Hinterland Green

Friday, September 4, 2009

Starving Sea Lions off Chile's Northern Coast May Mark the Herald of "El Nino"

Sea lions on Chile's northern coast are starving to death in unusually high numbers, signaling the weather shift, or El Nino, that is taking hold in the Pacific. The El Nino effect is essentially bring warmer waters to the shores of South America, which is driving away the fish that the sea lions eat. According to Walter Sielfeld, a professor of marine science at Arturo Prat University in Iquique, Chile, the evidence to support this shift is being found in the autopsies of the emaciated pups. They found that the sea-lion pups had empty bellies and no adipose tissue, the fat that insulates their bodies. This warming trend also spells disaster for the country's $4 billion fishing industry, which has already been ravaged by a salmon virus that has had a devastating blow on exporters.

Over the last 30 years, El Nino has sparked deadly floods and landslides from Ecuador to California, caused drought in Africa, wildfires in Australia and caused billions of dollars in damage, according to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. More than 1,000 sea lions have been found dead, Chile’s national fishery service said in an Aug. 28 statement.This die-off trend is similar to deaths that occurred in California and is among the first concrete effects of El Nino, which starts when warm waters from the western Pacific shifts along the equator to the eastern Pacific. The cool water, which is nutrient-rich, usually wells up from the ocean floor, but becomes blocked. As a result, the fish supply declines sharply or move elsewhere, leaving mammals and seabirds to starve.
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