10,000 baby sea lions dead on one California island — Experts: “It’s getting crazy… This is a crisis… Never seen anything like it… Very difficult to see so much death” — TV: “Numbers skyrocketing at alarming rates”An unprecedented number of auklets, a tiny sea bird that dives for plankton, were found dead in fall 2014, apparently of starvation, along the west coast from California to Canada. Nutrient poor warm waters are the probable cause of the lack of food.
Last year, beginning about Halloween, thousands of juvenile auklets started washing ashore dead from California's Farallon Islands to Haida Gwaii (also known as the Queen Charlotte Islands) off central British Columbia. Since then the deaths haven't stopped. Researchers are wondering if the die-off might spread to other birds or even fish.The warming that last year's huge Kelvin wave brought started a global coral bleaching event is likely to get much worse after this year's huge wave of warm water spreads up and down the coasts of north and south America.
"This is just massive, massive, unprecedented," said Julia Parrish, a University of Washington seabird ecologist who oversees the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a program that has tracked West Coast seabird deaths for almost 20 years. "We may be talking about 50,000 to 100,000 deaths. So far."
“It started in 2014 – we had severe bleaching from July to October in the northern Marianas, bad bleaching in Guam, really severe bleaching in the north western Hawaiian Islands, and the first ever mass bleaching in the main Hawaiian Islands,” said said Mark Eakin, Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch coordinator.NOAA's CFSv2 model is forecasting a strong El Nino event will develop this summer and continue through 2015. Warm water along the west coast, combined with weaker than normal winds caused by El Nino will prevent nutrient rich cold water from welling up along the coast. Species that depend on nutrient upwelling will face starvation. Australia's Bureau of Meteorology has an excellent El Nino forecasting model which is also predicting a strong El Nino. Because the jet stream has already gone into an El Nino pattern by moving south over the eastern Pacific ocean and Mexico and further north than normal over the eastern Atlantic ocean, the likelihood of El Nino failing to strengthen is small. Last year's Kelvin wave failed to bring on a strong El Nino because trade winds in the south Pacific didn't weaken but this year they have and waters along the west coast of south America have already warmed. The south Pacific has moved out of the cool mode it was in a year ago.
“It then moved south, with severe bleaching in the Marshall Islands and it has moved south into many of the areas in the western south Pacific. Bleaching just now is starting in American Samoa. In Fiji we’re starting to see some, the Solomon Islands have seen some. We’ve already seen a big event."
Bleaching takes place when corals are stressed due to changes in light, nutrients or temperature – though only the latter can cause events of this magnitude. This causes them to release algae, lose their colour and in some cases die off. It is a relatively rare occurrence. Large-scale bleaching was recorded in 1983, followed by the first global scale event in 1998. A second global wave came in 2010.