El Niño: Sea Critters

Hammerhead sharks in coastal waters in the LA area. Yellow-bellied sea snakes on Oxnard beaches. All because of El Niño? Well, to some it must be because these are warmer water creatures.

To Luke Richmond it’s not surprising during an El Niño year. Richmond is a science educator at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. He’s been paying close attention to the warming water along the equator and even in the Southern California area.

What the data shows is that the water right off of Southern California is about 5 degrees warmer than normal which raises questions about the sustainability of some of our Southern California sea life.

The concern starts with plankton. Richmond says in the past water warm has kept nutrients bubbling up from the ocean floor. That’s what plankton eat. No or fewer nutrients can kill off the microscopic creatures.

Richmond says, “In turn, we can expect drops in the numbers of all of these other species up the food chain that are dependent on that plankton such as sardines.” And, while there’s no way to be sure, the science educator says a drop in sardines could affect sea bass, yellowtail jack (a type of tuna),  leopard shark and other fish.

But, it’s not just fish. Richmond says, “we’re also seen things like the kelp beds disappearing” and that can be a big problem especially for small fish that use kelp to hide and protect themselves. But, with all cycles, Richmond says, the hope is always that any fish population hurt by El Niño can recover.
 

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