Strange purple blobs of slimy flesh are washing up on California shores in the San Francisco area. Meanwhile, thousands of dead tuna crabs are covering beaches in San Diego in a mass die-off similar to another one late last month in Tijuana. Just across the border in Baja California, 55 dolphins and four sea lions have been found dead in just over two weeks, the sea lions in just five days. And then there’s the dead oarfish – a sign many believe is an earthquake warning – washing ashore on Catalina Island near Los Angeles.
What’s happening in the waters off the coasts of California and Mexico? Californians are getting nervous. Should the rest of us be nervous too?
The slimy purple blobs are giant sea slugs, also known as “sea hares.” They can weight up to 15 pounds and grow to over 30 inches in length and when they’re dead – which all of these blobs are – they leave a stain of purple ink behind. East Bay Regional Park District naturalists say the unusually large numbers of dead sea hares may be due to overpopulation caused by waters getting warmer and staying warmer longer than normal. This is the second mass die-off in fifteen years of a species that most people living in the area never see in a lifetime.
Speaking of blobs, the official reason being given to beach-goers from Tijuana to San Diego dealing with the stench of thousands of dead tuna crabs is a “warm weather blob.” Measuring 1,000 miles wide and 300 feet deep, it’s keeping the waters unusually warm for the second year in a row. It appears to be worse near Tijuana where the dead tuna crabs were joined by dead whales, seals and jellyfish.
The dead dolphins and sea lions found on beaches in Baja California have no wounds from other animals and no marks from hooks or nets. The Federal Attorney for Environmental Protection (Profepa) had no explanation for the deaths – they must not have gotten the press release on the warm weather blob.
Then there’s the dead oarfish, whose recent appearance has been followed by earthquakes nearby. Are these other creatures of the deep giving coastal residents of California and Mexico warnings too? Of what? Climate change? Warm weather blobs? Pollution? Radiation from Fukushima? Something else?
Are you worried?