Featured Image Credit: NOAA Fisheries West Coast
By Kira Krall
For the past three years, a silent but deadly terror has been plaguing the Northeast Pacific Ocean: The Blob. Unusually weak winds have prevented the mixing of cold, nutrient-rich water with warmer surface water. This made the entire North American Pacific coast 35-41 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the historical average from 2014-2017. Everything in this region suffered, but one team of scientists wanted to examine how the warm water was affecting the charismatic California Sea Lions.
Marina Banuet-Martínez et. al took blood samples from wild sea lion pups found off the coast of Baja California in the San Benito Archipelago. They measured blood levels that indicate malnutrition like glucose, triglycerides, and total cholesterol (also tested in humans when we get our blood work done!). While most of the parameters were normal for sea lion pups, glucose levels were 15% lower in pups born during the abnormal sea surface temperatures which indicates one thing: these pups were in the beginning phases of malnutrition.
How does this result relate to The Blob? The extremely warm surface temperatures threw off the marine food web. The entire ocean thrives because of the microscopic plankton that bloom when the water is colder. Everything from larval fish to whales to California Sea Lions were affected by the lack of food that was caused by The Blob. Namely, mother sea lions. The Blob forced them to swim much further than normal to find food, wasting precious energy they needed to support their pup.
Low glucose levels affected two antibodies responsible for protecting the body against bacterial and viral infection: Immunoglobulin A and immunoglobulin G. The ability of these pups to protect themselves against disease was pre-determined by their mother’s lack of food. Thankfully The Blob should disappear sometime soon, but unfortunately it may just be a taste of what we can expect from our oceans in the future.
You can read the study in its entirety here.