Hurricane will Ride East Coast Marine Heat Wave

August 1, 2020

Washington Post:

Vacationing on Nantucket in early July, Terrence Boylan cast his line in to the strangely warm surf. The creature he reeled in left the veteran angler baffled. It was a skinny, 4-foot-long fish with a needlelike mouth and menacing teeth.

“He was completely surprised,” his wife, Jennifer, said. “He didn’t know what it was.”

The Boylans would soon learn Terrence had hooked a houndfish, a warm-water species that may never have been caught before along the Massachusetts shore.

By itself, the catch would be just a fluke. But it is one of a slew of unusual fish reports from the shores of New England in recent years. Scientists studying the warming waters in the region say it is part of a pattern and an ominous signal of climate change.

Ocean temperatures along the East Coast are near or above their warmest levels on record for this time of year, and they are not only drawing in unusual sea creatures but also helping to fuel the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record to date.

Now, Hurricane Isaias is poised to draw energy from these abnormally toasty waters as it rides up the East Coast and, depending on its course and speed, the consequences could be severe from Florida to Maine.

Much of the Eastern Seaboard, from the Georgia coast to southern Maine, is in the midst of what scientists define as a marine heat wave. They occur when ocean temperatures are abnormally warm (in the 90th percentile of available data) for an extended period (at least five days).

Marine heat wave intensity is categorized from moderate to extreme. While the waters off the Southeast coast are mostly in a moderate heat wave, the intensity becomes strong along pockets of the Mid-Atlantic coast before swelling to strong to severe off the shores of Massachusetts and southeast Maine.

Temperatures off the Northeast coast are 5.4 to 7.2 degrees above normal, said Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, in an email.

NBC 10 Boston:

Monday’s shark attack killed Julie Dimperio Holowach, 63, of New York City, officials said. The shark fatally bit Holowach off Bailey Island on Monday while she was swimming with her daughter, who was not hurt. 

“It was so unexpected it took everyone by crazy surprise,” Sulikowski said. “How do you handle something like this?” 

Scientists were able to later identify the shark as a great white using a tooth fragment, state officials said. Great whites aren’t common in Maine, which is the northern tip of their range, but recent summers have brought reports of sightings of the giant fish.

Wash Post again:

Due to human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, marine heat waves have increased dramatically in frequency, size and severity in recent decades. They’ve altered fisheries and killed seabirds in the North Pacific and Bering Sea, and damaged or killed parts of the Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage site.

study published in December warns that by late this century there may be “a permanent marine heat wave state” in many parts of the ocean because of continued warming. The oceans are absorbing the vast majority of the extra heat pumped into the climate by the highest levels of greenhouse gases in human history, and marine heat waves and altered ocean currents are just some of the consequences.

The heat waves have profound effects on marine ecosystems, by supporting some species and disrupting others. The website of the Marine Heatwaves International Working Group, operated by leading researchers studying the topic, notes “[r]ogue animals can also find their way well outside their normal range, following the warm waters of a marine heat wave.”

A deadly great white shark attack in Maine on Monday made headlines for its rarity so far north, but scientists disagree over whether warm waters played a role.

Gregory Skomal, a fisheries scientist and shark expert with the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries, doesn’t think there is any connection between water temperature and the attack. Shark tagging data show a “well-established summer presence” of the species off the Maine coast, he said via email.

Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla., said, “There are very likely more white sharks off the Maine coast now than people realize.” But Hueter also said water temperature is a factor in white shark distribution with a “sweet spot” in the low-to-mid 60s. This is around what the water temperatures were where the attack occurred in the Gulf of Maine.

One Response to “Hurricane will Ride East Coast Marine Heat Wave”

  1. Carol Anne Knapp Says:

    Your report that great white sharks are not common in Maine is not correct, they range all the way up to Newfoundland, for years the Guinness record for largest great white ever caught, was caught off the coast of Grand Manan island.

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