Friday, May 13, 2016

El Niño Brings Unexpected Beach Visitors

Tropical Sea Life Head to El Norte
Warm Temperatures are an Irresistible Lure

Written by SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel

(weather scientists' name for the El Niño storms they predicted) may not have waded ashore in SoCal this year, but it did bring some unexpected visitors to Orange County's beaches. Many of them ones for the record books!

Even though the monster rains were a no-show, El Niño's warmer ocean currents weren't and the increased temperatures made the OC a desirable spot for sea life not normally seen this far north. 

SurfWriter Girls Sunny Magdaug and Patti Kishel learned that some of the marine animals that ventured into our coastal waters included:  a Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake, Pacific Seahorses, gelatinous creatures called By-the-Wind Sailors, Pelagic red crabs, and an array of tropical fish ranging from giant whale sharks and tiny puffer fish to yellowfin tuna and blue-striped marlin. 

"Every tropical fish seems to have punched their ticket for Southern California," U.C., Santa Barbara, marine scientist Milton Love said, noting the crowded waters.

One of the most surprising ocean visitors was a rare (and highly venomous) Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake that washed up on the sand at Bolsa Chica State Beach in December during a Surfrider Foundation beach cleanup.

By the time volunteers discovered the snake it was dead, but when Surfrider sponsor La Video Drone sent video to the news media, it soon became apparent that the snake wasn't your typical find. Shortly afterward, Tony Soriano, Surfrider's Huntington/Seal Beach Chapter Chairperson, got a call from the Natural History Museum of Los AngelesCounty.

Before long, Gregory Pauly, the museum's Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, was on the scene, calling the snake "an extremely important and rare find." He said, "This is only the third documented record of a Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake washing ashore in California."

Soriano added that it was definitely a Surfrider beach cleanup for the record books: "306.57 lbs of trash picked up; 20 lbs. Styrofoam collected; 1 rare sea snake found."
 In January diver Roger Hanson came across the sighting of a lifetime – a tiny Pacific Seahorse cruising along in Los Alamitos Bay. Hanson, a veteran diver with over 5,000 dives to his credit, couldn't believe his eyes.  The bright orange, whimsical seahorses are normally found in Latin America. Quoting Jacques Cousteau, Hanson said, "'You never know what you're going to see on your next dive.'"

Since then there have been other sightings of seahorses in Orange County and as far North as Santa Barbara Island.
In Newport Beach the sands were dotted a vivid, Windex-blue in April with the arrival of hundreds of By-the-Wind Sailors that literally blew into town on the winds and landed on the beach. Apparently drawn by the warmer water temperatures, the jellyfish-like sea creatures, which are about 2 1/2 inches long, were quickly snapped up by hungry sea gulls.

As for the Pelagic red crabs, which look like tiny lobsters, they have been popping up in fishing nets and washing up on beaches for months, far removed from their Baja California natural habitat.

With new beach arrivals in the OC continuing to surprise us, there's no telling what other visitors will follow in the warmth of El Niño's wake. As we've already seen, "Some like it hot."

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