Death is natural in marine life, but when there was a drastically increased number of sea otters, whale and sea birds washed up dead on shore, scientists were extremely confused. Then millions of starfish started drying up in tide pools on the coast stretching from California to Alaska, thousands of seabirds crashed into shores along the coast and twenty times the average amount of sea lions in California starved. Something was seriously wrong and there was no explanation of all these deaths and rare cases. Turns out, they were killed by the blob.
What blob? Well, this blob is a patch of water that is much warmer than the water surrounding it. This temperature difference has large effects on many of the animals that have adapted to colder waters. It has disturbed the food chain, set temperature records and contributed to mass die offs. The blob came about in early 2013 when scientists first started seeing drastic changes in marine life off the coast. As the patch grew much larger, the temperature difference did as well. It almost grew double the size and got 2.5 degrees warmer. The temperature reached an all-time high during late 2014.
Zooplankton were affected the most by this. Warm water is less more nutritious than cold water and the healthy cold water is what made zooplankton thrive. The war blob meant less zooplankton. They are the producers of the chain and they are at the very bottom, this would be like taking the first block out of a jenga tower, the food chain will collapse. If you take one thing out of a food chain it messes up the whole chain, and starts to impact human interests as well.
What happens when fish come to eat around the pacific and there’s little to no zooplankton to feed off of? They migrate more up north or to somewhere that has more abundance of food. So what we don’t need fish in our water anyways right? Well what if you’re a fisher that makes a living off of the ocean? You come up short with the amount of fish you’re supposed to be delivering and your business fails.
Every spring, a toxic algae called pseudo-nitzschia blooms in a foam-like substance of patches in the Pacific for a week or two. It produces a neurotoxin that accumulates in shellfish. When hungry otters and other animals eat the shellfish, the poison caused seizures and in some cases, death. In the spring of 2015, the algae bloom didn’t quite go the same, instead it bloomed and it stayed. Shellfish harvesting stopped along the coast because it could poison humans too.
The blob also means that there are animals in places where they have never gone before. There have been sightings of jellyfish-like animals sighted around the Copper River delta miles on miles from where they should going. But that’s what they have to do just for basic survival given the absence of zooplankton in their usual habitat. Also sea lions left with no food are forced onto the beaches of California to find food to feed their young. There has been triple the amount of beached sea lions found all the way up the coast.
A small squid known as market squid are common off the coast of California and have always thrived there. By early 2014 the market squid had migrated up to northern Alaska and have bred and laid eggs there. What will happen to the hatchlings that grow up in more remote waters with much cooler water, or the fisheries that make a living of off the squid on the California coast? And how will the squid interrupt and mess things up in the food chains up north? Little things like the strange migrations that don’t happen everyday of certain species can have a mass effect on everything around them.
The west coast was a horror story for wildlife as they have to fight to survive against the natural causes, with birds crashing down onto the beaches, all types of carcasces floating around the water and coming onto beaches.
The blob has disappeared and reappeared every few years. Most recently, it showed up in the Northern Pacific in October, 2018 and was given the name, “Son of Blob.” It’s back bumping the temperatures of coastal waters 3 to 4 degrees warmer. How long will this blob last we do not know, but it is expected to affect weather patterns in the coming months. Whether or not it leads to the massive die-offs of previous years remains to be seen.
Cover image: National Park Service photo by Craig Murdoch