By Eric Barker
(Contributed through the regional Outdoor News Group)
Over the past five months, Bill Peterson has found a dozen warm-water species of copepods — tiny, energy-rich organisms at the base of the marine food chain — during his biweekly surveys off the Oregon Coast.
The senior scientist for the National Marine Fisheries Service at Newport said finding the out-of-place species is like looking out your window and seeing parrots and macaws instead of robins and finches.
“These are tropical species that never get this far north — never,” he said.The presence of the tropical copepods that are smaller, thinner and less abundant than the type of copepods Peterson has been collecting and counting for more than 20 years is not a good thing. It is one of many indicators the ocean has entered a warm phase, with much less of the cold-water upwellings that have driven healthy returns of salmon and steelhead over the past few years.
Normal sea churning lifts cold, nutrient-rich water from its depths to the surface, where it feeds copepods, which in turn feed the types of fish that salmon and steelhead eat to grow big and fat before they return to fresh water to spawn.
Now an unusual blob of warm water that formed off of the Gulf of Alaska and another in the eastern Pacific have merged and inundated the West Coast of the United States and the coast of British Columbia. The warm water has less upwelling and fewer copepods.
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