Alaska salmon getting smaller

Alaska salmon have gotten smaller in recent decades, a downsizing that appears to be largely driven by climate change and increased competition for food as hatcheries release some 5 billion young fish into the North Pacific each year, according to a study published this month by U.S. and Canadian researchers in the science journal Nature Communications.

Alaska provides the vast majority of the United States’ wild salmon, and their smaller size is reducing the number of eggs that these fish produce and their value to commercial and other fishermen.

That decline encompasses salmon runs all over the state but varies by species and region. Chinook returning across a broad expanse of western and northern Alaska were some 10% smaller than the average size before 1990. Meanwhile in southeast Alaska, sockeye salmon declined — on average — by only about 2%.

Many of these salmon appear to be returning from the ocean earlier to freshwater spawning grounds, and that’s why they are smaller as they reach coastal-area harvest zones.


Salmon Bonanza

Fishermen in Canada’s Northwest Territories say they have caught more Arctic salmon this year than in all of the previous 20 years combined.

The fish also emerged earlier than normal, mainly because of the virtual lack of ice in the Mackenzie River during the Arctic summer.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada says 2,400 salmon catches were submitted to the agency, compared to only 100 last year.

Agency biologist Karen Dunmall points to a warming climate and disappearing ice for the salmon bounty.

Acidic oceans are corroding the tooth-like scales of shark skin

Shark skin might look perfectly smooth, but inspect it under a microscope and you’ll notice something strange. The entire outer surface of a shark’s body is actually covered in sharp, little scales known as denticles. More remarkable still, these denticles are incredibly similar to human teeth, as they’re also comprised of dentine and enamel-like materials.

Your dentist will no doubt have warned you that acidic drinks like fizzy cola damage your teeth. This is because acid can dissolve the calcium and phosphate in the enamel tooth covering. For the first time, scientists have discovered a similar process acting on the tooth-like scales of sharks in the ocean.

The carbon dioxide (CO₂) that humans release into the atmosphere doesn’t just heat the planet. As more of it dissolves in the ocean, it’s gradually increasing the acidity of seawater. In the past 200 years, the ocean has absorbed 525 billion tonnes of CO₂ and become 30% more acidic as a result. Now scientists worry that the lower pH is affecting one of the ocean’s top predators.

Corrosion and weakening of the denticle surface could degrade the highly specialised drag-reducing ridges, affecting the ability of these sharks to swim and hunt. Many shark species are top-level predators, so if they’re not able to hunt as effectively, this might have an unpredictable impact on the population size of their prey and other animals in the complex marine environment. Some species of shark need to swim constantly to keep oxygen-rich water flowing over their gills and to expel CO₂ – another process which might be hindered by increased drag.

Global Warming

Global Warming Is Pushing Pacific Salmon to the Brink

Pacific salmon that spawn in Western streams and rivers have been struggling for decades to survive water diversions, dams and logging. Now, global warming is pushing four important populations in California, Oregon and Idaho toward extinction, federal scientists warn in a new study.

The new research shows that several of the region’s salmon populations are now bumping into temperature limits, with those that spawn far inland after lengthy summer stream migrations and those that spend a lot of time in coastal habitats like river estuaries among the most at risk.

That includes Chinook salmon in California’s Central Valley and in the Columbia and Willamette River basins in Oregon; coho salmon in parts of Northern California and Oregon; and sockeye salmon that reach the Snake River Basin in Idaho, all of which are already on the federal endangered species list.

The salmon live much of their lives in the ocean, but they swim far upstream to spawn. In the process, they’re a key part of the food chain, including for bears and whales, and they are important to indigenous groups and fisheries along the U.S. West Coast.

The research spells out several ways that global warming endangers the fish. Among them:

– Young salmon die when the water warms above a certain threshold, and droughts can leave salmon stranded or exposed to predators by low water levels.

– Flooding can also flush eggs and young fish from their nests, so the scientists included projections of how global warming will affect extreme atmospheric river rain storms in California as one of the ways to measure the growing threat.

