Marine Animals: “El Niño Is Coming”

Warm-water sea creatures are flocking northward en masse

Bryde's Whale—an unusual visitor along the California coast.

A Bryde’s Whale—an unusual visitor along the California coast.

Who needs complicated meteorological and oceanographic calculations and predictions about the El Niño? Sea creatures can’t read those, but they know it’s an El Niño year, and they’re telling us by appearing in waters much further north than their typically sub-tropical homes. If you live in California, and you’re a fan of rain and snow and surf, this is very good news.

The last time so many warm water marine animals started showing up in cooler, northern waters was 1982-83. You may remember, or possibly have read somewhere, that 1982-83 was a winter filled with near-biblical rain levels and a number of giant swells along the West Coast and in Hawaii.

In many years—last year is a good example—El Niño conditions fail to show after being predicted by scientists. But the animals aren’t fooled. There were only a few isolated cases of fair-weather fish and fowl wandering northward in 2014, as well as in most years when an El Niño doesn’t materialize as expected. But this year alone we’ve seen: Blue Marlin near Catalina (around 1,000 miles north of normal); Bryde’s Whales around Dana Point (hadn’t heard of these guys either—probably because they usually live in the tropics); Black Skimmers (a seabird that is rarely seen as far north as San Diego is now summering near Monterey); millions of red crabs washing ashore in Orange County; and needlefish spearing their way up into the waters off the Marin Headlands, a latitude they’ve never been seen in before (also, f—ck needlefish).

Better dust off your pointiest 9’6″ and your sturdiest rain boots. El Niño surf is coming.