Tuesday 31 December 2019

A look back at the top stories of 2019 on The Big Wobble as we enter the Roaring Twenties

A kangaroo tries to escape an out of control bushfire in 2019

If the recent onslaught of deadly heatwaves, unprecedented wildfires, devastating flooding, aberrant cyclones, crippling droughts, devastated crops, massive deforestation and a record-breaking ice melt on both poles didn’t scare you a little, well, buckle up folks, we ain't seen nothing yet! As we leave 2019 and enter the 20s, we will have witnessed more than a 60% decline of all wildlife during the last 40 years according to The Living Planet Report written in 2018. Indeed, the chance of survival for many species has gone with many more endangered with little documentation on our main-stream media! Can you imagine the panic if more than 60% of humans had died in the last 40 years? The last decade was easily the hottest ever, I can’t imagine what summers will be like in the roaring 20s. 10 of the warmest years on record occurred this century, with 9 of the warmest years ever recorded occurred in the last 10 years, 2019 was the third hottest year ever.

2019 was a year of record-breaking fires

Sydney, Australia’s biggest city with a population of over five million people is suffering its worst pollution ever as smoke, caused by Australia's record-breaking wildfire season blankets the city turning it into a “gas chamber.” The smoke has caused a huge spike in respiratory illnesses. The toxic Sydney bush fire haze which has engulfed the city has been declared a public health emergency because of the high levels of tiny particles (PM2.5) which cause lung cancer. Sydney’s drinking water supply is at risk as are some New South Wales regional communities, where large amounts of bushfire ash have been swept into dams by heavy rainfall. Sydney is quite literally under siege, surrounded by huge wildfires to the north, south and west of the city leaving a chief firefighter to claim the fires can only be extinguished by flooding rains, (rains are not expected until late January). The fires which have reached the Greater Sydney area at the time of me writing this have scorched 5 million hectares across Australia. That’s about the same size as Costa Rica. To make matters worse a nationwide heatwave pushed the mercury up to a staggering 50 deg C, 120 deg F temperature across the country and broke the national average temperature two days running.

Wildfires have dominated this year, in just the first week of 2019, another Australian heatwave occurred when temperatures reached an incredible 49 Deg C, 121 deg F, causing petrol pumps to seize up and roads to melt, the heat and drought-stricken conditions sparked wildfires across numerous towns resulting in the evacuation of thousands of residents, 2018/19 was the hottest summer ever recorded for Australia.

The bushfires exploded again in May 2019 when more than 200 fires surrounded Mexico City causing dangerously high levels of ash particles and ozone, again resulting in a spike in respiratory illnesses. 

As the Northern Hemisphere entered its summer, Spain, Portugal and Italy suffered massive wildfires as an "enormous" reservoir of warm air drawn from northern Africa caused temperatures to hit 45 deg C, 113 deg F in June.

Arctic Ablaze July 2019

Incredibly, in July, huge swathes of the Arctic was ablaze, northern Siberia, northern Scandinavia, Alaska and Greenland were engulfed in flames, which was once again blamed on a heatwave. Russia declared a state of emergency in two regions of Siberia when flames destroyed an area the size of Belgium.

In August, Peru became the latest country to suffer horrendous wildfires after more than 22,000 hectares (54,363 acres) of forest were torched due to a long drought. Also in August, more than a thousand firefighters battled wildfires in Greece, in an area north of Athens. 

Amazon the lungs of the Earth on fire

But what happened next was something which caused the entire population of the planet and world governments to sit up and take note. Wildfires in the Amazon rainforest hit a staggering record number of more than 72,000 wildfires, an increase of 83% compared to 2018, according to a report by the Brazilian space research centre (INPE). As the Amazon rain forest burned, global concern rose, the lungs of our world, the Amazon basin which produces almost a quarter of the planet's oxygen was causing anxiety among world leaders and citizens alike.

By September, the attention had turned to Asia. The number of Indonesians suffering respiratory problems caused by smoke from forest and peatland fires had spiked to alarming numbers and was blanketing parts of Borneo and Sumatra. Data released by the Crisis Mitigation Centre of the Ministry of Health showed that a total of almost one million people had been suffering from acute respiratory infections. The haze had impacted air quality not only in Indonesia but also in Malaysia, Singapore and as far away as Thailand and the Philippines. The smoke forced Malaysia and Indonesia to close thousands of schools.


