Farallon Institute Newsletter - Spring 2019
Around The Office
We are pleased to announce that Farallon Institute Principal Scientist Dr. Marisol García-Reyes has been appointed to the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s (PFMC) Science and Statistical Committee. Marisol was nominated and then brought onto the committee because of her expertise about climate and physical oceanographic impacts on the marine ecosystem and fishery stocks. The PFMC is the decision-making body for all federal fisheries off California, Oregon, and Washington, and the Science and Statistical Committee ensures that the best available science is used in fisheries management decisions. Congratulations to Marisol on her appointment and her commitment to helping sustainably manage our ocean resources.
The pack of Farallon Institute dogs grew a little larger over the past quarter. Maya (above), a black Labrador retriever, has joined the team and has quickly and easily settled into office life. She loves to play with the other dogs and is especially adept at bringing a ball right to your feet for throwing, as her heritage directs her.
State of the Ocean - Spring 2019
At the end of 2018 there was some talk among scientists about another warm-water ‘blob’ brewing in the Gulf of Alaska. While this new warming has not yet reached the coast in the same way that the 2014–2016 marine heat wave did, it bears some similarities (see 2015 and 2019 in the figure). The Gulf of Alaska warming has drawn a lot of attention, but note also the warming in the tropical area between Hawaii and North America in recent years. Similar warming, although closer to the coast of Mexico, was seen in 2015 and this tropical and coastal warming has been observed since 2013. See 2006 for comparison a ‘neutral’ (not cold or warm) year. While we are still studying the implications of the 2014–2016 marine heat wave, the ecological implications of this prolonged warming in the California Current and tropical Eastern North Pacific are yet to be investigated. There are still many climate events and consequences to be understood in our ocean backyard!
Farallon Institute Research at Sea
Farallon Institute scientist Dr. Brian Hoover is currently aboard the NOAA vessel R/V Reuben Lasker as a scientific crew member of the 2019 Rockfish Recruitment and Ecosystem Assessment Survey (RREAS), a 30-day research cruise extending from San Diego to the Oregon border. This survey has been conducted in central California since 1983 and provides an annual estimate of the recruitment and abundance of rockfish, anchovy, sardine, squid, krill, and other foundational prey species. Brian is this year’s seabird and marine mammal observer and records the behavior and species identifications of each seabird and marine mammal as they are encountered along the ship’s trackline. As apex predators, seabirds and marine mammals follow their food, meaning that their distribution, behavior, and health are often conspicuous indicators of how the ecosystem is functioning each year.
Research cruises such as the RREAS try to maximize the data they collect during each cruise, and employ scientists across many different roles. During the day, seabird surveys occur as the vessel transits and oceanographic properties are recorded at regular intervals using CTD (conductivity, temperature, depth) instruments. At night, the Reuben Lasker switches to trawling operations, where the science team trawls at a series of stations and then processes, sorts, and identifies their catch. Samples are saved for other institutions or projects that are conducting their own complementary studies. At the Farallon Institute, we are particularly interested in the krill caught in these trawls, as several of our projects use this data to determine how the patchiness and diversity of krill help shape the ocean food web.
Anchovy: the most important fish
What is the most important fish in the sea? The answer to this question is not a majestic tuna, nor sardine, the quintessential fish of California's Cannery Row, but rather a diminutive yet nutritional powerhouse of a fish, the northern anchovy, Engraulis mordax. Why? The short answer is that they are ideal fatty food morsels (rich in omega-3) for the plethora of fish-eating marine predators that call California home. In simple terms, anchovies are the energy conduit of the food chain, from photosynthetic plankton up to top predators such as large fish, seabirds, and marine mammals. Recently, Farallon Institute scientists assessed the food habits of all California marine predators including seabirds, marine mammals, and large predatory fish and found anchovy to be the single-most important prey.
Off California, anchovies can occur in great shoals of billions of fish, and when populations are abundant they reach far offshore.Yet, recently the anchovy population has fluctuated wildly.Our research has shown that between 2005 and 2011, the population declined by over 98%, before rebounding to about half of their 2005 numbers in 2019.This recent decline in abundance was not caused by overfishing, but rather by environmental conditions that affected the survival of anchovy eggs and larvae. However, it is not clearly understood whether fishing also exerted additional negative pressure on anchovy during their collapse.There is currently considerable stress from climate variability and change on ecosystems worldwide, and while climate cannot be directly mitigated, human activities such as fisheries can be. Continuing to pay close attention to and offering protection for “the most important fish in the sea” is key to maintaining productive coastal food chains and sustainable marine wildlife for the health of California’s marine ecosystems and society in perpetuity.
Whales washing ashore
San Francisco Bay is one of the busiest ports on the West Coast of the United States with an estimated ~8,000 ships entering the port each year. Most of those ships are large container ships that can travel at speeds over 20 miles per hour. The route in and out of San Francisco Bay brings these ships through two marine sanctuaries, Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones, both of which teem with marine life, from small krill to large whales. Unfortunately, this puts the whales and ships in close proximity where collisions happen and can be deadly. In 2019, ten dead whales have been found on Bay Area beaches, and while some of these were the result of natural mortality, four of the whales displayed evidence they had been hit by ships.
These numbers could be much higher if not for ongoing efforts to decrease whale-ship interactions throughout California. Collaborations between the National Marine Sanctuaries and the shipping industry have resulted in moving the San Francisco shipping lanes to avoid known areas of whale aggregations and a voluntary speed reduction program. Almost 50% of ships now reduce speed to 10 knots (~11 mph) when transiting the marine sanctuaries in hopes of avoiding collisions.