An estimated 1 billion — yes, billion — marine creatures were essentially cooked to death during a recent record heat wave in the Pacific Northwest.
Unfortunate timing of tides along the Salish Sea coastline left critters in the area to bake for over six hours in record June temperatures of up to 122 degrees Fahrenheit. Sea creatures like clams, mussels, sea stars, barnacles and snails were all defenseless in the heat.
University of British Columbia marine biologist Chris Harley told the CBC, “A mussel on the shore in some ways is like a toddler left in a car on a hot day,” explaining that that until the parent comes back — in this case, the tide — there’s nothing the sea creatures can do. “They’re at the mercy of the environment. And on Saturday, Sunday, Monday, during the heat wave, it just got so hot that the mussels, there was nothing they could do.”
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Harley was “stunned” by what he found on Vancouver’s Kitsilano Beach after the heat wave. Thousands upon thousands of decaying sea animals covered the rocks, leaving the area with a horrific, putrid odor.
He estimated that perhaps a billion sea creatures or more may have perished along the Salish Sea coastline, an area stretching about 4,000 miles from British Columbia to Washington.
While intertidal creatures can survive in temperatures of up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time, several hours in 120+ degree heat proved to be too much.
The effect of the loss could be significant for the Salish Sea coastline. In addition to being an important food source for a variety of wildlife, mollusks like mussels and clams filter harmful chemicals from the sea water.