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Pacific Northwest heat wave has killed roughly one billion sea creatures

A Canadian researcher believes that an estimated 1 billion sea creatures have died under the Pacific Northwest heatwave.

When people say they want a seafood boil, they aren’t talking about this.

The Pacific Northwest heatwave has led to millions of sea life in the Salish Sea dying under intense temperatures not common for the area.

mussels
Photo: Alyssa Gehman/adn.com

Professor Christopher Harley from the University of British Columbia has been studying the phenomena and the impact it has had on sea life.

“I’ve been working in the Pacific Northwest for most of the past 25 years, and I have not seen anything like this here,” Professor Harley said. “This is far more extensive than anything I’ve ever seen.”

According to the professor, his findings came about from “counting the number of sea creatures, mostly mussels,” in an area that is meant to be indicative of an entire beach, taking into account a beach’s terrain to help determine an accurate estimate for the area.

“This is a preliminary estimate based on good data, but I’m honestly worried that it’s a substantial underestimate,” Professor Harley told an American-based media outlet, NPR.

“I’m also looking for all these dead barnacles. I’ve been hearing from people about dead clams and crabs and intertidal anemones and sea stars. And once you really start factoring in all these different species, it’s been a huge catastrophe for marine life.”

According to the “head of the marine invertebrates stock assessment research program for Canada’s department of fisheries and oceans”, Ken Fong, the current mass deaths of sea creatures is not a complete surprise.

Canada’s Pacific coast has been experiencing marine heatwaves of varying intensities since 2014.

“We haven’t seen this type of mortality or die-off like this in the past,” Fong clarified. He cites a shallow tide in tandem “with the hottest part of the day” to be the cause of the sea creatures’ deaths.

On top of this, climate change is also a major cause of the deadly heatwave.

And there may be worse to come for the area’s marine life. “Not every shore will be this bad, but this is a fair amount worse than I was expecting,” Professor Harley said.

The Pacific Northwest heat wave is the result of a weather phenomenon known as a heat dome. During these occurrences, warm air becomes trapped under a “high pressure circulation”, essentially leaving the air to stall and bake itself.

Currently, a heat dome is occurring over the Pacific Northwest, bringing record-breaking temperatures to an area known for its mild climate.

For example, the city of Lytton in British Columbia became the holders of the country’s “new all-time … heat record” after hitting 47 degrees Celsius.