News / Science & Technology

Studies: How Whales, Fish Might Adapt To Warming Ocean

Gray whales might be adapting while fish populations are shifting

A charter fishing boat heads to sea from Newport, Oregon.
A charter fishing boat heads to sea from Newport, Oregon.

Multimedia

Audio
Tom Banse

Two new science studies provide a glimpse of how some important Pacific Ocean sea creatures could adapt to a changing climate.

One study describes how gray whales successfully adapted to previous cycles of global warming and cooling. The second predicts a fish shift on the west coast of North America. The study suggests that some West Coast fishermen will need to pursue different prey if the Pacific Ocean warms as projected over the next 50 years.  

Nick Pyenson is a paleobiologist who curates the marine fossil collection at the Smithsonian's Natural History Museum in Washington, D.C. The famous collection includes lots of creatures driven to extinction by environmental changes. It also includes some of the long fossil record for gray whales, a species that still lives in the Pacific Ocean today.

"Grey whales fit into this question about ongoing climate change," says Pyenson. He and his former doctoral advisor from UC Berkeley wondered how gray whales survived through previous cycles of global warming and cooling.

"In the past two million years, the Northern Hemisphere has undergone dramatic changes with ice sheets going all the way down to Chicago and Seattle," says Pyenson. "In doing so, that sucks up a lot of the water that would be otherwise be put in the ocean and drops sea level dramatically."

According to Pyenson, historic sea level changes periodically expanded and closed off vast feeding grounds. He theorizes gray whales hung on through bad times by either migrating less, switching food sources or both. Even today, there are small numbers of gray whales that stay in one place and eat fish and krill, while most of their species migrate long distances and bottom feed.

"What we think is telling is that those who don't migrate are telling us about the range in behavior and what these animals can do ecologically."

Pyenson says that adaptability bodes well for how the whales may respond to future climate changes. He adds one caveat though, saying the current cycle of human-induced global warming is developing faster and more powerfully than the historic episodes he examined.

Shannon Hunter of Newport holds an opah caught last summer on the charter vessel
Shannon Hunter of Newport holds an opah caught last summer on the charter vessel "Misty." Opah is normally found in Hawaiian waters.

Fish shift

In a separate study, a group of Canadian and American researchers examined how a warming ocean could affect fish common along the West Coast of North America.

The science team studied 28 fish species whose biology and distribution is well understood.  Oceanographer Ric Brodeur of the NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, says the list includes salmon, smelt, sharks, pollock and sardines. Brodeur says the researchers simulated what could happen if the North Pacific heats up due to global warming.

"Because these fish are so mobile, they can move up and down the coast or inshore or offshore to find the preferred temperature that they want."

The federal science agency, NOAA, predicts the ocean's surface waters off Oregon and Washington will warm about two degrees Celsius over the next 50 years. Brodeur says that's enough to cause significant moves.  A forthcoming research paper models how much.  If you combine the home ranges of all the fish that the team studied, there's an average shift northward of roughly 40 kilometers per decade. Over time, Brodeur predicts fishermen and seafood consumers will notice.

"A lot of the species that we consider very important - like hake - things that are commercially fished here might be gone and replaced by other species that may or may not be commercially important."

Across Yaquina Bay from Brodeur's office, charter fishing boats unload sun-burned anglers. Veteran captain Robert Waddell says he's already seen some evidence of warm water species shifting northward.

“I've noticed in the last 12-13 years, we've been starting to see some marlin off and on out there and we've hooked them a few times," says Waddell.

Blue fin tuna is another possible newcomer that could fill the vacancy if, say, salmon left for cooler waters off Canada.  Waddell is optimistic the local fishing fleet can adapt.

"People will make adjustments," he says. "Fifty years from now, we might be the marlin capital of the world. You never know."

You May Like

UN Ambassador Power Highlights Plight of Women Prisoners

She launches the 'Free the 20' campaign, aimed at profiling women being deprived of their freedom around the world More

Satellite Launch Sparks Spectacular Light Show

A slight delay in a satellite launch lit up the Florida sky early this morning More

Fleeing IS Killings in Syria, Family Reaches Bavaria

Exhausted, scared and under-nourished, Khalil and Maha's tale mirrors those of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries who have left their homes in the hopes of finding a better life More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs