The Blob is Going Away


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May 19, 2006
Cabo 216 First Love
‘The blob’ off West Coast cools down
The waning of a mass of warm ocean water is helping anchovies and humpback whales.
AS ANCHOVY populations pop back up in the coastal waters, humpback whales and other marine mammals have followed suit, making rare appearances near the coast. Above, a humpback off Santa Barbara in 2001. (Mike Eliason Associated Press)
By Deborah Sullivan Brennan
Record high Pacific Ocean temperatures recorded off the West Coast in recent years have receded to near normal, according to a report on the California Current.
That cool shift marks the end of “the blob,” the mass of warm water that dominated the West Coast, and of the El Niño event that followed. It’s unclear, however, what that means for fish and marine mammals, scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stated in the 2019 ecosystem status report for the California Current Ecosystem.
“The big thing is that a lot of the physical conditions of the ocean here off of our coast are beginning to return to normal,” said Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist with NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla. “But it is not clear yet whether the ecosystem is as well.”
Starting around late 2013, waters off the West Coast rose 2 to 4 degrees above normal, as a high-pressure system in the Pacific shut down westerly winds that channel cool waters down the West Coast. That gave rise to the warm, stagnant waters of “the blob,” an oceanic anomaly that continued until about 2016. Ocean warming continued in 2015-16 with an El Niño event, in which warm equatorial water heats up the ocean off California.
Throughout that period, populations of sardines and other small fish crashed, leading to record numbers of young sea lion strandings. It also brought tropical fish, including yellowfin and bluefin tuna, into California waters.
That wave of warm water culminated in August 2018, when the sea surface temperature at Scripps Pier in La Jolla hit a record 78.6 degrees, the highest in the pier’s 102-year history.
This year, the California Current has returned to more typical temperatures, though it’s still running about one-half to 1 degree higher than average, Hazen said. That has brought a partial restoration of the region’s marine life. Sardine fisheries have been closed for five years because of low stocks, while anchovy are recovering, said Dale Sweetnam, deputy director of the Fisheries Resources Division of NOAA.
“The thing we’re seeing right now, is that the sardine have not yet started to come back, but the anchovies have been doing very well,” said Toby Garfield, director of the Environmental Research Division at NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center. “In different areas, the pockets of anchovies are coming back.”
As anchovy populations pop back up in coastal waters, humpback whales and other marine mammals have followed suit, making rare appearances near the coast.
“We have been seeing humpback whales feeding offshore, foraging on anchovies” off the Central Coast, Hazen said.
The whales are even venturing near San Diego beaches, to the delight of observers. Although gray whales make regular migrations off Southern California, humpbacks are more unusual visitors.
“In fact, we had a juvenile humpback playing right off the lab yesterday, in La Jolla,” Sweetnam said last week. “He was breaching and playing with all the boats and kayakers. We haven’t seen humpbacks playing in La Jolla for a long time.
The close encounters with humpbacks have had their downside too, as more of the whales have become entrapped in fishing gear. Whale entanglements in 2015 through 2018 were more than double the annual average for the years 2000 to 2013, the report found.
Sea lion pups are thriving anew, the report found. The pups experienced mass strandings during “unusual mortality events” between 2013 and 2015, when sea lion mothers struggled to find enough food to nurse their young.
During that time, sick and malnourished pups washed ashore in Southern California, taxing the limits of marine mammal rescue organizations. By 2018, however, they appeared to be bouncing back, scientists said.
“Pup count, weight and growth are all increasing,” Hazen said before adding a word of caution. “The high pupping is good, but we still have to see if they grow” to adulthood.
Seabirds were also staging a comeback. Although there were major “wrecks,” or die-offs, of auklets and murres in 2014 through 2016, there was no widespread mortality in 2017 and 2018, the report stated.
Scientists are still puzzling out what these changes mean in the long term, and whether phenomena such as humpback whale patterns are statistical blips or ongoing trends.
“Even though the warm water has largely receded by 2016, we’re still seeing humpback whales closer to shore,” Hazen said. “Is this just an aftershock of the blob, or is this what we’re going to be seeing for the next two, five, 10 years? We just don’t know yet.”
Brennan writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
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So Fishy
Aug 24, 2017
San Diego, CA
Pay to Play
Yeah, I sure am glad those poor sea lions are FINALLY making a SLOW comeback (sarcasm).o_O Haven't seen ANY around recently. Was getting WORRIED.
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stephen campbell

aka "Soup"
Jul 7, 2016
oro valley az
Stephen Campbell
S/V Bluechablis Valiant 40
So, anyone have a guess on the big ones at the Lower Banks? Not much action early down there late years.
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