Hot Water "Blob" Causes Harm to Wildlife in the Pacific
Rising water temperatures all over the world are causing a multitude of problems for the planet. Recently, a spike in the ocean temperatures is suspected to have led to the death of one million seabirds.
Five years ago, an extreme marine heatwave known as “the Blob” had an unprecedented effect on the northeast Pacific marine ecosystem. In fact, according to a group of research scientists at the University of Washington, an estimated one million murres – a species of seabird – died at sea and washed ashore in 2015 to 2016. Now, it seems that the blob is returning, as a new and just as deadly heatwave is forming along the West Coast from Alaska to California.
Common murres are tough, competent birds. Despite standing only one foot tall, this black-and-white bird can dive up to 700 feet deep into the ocean in search of prey – that’s about the length of two football fields. This makes it easy for them to catch plenty of forage fish, like herring, sardines, and anchovies.
But when the Blob raised ocean temperatures by 5.4 to 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit in 2015, there were fewer small fish around for the murre to feed on. The heatwave – which actually started in 2013 but was further intensified with El Niño in 2015 – increased the metabolism of predatory fish and as a result, the quantity of forage fish became scarce and murres rapidly starved to death. A number of other birds, fish, and mammal species in the West Coast region – such as tufted puffins and sea lions – died too but the murre die-off was far more dire.
John Piatt, lead author of the study conducted by the University of Washington, said, “Food demands of large commercial groundfish like cod, pollock, halibut, and hake were predicted to increase dramatically with the level of warming observed with the blob, and since they eat many of the same prey as murres, this competition likely compounded the food supply problem for murres, leading to mass mortality events from starvation.”
Scientists say that the 2015 murre die-off is the largest mass die-off to have ever been recorded. They also argue that this catastrophic event should be taken as a warning for what’s to come as ocean temperatures continue to rapidly rise around the world. The common murre shows how deadly and threatening global warming can really be to marine life.