Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
“Unprecedented changes” that have warmed the ocean off the west coast of North America may portend a dramatic decline in the biological productivity of coastal waters, explaining recent strandings of emaciated sea lion pups and a mass die-off that began last fall of small seabirds called Cassin’s auklets.
That’s the word from fishery experts and ecologists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who say populations of tiny organisms at the base of the marine food web already have diminished and could take a toll on everything from salmon to seals because of especially intense variability in regional weather patterns.
Scientists remain in “wait and see” mode, but, “Our guess is the primary productivity of zooplankton and phytoplankton will probably be reduced this year,” and perhaps even longer, said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla.
A shift in atmospheric winds and the flow of unusually warm waters south from the Gulf of Alaska have raised ocean surface temperatures between 2 to 6 degrees along a band of Pacific Ocean from Alaska to Mexico, according to Nate Mantua, leader of the landscape ecology team at the science center’s Santa Cruz facility.
“Right now, the ocean is very warm, and we have lots of indicators pointing to low productivity and low availability of some of the more normal prey items for things like seabirds and marine mammals, including seals and sea lions,” he said.
Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Marine Mammal Center in Marin County is on the front lines of a statewide response to a surge in sea lion pups turning up on California beaches emaciated and sometimes sick, at a time they still should be in the company of their mothers, nursing and learning to forage.
Already this year, the rehabilitation center in the Marin Headlands has received at least 108 California sea lions in need of care — mostly pups, but some juveniles and adults, as well, staff veterinarian Cara Field said Tuesday.
Even more were in line to arrive from triage centers farther south Wednesday, facility personnel said.
The marine mammal hospital usually takes in just a few California sea lion babies in January of a given year.
The most ever was last January, when there were 10, so “we’ve received a huge increase,” Field said.
The situation is similar across the network of marine mammal care facilities on the West Coast, many of them based in Southern California, closer to the Channel Islands sea lion rookery and other off-shore breeding grounds reaching into Baja.
Scores of malnourished pups, their big, dark eyes appearing even larger than usual in their thin faces, are being rehabilitated, taxing the nonprofit centers that take them in.
Read more via Mystery malady affecting sea lion pups strains Sausalito | The Press Democrat.
Most folks in Cazadero, where 100 inches of rain a year is not big deal, measure every inch in gauges at their homes and discuss their results.
“Everybody’s comparing all the time when it rains,” said Don Berry, a Cazadero native whose great-grandfather bought the town in the 1880s.
But there was comparatively little to talk about this winter, even in the coastal hills of Sonoma County, where incoming storms typically drop sheets of rain.
According to the Western Regional Climate Center in Reno, California’s North Coast Region — defined as a narrow strip of land running from the southwest corner of Sonoma County to the Oregon border — got just 12.6 inches of rain from December through February, the region’s third-driest winter in history.
Andrea Granahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The waters off Bodega Bay have suddenly become the hang-out location for approximately one tenth of the west coast population of Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).
About 60 of the animals have moved into the area, far out of their normal range. Usually they are found near Santa Barbara, off Point Conception between the mainland and the Channel Islands. But suddenly they have decided to check out Sonoma Coast waters, and it has scientists scratching their heads.
Researchers at the nonprofit Golden Gate Cetacean Research are hoping the public will help them by photographing any animals they spot. Send news and photos of sightings to ggcetacean.org.
The dolphins came north before during the 1982 El Niño, when ocean warming drove their food sources north to cooler waters. When the ocean cooled again, they moved south again.
via Bottlenose dolphins visit Bodega Bay. Bodega Bay dolphin video 2012