Friday August 25, 2023

Hakai Magazine

In late 2013, a mass of warm water now known as the Blob appeared in the northeast Pacific—a massive marine heatwave that cooked coastal ecosystems from Alaska to California. Later, bolstered by an El Niño, the vast and potent heatwave wreaked havoc on marine ecosystems: thousands of seabirds died, while blooms of harmful algae poisoned marine mammals and shellfish. The suddenly warmed water also brought an influx of new animals to the northeast Pacific: ocean sunfish appeared in Alaska, while yellow-bellied sea snakes popped up in Southern California.

By 2017, the Blob had waned and many of these more tropical species had retreated. Yet not all. Some of the species that colonized new habitats during the heatwave have stuck around. And now, says Joshua Smith, a marine ecologist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California who documented in new research how the Blob triggered a range of subtle yet persistent shifts in the spread of marine species, “I’m starting to sort of question whether those communities will ever look the way they did.”

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