As West Coast communities brace for what many are calling the “Godzilla” El Niño, scientists are looking beneath the waves to learn more about the upcoming storm season. And if this year’s wildlife anomalies are any indication, this El Niño could be the strongest in decades.
“The whole ecosystem is changing,” said Francisco Chavez, a senior scientist with Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI). “The animals are the first to tell us that something is different…[they] are telling us that we’re going to get a relatively big El Niño.”
Here are a few of the surprising changes in the west coast ecosystem documented in recent months.
Scientists and tourists in Northern California have also noticed an increase in shark sightings. In addition to species native to Baja and Southern California, like hammerheads and mako sharks, large numbers of rare and vulnerable basking sharks have been spotted as far north as Monterey, California.
And in October, the coast guard reported an alarming increase in white sharks feeding near San Francisco. But researchers are quick to point out that white sharks have always fed in and around the Bay Area.
“It’s long been understood that sharks are in the bay it’s just this is the first time this has been documented [on camera],” said Sean Van Sommeran, the executive director of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation.
But Van Sommeran added that changing water temperatures are impacting juvenile white sharks, which are traveling hundreds of miles north of their usual habitat with warmer currents.
“It’s not so much that the population is growing,” Van Sommeran said. “It’s that their center of gravity has moved north.”