Posted by: sarahegner | October 21, 2013

What does it mean when deep sea creatures start to surface??

Oarfish found off of Catalina Island by marine science instructors at Catalina Island Marine Institute

Oarfish found off of Catalina Island by marine science instructors at Catalina Island Marine Institute

3 deep sea creatures washed ashore in California within a week:  coincidence or an indication of abiotic stresses??

An 18 foot long oarfish was found dead in the waters off of Catalina Island in California on Sunday October 13th, on October 16th a Stejneger’s beaked whale (also known as a saber-toothed whale) washed ashore on Los Angeles’ Venice Beach, and a second oarfish, this one 14 ft long, was found dead on the beach of Oceanside, California on October 18th.

What does this mean??  All sources admit that each of these is an extremely rare find in itself.  Oarfish are found in temperate and tropical waters but are thought to dive more than 3,000 feet deep.  The beaked whale home range is subarctic waters of the North Pacific from the Bering Sea south to Japan and central California with the center of its distribution around the Aleutian Islands.  Needless to say, both the oarfish and the beaked whale are very much under observed and understudied, especially in the shallow waters of Southern California.

A necropsy was performed on the whale- no signs of disease or parasites.  Scientists have analyzed tissue samples from the initial oarfish discovered in Catalina and have concluded it died of natural causes.

It certainly could be coincidence, but could these strandings be a sign of something more?

Global climate change? Are the warmer waters affecting these animals and/or their food sources?

Radiation from Japan’s nuclear meltdowns?? Radioactive particles released in the nuclear reactor meltdown in Fukushima, Japan, following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami were detected in giant kelp in the California coast according to a 2012 published study.  Bioaccumulation?

An impending earthquake?  According to traditional Japanese lore, oarfish rise to the surface and beach themselves before an impending quake.  Mark Benfield, a researcher at Lousiana State University, has noted that shortly before the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, about 20 oarfish stranded themselves on Japanese beaches, suggesting the fish could possibly have known that the earthquake was coming.  Should Californians be bracing themselves??

Scientists on the West Coast are undoubtedly asking themselves these questions and more as they continue to analyze the specimens.  Regardless, having these animals wash ashore relatively fresh and intact is positive in that it gives scientists a chance to learn more about marine creatures that are especially difficult to go out and observe.  As for whether these strandings are connected in any way to water quality conditions, only time will tell.

Heal the Bay representative with a Stejneger's beacked whale found on Venice Beach

Heal the Bay representative with a Stejneger’s beacked whale found on Venice Beach

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