Marine depth

Negative impacts are affecting marine life from the sky to the sea floor

1. Sea birds: Birds have been killed by ingesting and getting caught in plastic. Small pieces of plastic are particularly harmful, such as bottle caps and packaging. Birds that feed on fish have also faced problems as fish have moved to deeper waters to stay at the right temperature, out of diving reach for their normal predators.

2. Sea lions: Sea lions have also had issues with energy expenditure in pursuing their prey. Without proper food sources, breeding has seen a sharp decline in some areas.

3. Elephant seals: The large seals have had to deal with not only warming ocean waters, but the warming and changing air. Their thick layers of blubber store needed energy, but could also be detrimental in too hot an environment.

4. Sea otters: The population and habitat of the sea otter has been diminished due to hunting and human development and are a rare sight to see on the Sonoma Coast. Attempts to relocate some of the animals back here from areas where they are more plentiful have been unsuccessful, as the otters have swam back to where they came from. Only time will tell if the otter will expand back to our coast.

5. Bull kelp: As much of a symbol of this part of California as the redwood tree, kelp once dominated the sea floor, creating an underwater forest that hosted a tremendous variety of wildlife. Now, most of it is gone, dying off from a variety of factors. Without this cornerstone, rocky deserts have replaced the once thriving areas.

6. Purple sea urchin: One of the main culprits of the kelp forests’ decline is the purple sea urchin. As wasting disease ran through starfish, the urchin population exploded and, left unckecked, ate through entire swaths of kelp

7. Sharks: As top predators, sharks absorb the pollutants poisoning their prey, making them unsafe to eat and possibly affecting their health. In addition, it has long been recorded that sharks will eat nearly anything, including trash thrown into the water. Often, large sharks that are caught and die are found to have a wide variety of trash in their stomachs coming from various spread out locations.

8. Whales: Like their baleen relatives, sperm whales have also been affected by changing climate, particularly warmer ocean temperatures. The sperm whale normally is off the California coast year round, but typically is not seen further north during winter months. Recently the whale has been spotted in northern Canadian waters as well, possibly following food sources that require more specific temperatures. The sperm whale has particular problems with cold water, however, and if patterns of travel shift to areas where the whale becomes too cold, it can lead to an oil that gives it its name to turn waxy. In addition, its huge size may lead to it being blocked in by ice if it lingers too far to the north.

Other whales such as the humpback and gray whale have also shifted to deeper and cooler waters to find food that requires the temperature. All this moving expends greater levels of energy, which can lead to starvation, as has been reported in several beached carcasses.

9. Squid: The habits of squid rely on ocean temperatures to be at certain levels to allow for food sources to interact with different depths. As oceans warm, predators are able to dive deeper for squid when they are less active, and at night, when squid normally rise up to shallower waters, a disruption in nutrient flow can lead to a lack of food.

10. Abalone: Once a fishing staple, the white abolone is off the menu indefinately, while the red abalone season has ended for at least the next two years. They, too, were impacted by the rise of purple urchins, which feed on similar items. Some attempts to breed abalone larvae in captivity have seen success, but whether those will be able to be reintroduced to bring back wild populations is yet to be seen.

11. Dungeness crab: Crustaceans, along with other shellfish like abalone, have been weakened by ocean acidification. Without the right pH, their shells become soft and ineffective. Further, as they feed, they pick up pollutants in their system, and when that gets bad enough, they become unsafe to eat.

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