Climate Change and Being Cute

August 21, 2015

rabpikaOvercast and chilly this early Friday on California’s north coast — along with the fog, forest fires are again contributing to the airwaves with the NWS calling for ‘Areas Smoke‘ for today and tomorrow.

Unfortunately, as fire fighters contain one fire, another nearby starts and spreads.This morning, just as the Mad River Complex fire in south Humboldt was considered 65 percent contained, a fire has quickly spread just south of there in the Mt. Lassic Wilderness, and produced some heavy smoke as it continues to burn. Interesting motion-maps of the fire at Redheaded Blackbelt.

An increase in the number of large, flamboyant forest fires is only one example of the future as our environment continues to quickly warm — animals, too, feel the heat.

(Illustration: An ‘American pika,’ found here).

An example is the American pika, a small-furry, rabbit-like animal, who call the Northern California mountains one of their homes — their habitat is getting too hot, and they might have run out of mountain. Last February, stories surfaced about the possible extinction of these popular, furry-ball creatures (I posted here about the situation) due to climate change.
And with the approach of even more heat to the the US West Coast via the supposedly ‘Godzilla El Niño,’ the animal kingdom seems to be responding.
Especially, of course, in  ocean water.
From SFGate:

Many factors, not merely a developing El Niño, influence wildlife migrations, of course.
Yet a series of verified anomalies over a wide area adds up to something very weird…
— On a salmon trip last week near buoys 5 and 7 off the Bay Area coast, salmon were gorging on needlefish, a fish common in subtropics yet unheard of in local waters, reported Dick Warner.
“We also saw 50, 60 whales,” he said, “with krill boiling in a 15-foot diameter on the surface.”
— Flying fish, common in Mexican waters and occasionally seen near the Channel Islands off Oxnard, were sighted in Monterey Bay, the first sighting verified by marine biologists in more than 20 years, reported Thomae.
— In Southern California, Bryde’s whales, a subtropical species, were sighted last week off Dana Point.
Thomae said that scientists estimate there are only 12 Bryde’s whales in all of California, Oregon and Washington.
— Stephanie Manning was the first to report the giant purple blobs that have washed up during low tides on the Berkeley flats (opposite the exit for Ashby).
The sea slugs are from Baja and called sea hares, verified Mary Jane Schramm of the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, who said they die and wash up after mass mating events.

El Niño might not be the cause, but nobody can explain why salmon suddenly staged along the inshore Marin coast this month, as if it were September and they were preparing for their spawning run through the bay, delta and up the Sacramento River.
Likewise the influx of krill, anchovies and mackerel off Southeast Farallon Island that led to the sightings of 93 humpback whales, 20 blue whales and one fin whale in a single hour, the highest ever verified, by a land-based researcher at the island.
The arrival of southern exotics started last year, when researchers with the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation out of Santa Cruz verified both triggerfish and needlefish in Monterey Bay.
Out of Eureka, albacore arrived in early summer instead of their traditional date in fall, and in Oregon, fishing for albacore in fall had some of the best-ever catches.

And on and on…
Meanwhile, back on land, the cute, lovable pika ain’t the only cute critter in trouble — from the New York Times last Monday:

The scientific literature reflects the red panda’s appeal.
Frédéric Cuvier, who published the first Western scientific description of the animal in 1825, deemed it “quite the most handsome mammal in existence.”
One of the foremost modern authorities, Angela Glatston, in a book she edited about red panda biology, described the animal as “flamboyantly clad in chestnut, chocolate and cream,” and called it “a creature of great beauty and charm.”

And they are in trouble.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which assesses the status of wild populations of animals, estimates that about 10,000 live in the wild, in two subspecies, all on mountain slopes in a narrow band running from western China to Nepal.
Deforestation and disease threaten them now, and climate change looms.
Dr. Glatston, who recently retired from the Rotterdam Zoo, runs the global species management program for red pandas for the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
She said that zoos around the world, outside of China, kept about 500 red pandas, which they breed to try to maintain a population as a stopgap against threats to wild pandas.
The captive bred pandas could, so the theory goes, be reintroduced into the wild, if necessary.

Some of the habitat loss, however, may be beyond local control.
“I think down the road what may actually do them in is climate change,” Dr. Freeman said.
“Because they are in such a small niche in the Himalayas, and as climate change warms that area and moves that population higher in elevation, they’re going to lose habitat probably faster than they can accommodate to climate change.”
She added, “I see them as being a critical indicator species for the health of the Himalayan ecosystem, probably more so than giant pandas.”

Cute don’t cut it…if you can’t take the heat…

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