– Warmer stream temperatures have also increased outbreaks of fish disease that can affect salmon, including pathogenic parasites. In May, a toxic algae bloom along the coast of Norway killed 8 million farmed salmon at an estimated cost of about $82 million. In Alaska’s Yukon River, a parasite linked with global warming has taken a big toll on the salmon fishery. And in recent weeks, local indigenous observers in Alaska have posted numerous reports of dead salmon in rivers in the western part of the state, as water temperatures reached record highs during Alaska’s record-setting heat wave.

– Salmon are also sensitive to changes in ocean currents that carry nutrients, as well as sea level rise, which affects the physical connection between ocean and stream ecosystems, like coastal wetlands in California. Some salmon populations living near the edge of the range of suitable conditions will start to cluster in rivers near the coast, unable to reach their historic spawning grounds unless “access to higher-elevation habitats is restored and habitat quality in rearing areas and migration corridors is improved,” the scientists wrote.

Sockeye salmon 900 mark conlin vw pics uig via getty


Bonus Monarchs

Tens of thousands of migrating monarch butterflies are stuck in northern climes this autumn because of unusually warm weather and strong winds that have grounded them.

Biologist Elizabeth Howard, director of the monarch tracking group Journey North, says the colorful insects have been seen from far southern Ontario to near Cape May, New Jersey. Monarchs typically arrive in their central Mexican winter home about Nov. 1.

Howard points out that many of the stragglers are a sort of “bonus generation” that was able to emerge late in the season because of the delayed chill.

Salmon Crisis

Not a single wild salmon returned to a key breeding river in New Brunswick, Canada, to spawn for the first time on record.

“It means for the Magaguadavic River, whatever wild salmon that existed there are now extinct,” said Neville Crabbe, spokesman for the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The federation says the decline in the once-abundant wild salmon from Atlantic Canada to Maine is partly due to an increase in salmon farming in the region.

Other factors include the construction of dams, loss of habitat, pollution, climate change and overfishi

Global Warming

Alaska’s Grizzly Bears Drop Salmon for Berries as Climate Changes

When Kodiak Island’s elderberries started ripening earlier, its icon bears changed their diet. It’s another ecological shift amid climate change, scientists say.

Each summer, the shallow freshwater streams of Kodiak Island, Alaska, are so thick with sockeye salmon, you literally cannot cross the waterways without stepping on the brightly colored fish. With the salmon come brown bears, often dozens of grizzlies per stream, hauling the fish onto nearby banks for an easy meal.

During an unusually warm summer in 2014, however, no bears could be found. At the peak of the annual salmon run, as the fish made their way upstream to spawn, the roughly 1,000-pound bears were busy feasting on berries instead, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A similar phenomenon is believed to have also occurred in 2016, after the study period ended, but the bears were not closely monitored to confirm their feeding behavior.

Biologists who study Alaska’s iconic omnivores say changes in seasonal phenomenon caused by a warming planet were behind the bears’ unusual behavior, which could affect the entire ecosystem.

Different species are responding to climate change in different ways, “so what you have is a scrambling of the schedule,” said William Deacy, a biologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis and lead author of the study.

The island’s brown bears typically feed first on salmon, followed by elderberries later in the season. An earlier-than-usual ripening of red elderberries, however, forced the bears to make a choice.

Kodiak bear Lisa Hupp USFWS


Salmon Survival – USA

Early this month, a federal judge forced discussion of a radical step to save endangered salmon: taking out four somewhat large hydroelectric dams on the Lower Snake River in Washington State.

These four dams include Ice Harbor, Lower Monumental, Little Goose and Lower Granite Dams. They are fairly old dams and were not optimized for salmon survival. They were built primarily for navigation of barge and various river traffic, for low-carbon power, and to lesser degrees for flood control and irrigation.

And despite millions of dollars spent on fish passage improvements, adult salmon still die in the reservoirs behind the dams, especially as the water can get quite warm sitting there during the summer. In addition, the Snake River is the gateway to thousands of square miles of pristine, high-elevation habitat in Idaho, Washington and Oregon, essential for salmon survival in a warming climate.

