Strange Things Are Happening

Northern fur seal receives her nutrition through tube feedings several times a day
post by Larry Clinton  |  photo © The Marine Mammal Center

No one can say for sure what the effects of the coming El Niño will be, but unusual appearances of sea creatures are occurring off the California coast, as local waters have already begun warming up.

The Marine Mammal Center has rescued more northern fur seals in 2015 than any previous year in their four-decade history (54 animals so far in 2015 compared to the previous record of 31 animals total in 2006). In normal years, the Center admits about five of these creatures, which are actually a species of sea lion (misnamed by fur traders who almost hunted them to extinction in the 19th Century). During El Niño years, this number dramatically increases because northern fur seals are very sensitive to warming ocean waters which make it difficult for them to find and catch food.

Highly venomous yellow-bellied sea snakes have been spotted in Ventura, where they haven’t been seen for 30 years. It’s assumed they’ve migrated northward with the warmer waters. Here’s more info from KTLA.

You may have heard about the great white shark attack on a seal, or possibly a sea lion, at Alcatraz last month. In full view of gawking tourists. It was the first recorded GWS attack in the modern history of San Francisco Bay. If you’re up to it, you can view a video of the attack at KRON. The footage also confirms the way most GWS attacks happen, from beneath and below (more stealthy) and many times with the shark lifting the prey out of the water on the attack.

As if that wasn’t a close enough call, on October 24 the Chronicle reported that an unusually large cluster of great white sharks had been spotted offshore near San Francisco and Pacifica, raising concerns for ocean swimmers, kayakers and surfers. The sharks were swimming together about 100 yards offshore.

Mary Jane Schramm, spokeswoman for the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, said most of the sharks were between 10 and 15 feet long and a couple of them were “really big,” about 18 feet long. “This is the first I’d heard of near-shore aggregating in such an urban area,” said Schramm, who could not recall ever seeing so many large sharks in one place.

David McGuire, director of Shark Stewards, said large sharks are usually offshore of the Farallone Islands, Año Nuevo and Drakes Bay at this time of year and smaller juveniles are usually what people see along the coast, but the balance appears to be somewhat askew, possibly due to El Niño warming. Shark Stewards has set up a system to allow divers, surfers, kayakers and swimmers to monitor sharks at #Sharkwatch on Twitter.

Scary stuff, but some, like the Chronicle’s Carl Nolte, approach all this with some skepticism, asking, “Is El Niño the new Y2K?” Only time will tell.