed by an unknown virus.
None of the six California marine mammal stranding
centers can shelter more than 30-40 seals and sea lions at a
time. “We’ll stack them as high as we can, as long as we get
financial support from the public,” pledged Jackie Ott, operations
manager of the Marine Mammal Care Center in San
Pedro, California. “It will be like triage during a war.”
The Oiled Widlife Veterinary Care and Research
Center, opened July 21 in Santa Cruz, can treat 125 sea otters
and 100 birds at a time. Built with a levy on crude oil shipments
through California waters, the center lies between the
Long Marine Laboratory and a $4.4 million Marine Discovery
Center under construction. A new National Marine Fisheries
Service laboratory is to be built nearby.
The California sea otter population has markedly
declined over the past two years, according to Friends of the
Sea Otter science director Ellen Faurot-Daniels: down 4.2% in
1996 and 2.2% during the first half of 1997.
“Otters are sending us a clear warning about their
health, the health of their waters, and their food,” FaurotDaniels
told Michael McCabe of the San Francisco Chronicle.
“There is something in the environment affecting the water
and perhaps us. Something is icky out there.”
Of the 339 dead sea otters found since 1995, 38.5%
died of infectious disease––four times the usual rate among
wild predators.

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