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El Niño brings tropical fish to Pacific coast

maco September 9, 1997
Web posted at: 3:27 a.m. EST (0827 GMT)

From Correspondent Susan Reed

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- El Niño is already showing its effects. Tropical fish are appearing in the waters off the California coast as this unusual weather pattern warms up the water in the Pacific.

For instance, mako sharks are usually only found in warm, tropical water, not in the chilly Monterey Bay.

"It's very rare to find them so close in. It's very rare to see them at all," says Sean Van Sommeran of the Pelagic Shark Foundation.

The effects aren't just in the Bay Area. In the Pacific Northwest, fisherman landed a marlin, the first marlin ever caught off Washington's coast. For those off the Oregon coast, surfing in a bathing suit instead of a wetsuit, is a new experience.

vxtreme Feeling the effects of El Niño

"(I) didn't have to wear a wetsuit it was so warm," says one happy surfer. "It was nice."

With water temperatures 10 degrees warmer than usual, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has to chill water for cold water species like jellyfish and octopus. To keep the kelp in good shape, they're adding nitrogen and phosphorus with miracle grow.


"Although fish can migrate, their food sources don't," says John Cosker of the California Academy of Sciences. "Unless they can adapt to a new food source, they'll be nothing to eat where they are."

That's true too for birds who feed on sea creatures. Off the coast of Oregon, many birds appear to be dying of hunger.

"This, I don't think is an indication of long-term change in the world global weather pattern," Cosker says. "It's just a blip in the pattern."

That blip though, with a warmer ocean created by El Niño, is expected to also bring warm, wet winter storms over California.

When that happens, heavy rains won't just have an affect on fish and wildlife, but crops and people who will face mudslides and flooding. A sign, perhaps, that Mother Nature is trying to tell us something significant.


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