Significantly, the necessity of these dams for navigation has fallen since the region’s rail system has dramatically improved and truck transport can handle the rest.

But it’s the power generation of these dams that gives us an environmental conundrum. Which is more important, salmon or carbon emissions?

Ice Harbor Dam produces 1.7 billion kWhs/yr, Lower Monumental 2.3 billion kWhs/yr, Little Goose 2.2 billion kWhs/yr and Lower Granite 2.3 billion kWhs/yr, which total about 4% of the State’s electricity generation.


Salmon Deaths

An algae bloom brought on by El Niño’s ocean warmth off the coast of Chile that killed up to 20 percent of the country’s farmed salmon is receding, according to officials.

The loss of up to 25 million fish caused global salmon prices to soar in recent weeks and prompted Chile’s salmon farmers to lay off 10,000 workers, union officials said.

While the algae isn’t a major threat to wild salmon, fish raised in enclosures can’t escape it, leading them to gradually die of asphyxiation as the tiny organisms accumulate in their gills.

Radioactive Raiders

Wild boars that root around the highly contaminated landscape surrounding Japan’s meltdown-plagued Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are reproducing so rapidly that they threaten nearby towns.

The feral marauders, rife with cesium-137, have grown in numbers from about 3,000 in 2014 to 13,000 at latest count. They have also inflicted an estimated $900,000 in damage to agriculture, according to the Japanese daily Yomiuri.

Mass graves and incineration facilities have been unable to cope with the growing numbers of boar corpses brought in by local hunters.

Alaskan Moose Flourishing Because Of Global Warming

Global warming in the 20th century has allowed moose to recolonise the Alaskan tundra for the first time since 1880, researchers say. Warmer and longer summers have allowed shrubs to grow taller, meaning moose now have ample food for the cold winter periods.

The research compared historic changes in Alaska’s summer temperatures from 1860 to 2009 to the height of shrubs that are eaten by moose. High carbon dioxide (CO2) levels and an extended summer growing season caused Alaskan plant life to thrive, which increased the amount of shrubbery in the state. Since the animal’s food supply expanded, the number of moose in Alaska expanded as well.

Alaska’s moose were able to range much farther north in recent years as the average shrub height increased from 1.1 meters in 1860 to around 2 meters in 2009, which increased the amount of food sticking up above the snow in the winter.

The scientists believe that tall shrubs were too rare and sparse prior to the late 20th century in the tundra to support moose populations in the northern sections of Alaska.

Mg 5024 std 750x400


Salmon starving amid global warming in Washington and Oregon

The size of starving coho salmon and the numbers of the fish are shrinking so dramatically that officials along the US Pacific Coast are considering shutting down commercial and recreational salmon fishing in Washington and northern Oregon this year.

“We’re looking at a pretty bad situation for coho and we need to do what we can to preserve them,” said Kyle Adicks, salmon policy analyst for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The ban would be the first one since 1994. Salmon fishing has been significantly curtailed since 2008. California, too, faces severe restrictions on commerical chinook salmon fishing this year.

The 2015 salmon season was one of the lowest harvests on record due to drought and the drying up of rivers and streams where the fish spawn, and what’s known among scientists as “The Blob” — a mass of warm coastal ocean water from Mexico to Alaska caused by global warming that has driven typical food for the salmon far deeper into the ocean.

As bad as last year was, 2016 looks even bleaker. Approximately 380,000 Columbia River hatchery coho are expected to return to the Washington coast this year, which is only half of last year’s forecast, reports the Associated Press.

Some 300,000 chinook salmon from California’s Sacramento River system made it back to the ocean after spawning, which is also about half of last year’s population.

The incredible shrinking salmon in global warming: The top coho salmon is a normal size, the two below are significantly undernourished.

Global warming salmon

Huge discovery: Butterfly could change opinions on Global Warming

Scientists in Alaska have made a remarkable find: a new species of butterfly that is the first discovery of its kind in 28 years, and it could be indicative of the future with climate change and global warming.

