Friday, February 02, 2007

Killer Whales in Search of Salmon

Strange things are swimming in the deep blue sea. A primitive-looking frilled shark surfaced recently in a marine reserve off Japan, providing scientists with rare footage of this "living fossil."

It brought to mind the 15-foot oarfish, likewise an occupant of lightless depths, that emerged among swimmers not long ago off Santa Catalina Island.That same week, fishermen to the north, near Santa Cruz Island, discovered remnants of a freshly dead 20-foot giant squid, proving that Jules Verne knew what he was writing about in "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea." Then, another large oarfish washed ashore off Baja California.

No telling what raised these mysterious creatures. Perhaps age or illness. Or maybe, and this is just speculation, their surfacing represents further evidence of a marine world tilting increasingly off-kilter because of global warming, pollution and over-fishing, or some combination thereof.

Things definitely aren't as they were. The increasing abundance locally of Humboldt squid, a South American species of mollusk much smaller than giant squid, is but one hint.Now comes news that perhaps dozens of killer whales from the Puget Sound area off Washington are foraging in California. They've been seen as far south as Santa Cruz, 1,000 miles from home.This might be easily explained, as these federally endangered "southern resident" orcas of the Pacific Northwest may simply be running out of food.They're increasingly looking to the south for salmon, which themselves are struggling to survive.

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