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Patch Of Pacific Water Is Warmest In Decades


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin. For months scientists and climatologists have been watching a strange occurrence in the Pacific Ocean - unusually warm water from Baja, California to the Bering Sea in Alaska that just will not go away. In California, water temperatures have been five to six degrees higher than their historic averages. In the North Pacific, researchers say, they've never seen waters this warm for this long. Scientists are still trying to work out all of the things causing the anomaly. But as NPR's Nathan Rott reports, they're not the only ones experiencing its effects.

NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Gustavo Gutierrez, or Gus, as the people on the boat call him, rinses the white decks and sides of the Pursuit - a 65-foot charter fishing boat based out of San Pedro, California. It's dark. The end of a long day after the paying customers have left.

GUSTAVO GUTIERREZ: Today was a decent day of fishing - not the greatest, not the worst.

ROTT: Gutierrez says they caught some yellowtail.

GUTIERREZ: Some Benita, we had a lot of rockfish.

ROTT: All in all, a pretty good day's catch for November since, you know, it's November. Usually this time of year, the fishing has slowed down because the water has cooled down. This year though...

GUTIERREZ: All year, we had warm water. Even now in November the water is still holding at almost 70 degrees. That's - I don't remember another year where the water was almost at 70.

ROTT: And warm water means very, very good fishing.

GUTIERREZ: The guy I work for, he's been doing this for 40 something years, and he's never had a year like this in his forty-something years of doing this. So...

ROTT: It's the same story at all the docks around here. In Long Beach, fisherman and surveyor, Bob Rambo.

BOB RAMBO: It's never been like this.

ROTT: Yellowtail, a fish that's normally found further south in the warmer waters off of San Diego or Baja, is being caught just miles off the shore of Los Angeles. People are hooking Hawaiian Ono, a warmer water fish that you'd almost never catch off the Pacific coast.

RAMBO: They're catching marlin, too, on three quarter day boats. Marlin - that's unheard of. And it's just not here. It's up and down the coast.

ROTT: And it's not just great for the folks catching the fish.

KERA MATHIS: I'm Kera Mathis. I'm an education specialist at the Aquarium of the Pacific.

ROTT: Researchers like Mathis have been having a heyday studying and watching all the marine life that's moving with the warm water.

MATHIS: We have had false killer whales. We've had pilot whales out here.

ROTT: Sperm whales, Brutus whales...

MATHIS: These are all whales that we don't regularly see. So it's been, overall, a booming year definitely with some rare sightings.

ROTT: Nick Bond is a research scientist at the University of Washington. Earlier this year, he nicknamed the unusually warm water the blob.

NICK BOND: The blob, yeah. The blob lives.

ROTT: Bond says that, no doubt, it's been a banner year for fishermen and observing scientists.

BOND: But I think there's a more important story here in what does this mean for our, you know, the whole ecosystem.

ROTT: Typically, he says, cold waters are more productive for aquatic life off the West Coast. So persistent warm waters could have broad implications for the area's food chain - especially seabirds and mammals.

BOND: We don't know how it's all going to play out, but it typically is probably kind of bad news for those kinds of guys.

ROTT: And for the humans living on the coast?

BOND: By having that warm water out there, it probably predisposes us to having a little bit warmer winter than normal.

ROTT: Bond says scientists expect the blob to dissipate. He stresses that it's only an anomaly, seemingly not related to climate change or a larger, longer trend. So if you're a fisherman, you better get a line in the water quick. Nathan Rott, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Nathan Rott is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where he focuses on environment issues and the American West.
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