On one of my daily walks around the Port of Brookings-Harbor late last month I noticed the boat basins were full of dead anchovies. Not just a few, but thousands were lying in silvery rifts against the banks.
Pelicans and gulls swarmed the surface of the water, floating around scooping up mouthfuls in a fast-food bonanza. No diving needed. Even the gulls no longer waited for bread scraps from visitors by the beach, they were satisfied to feed as they floated.
I noticed the tiny fish leaping out of the water, apparently fighting for oxygen. The sound of them flipping out of the water sounded like rain on a roof. The docks were white with gull and Pelican droppings and will probably remain so until it rains.
If I were witnessing this odd event in a tropical sea, it might be normal to witness flying fish, but here in Oregon it is sad; knowing that in their desperate attempt to breath they have to muster the energy to leave the safe haven of their world to jump into ours above the water.
I discovered anchovies and smelt are dying in very large quantities in our coastal waters from Washington to San Diego, and looking further into the reason for this rather unusual occurrence led me to research the topic of oxygen, or lack thereof, in water.
In the aquatic life of fish, atmospheric pressure changes oxygen content. Wild fish do better in rushing waters like rivers, which naturally are cooler because of the turbulent surface area. Barometric pressure influences how much dissolved oxygen will diffuse in the water. Apparently, the presence of rooted aquatic plants will also influence the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water.
I have always believed global warming is a cyclical event that occurs every several million years, but from the erratic behavior of these tiny fish, it seems warmer water is to blame, whether due to human interference or not is yet to be seen. But at least this year, the pelicans in Pelican Bay have been well fed.
— Angela E. Ewing lives in Brookings.