Jan 26 2016
These two species — common murres and Peruvian boobies — have something in common. Both have starved in record numbers in the Pacific Ocean recently.
Common murres (Uria aalge) have a circumpolar range in the North Atlantic and North Pacific while Peruvian boobies (Sula variegata) are native to the west coast of South America yet both seabirds are affected by the same problem: warm seawater.
In the southern Pacific, the failed trade winds of El Niño have ceased the upwelling of cool undercurrents and raised the sea surface temperature near South America. A similar lack of wind has caused three warm Blobs to persist in the Northern Pacific. Sea surface temperatures in these regions are running 2oF to 7oF warmer. That small rise doesn’t sound like much but it’s enough to scare off cold water fish and even generate toxic algae blooms. There’s a drop in nutrients, a drop in fish life, and that means starvation for seabirds.
In June 2014 Peruvian boobies were the first wildlife indication of a strong El Niño when thousands of dead and starving boobies washed ashore on the coasts of Peru and Chile. Their cold water fishery had failed. Some were so desperate they flew way out of range to the Galápagos and Panama.
That winter, November 2014 to January 2015, Cassin’s auklets (Ptychoramphus aleuticus) became a warm water casualty on the U.S. West Coast. In their case the original Blob was to blame.
And now 100,000 dead common murres have washed ashore on the coast of Alaska, victims of warm water in the Gulf of Alaska.
Where will it end? The El Niño may weaken this spring but who knows when The Blobs will change?
For cold-water sea life, it’s death by warm water.