The species is a hybrid of two ancient species that has adapted for life in Alaska’s interior, according to a University of Florida statement.

It’s called the Tanana arctic (Oeneis tanana), and it is believed to evolved from the offspring of two butterflies: O. chryxus and O. bore shortly before the last ice age.

Chryxus moved south to the Rockies due to the ice age, whereas the Tanana arctic and O. bore white-veined arctic stayed in Alaska. The Tanana arctic today appears to live in the Tanana-Yukon River Basin, seeking shelter in the spruce and aspen forests.

The Tanana arctic looks similar to other species, so scientists hadn’t noticed it until now. The butterfly is larger and somewhat darker, and has white freckles.

Why is the butterfly useful to climate scientists? Because butterflies in particular are very sensitive to changes in the climate. This butterfly has been living in the Tanana River valley for a long time, so scientists will be watching it closely: if it leaves permanently, that will be a sign that there are big changes coming.

Butterfly 1


California Salmon Hit by Drought

A second disastrous drought year for endangered California salmon – Endangered native salmon suffered a second straight disastrous year in California’s drought, with all but 3 percent of the latest generation dying in too-shallow, too-hot rivers, federal officials said Monday.


Drought pushes endangered California salmon to the brink

Chinook salmon were already endangered in California’s Sacramento River, but the record drought parching the western United States has brought the iconic fish even closer to extinction. Chinook, also known as king salmon, need very cold water for their eggs to develop.

If everything goes right, the young salmon hatch and eventually make their way downstream toward the ocean, before later returning to the rivers to spawn and die. But the migration has dropped off in recent years.

There were 4.4 million juvenile Chinook in 2009 – half the number of four years earlier.

Last year, the number of juveniles passing by the dam in Red Bluff, at the northern end of California’s Central Valley, was just 411,000.

To date, only 217,000 juveniles have been counted passing through Red Bluff in 2015, versus 280,000 over the same period last year.

The Sacramento Chinook, designated an endangered species in 1994, have been struggling for years, for a number of reasons, but the drought has only exacerbated the problems. Access to the historical spawning habitat of winter-run Chinook salmon on the Sacramento is cut off by the Shasta and Keswick dams, built in the 1940s.


Heat Killing Columbia River Spawning Salmon

A summer of unusual heat in the Pacific Northwest is threatening to kill at least a quarter million sockeye salmon swimming up the Columbia River to spawn.

Large numbers of the fish have already perished due to prolonged heat above 100 degrees this summer, which have combined with low flows on the Columbia to create conditions that stress the sockeye and make them more susceptible to disease.

The unusual warmth came as the Columbia saw the third-highest number of sockeye returning from the Pacific to spawn since 1960.

“Right now it’s grim for adult sockeye,” said Russ Kiefer of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. “They’re running out of energy reserves, and we’re getting a lot of reports of fish dead and dying.”

With water temperatures in the waterway hitting the mid-70s, which is life-threatening to the fish, officials began releasing cold water from several reservoirs upstream in an attempt to prevent further fatalities.

“We’ve never had mortalities at this scale,” said Oregon Dept. of Fish and Wildlife fisheries manager John North.

Both Oregon and Washington have halted sports fishing in areas affected by the warmth.



Northwest Seabirds Pitted Against Endangered Fish Species

Two sets of conservationists in the western United States are at odds over plans to kill 11,000 double-crested cormorants on Oregon’s East Sand Island to protect endangered juvenile salmon and steelhead trout from the Columbia River.

The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to cull the live birds with shotguns and pour oil on the nests of about 26,000 birds to prevent their eggs from hatching.

The move has drawn criticism from the Audubon Society of Portland and Care2.

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission counters that it’s hard enough for the fish to make it through a network of dams on the river without being eaten up by a large number of cormorants at the river’s mouth.

“This is a difficult situation,” said Corps spokeswoman Diana Fredlund. “We are trying to balance the salmon and steelhead versus the birds.”