National Geographic : 2016 Sep
70 national geographic • september 2016 only to be bitten on the wrist by a seven-foot smooth hammerhead. These sharks are rarely seen in California, and rarely attack, yet there were several encounters in 2015 during what one scientist called “an endless parade of ham- merheads” lured by warm water. The animal severed Shafer’s tendon and fractured a pin- kie and knuckle, requiring 40 stitches. Each change in the sea can trigger another that no one sees coming. THE SKY PINKS WITH the dying day as Kathi Lefebvre hops from a pickup truck onto a peb- bly stretch of Homer Spit and stares down at the dead otter. Sea wash muddies the pale fur of its face. Otters in previous years mostly died from complications of a streptococcal infec- tion. This year some of the dead look emaciated, while others look almost fit. Interns with the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge don blue latex gloves and begin an examination. One intern is moved nearly to tears. Another tells heading toward the poles in search of cooler temperatures. As productive areas grow scarcer with less cold water, fish and predators will con- gregate in fewer places, creating new challenges. During the recent heat wave, more West Coast whales appeared to get tangled in fishing gear or debris. From 2000 to 2012, rescue crews fielded about 10 reports a year. Forty-eight were con- firmed in 2015. And when creatures show up somewhere new, our relationship with the sea can shift too. In Pacifica, California, I visit Richard Shafer, a lanky 58-year-old electrician who free-dives for fish with a speargun. As the heat wave drove game fish north from Mexico, fishing charters off Los Angeles had their best season in mem- ory. So in August 2015, Shafer took a charter to an offshore bank west of San Diego. He speared a yellowtail, and then a hungry sea lion darted past. Knowing that sea lions steal big fish, espe- cially in the absence of sardines, Shafer pulled his yellowtail close and swam toward the boat, A giant Pacific octopus moves along the coast of British Columbia. Recent changes in the Pacific temporarily altered migration patterns and food for many creatures, but it will take years for scientists to fully understand how marine life was affected.