Oregon Coast Apocalypse? Dying Fish, Brown Ocean, Purple Critters
(Oregon Coast) – If Hunter S. Thompson had been bounding about the Oregon coast recently, his brain might've exploded. One surreal bit of science fun after another has been popping up on these beaches, and it would've given Thompson enough reason to believe he was going mad, no matter how sober he might or might not be. (Velella photo above: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).
Masses of purple jellyfish have been hitting these shores in enormous, smelly waves; a run of dead anchovies made the north coast look like an aquatic version of The Walking Dead; and even the ocean has acquired a weird color in some spots.
The culprit? Is this the “Real Wrath of God Stuff” Dan Ackroyd referred to in Ghostbusters?
Nope, it's a combination of westerly winds and a lot of phytoplankton flooding the environment and influencing things. In fact, it's a sign of a really healthy ocean.
In July, a mass stranding of purple jellyfish called Velella Velella hit almost the entire Oregon coast. Just this week, another big bunch hit the north coast and made the news all over the world. (Velella photo above: Tiffany Boothe, Seaside Aquarium).
Tiffany Boothe of Seaside Aquarium has been talking herself dry about these and other finds recently.
“These discs are a type of animal called Velella velella, commonly known as Purple Sails or By-The-Wind Sailors,” Boothe said. “Purple Sails have a clear 'sail' that catches the wind and pushes them across the ocean’s surface. When the wind blows from the west, these little guys get stranded on the beach.”
They show up periodically, usually in the spring and summer months. In recent years they've been on the rarer side, however, while in the early 2000's you'd have many years where they washed up quite often around that change of season. The strandings would get really heavy and then – well, extremely smelly.
Boothe also had to explain the now-world-wide sensation of thousands of anchovies hitting Seaside's Necanicum River. That story received global attention in the past week, and yet it's a semi-regular thing in town.
“Every few years the local anchovy run is so large that when they enter into the rivers they deplete the oxygen and many of them perish,” Boothe said. “This is what is occurring now along the Necanicum River. It may not seem like it but this is a sign that the anchovies along our coastline are doing good. It also provides a lot of food for birds and marine mammals.”
Birds have been having a feeding frenzy there, to the delight of tourists. But the smell wasn't too awesome for a while.
As if all that wasn't enough, Oregon Coast Beach Connection had some Facebook fans talk about a “red ocean” in some areas, including Heceta Head near Florence.
This, it turns out, is connected to the run of jellyfish (to some degree) and definitely to the anchovy die-off. Lots of diatoms – a form of phytoplankton – are the food for those fishies, so they flock in excessive numbers to where the chow is.
Huge runs of diatoms are also responsible for the brownish-red ocean many are seeing on the Oregon coast right now.
Phillip Johnson, head of the environmental group CoastWatch, explained the science behind the sights. He said some people are probably just mistaking the brown for red, although some CoastWatch members said the brown has been a bit more on the red side lately.
“There have been a few reports that the foam over the past few days has had an unusual reddish tinge,” Johnson said. “We don't specifically know why this is, but as far as we know, it is probably just the presence of some particular one-celled organism that happens to give this color to the foam.”
Lots of diatoms often means glowing sands at night on the coast, so be sure to look for that.
Anchoivies in Seaide, courtesy Seaside Aquarium
Bird frenzy over anchoivies in Seaide, courtesy Seaside Aquarium
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