We can’t write about wildfires without mentioning California. In September, Police Chief Michel Moore ordered the evacuation of 100,000 people as high winds, drought conditions and hot temperatures accounted for the so-called Saddle Ridge Fire along the northern edge of Los Angeles. Two million residents lost power after Pacific Gas and Electric turned off their power to prevent its equipment from sparking more wildfires. California’s biggest fire of the year was finally contained on the 7th of November, after 120 square miles (310 square kilometres) had been torched, however, on the very same day, a new horror show had erupted in New South Wales, Australia. Aided by gusty winds and 35 deg C (95 deg F) heat Australia’s worst bushfire season on record was just beginning, incredibly the fires kept burning well into 2020.

Climate Change? Global Warming?

“Climate Change,” became the buzz phrase for just about any extreme weather event in 2019 as the world began to sit-up and take note and once again Australia was on the front line. Their start to 2019 will go down in folklore for years to come. Australia suffered their hottest January ever, their wettest February ever and their hottest start to Autumn ever but even those statistics can’t compare to the events what happened in Europe during the summer of 2019. 

The incredible heatwaves of Europe in 2019

Flaming June brought a European wide heatwave which shattered heat records everywhere, according to the Weather Channel, fifty-one German weather stations set new June heat records on the 26th of June 2019. An all-time June record high was also set in the Czech Republic on the same day when Doksany hit 38.5 deg C, (101.3 deg F). Poland also set a new record high for June. Radzyń recorded a high of 38.2 deg C, (100.8 deg F), according to the Polish meteorological service MeteoPrognoza. Météo-France reported, Clermont-Ferrand, topped out at 40.9 deg Cel (105.6 deg F) also on the 26th of June and setting a record high for any month of the year. Several locations in Switzerland also set record highs for any calendar month, including Säntis, Scuol and Davos, according to MeteoSwiss. The very next day on the 27th of June, France overtook its highest temperature ever as the continuing heatwave pushed the mercury toward 45 deg C, (113 deg F) in parts of the country, and we hadn’t even begun.

Europe cooks again

Exactly one month later on the 26th of July, hundreds of locations across Europe smashed all-time heat weather records by an impressive margin. For the first time in the history of the Netherlands, a temperature of above 40 deg C was measured. In Gilze-Rijen, the mercury rose to 40.4 deg C, (105 deg F) breaking the record which was set just the day before at 39.8 deg C. (104 deg F). On the same day, I measured an unofficial temperature of 41.4 deg C, (106 deg F) in the shade, in my back garden in Alkmaar North Holland, the heatwave in Holland was responsible for more than 400 deaths. According to the Weather Channel, in Germany, at least 139 locations saw all-time highs, representing a large chunk of the nation’s 400-plus observing sites. In France, at least 70 locations recorded all-time highs on the same day. In four days between July the 24th to July, the 28th new record temperatures were recorded in Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Greenland, Luxembourg, Holland, Norway and the UK.

After a long rainy season in 2019, the Japanese capital Tokyo was hit by a deadly heatwave which resulted in nearly 50,000 people being hospitalised with almost 100 deaths due to the heat. 

In June, hundreds of Indian villages had to be evacuated after a crippling drought and a prolonged heatwave caused families to abandon their homes in search of water. India had been suffering high temperatures for weeks in the summer of 2019. In June, Delhi, the country’s capital reached its highest temperature ever recorded when the mercury climbed to 48 deg C, (118 deg F), In Rajasthan, the city of Churu experienced highs of 50.8 C, (123 deg F), making it the hottest place on the planet. The drought, which was thought to be worse than the 1972 famine which affected 25 million people across the state, began early in December. Sadly, increasing droughts have led to nearly 5,000 farmer suicides in the last five years, including a 1,000in 2019.

What happened to Alaska in 2019?

Record warmth was recorded more or less all year long in Alaska in 2019 and the trend showed no sign of stopping anytime soon. Alaska saw a lot of record-breaking warmth in 2019, records were broken in the Spring, the Summer, Autumn and Winter, according to Meteorologist Danielle Banks. Parts of Alaska recorded their warmest February and March on record with temperatures +40 deg F above normal. In July, Anchorage hit 89 degrees F, (32 deg C), to break the all-time highest temperature ever recorded there: Campbell Creek hit 91 degrees F, (33 deg C) and the records kept tumbling! Anchorage experienced six days in a row of 80-plus deg F (27-plus deg C) weather - the longest stretch on record for the city. July 2019 now stands as Alaska’s hottest month on record, which is the latest benchmark in a long-term warming trend with ominous repercussions ranging from rapidly vanishing summer sea ice and melting glaciers to raging wildfires and deadly chaos for marine life.

2019 alarming die-offs of species around the globe causes great concern.

We have already been warned a couple of years ago that by 2020, there will be more than a 60% decline of all wildlife in the last forty years by the Living Planet. In 2019 the die-off of untold millions of tons of species killed from natural disasters, extreme weather events, disease, famine left one dizzy and once again an Australian tragedy sets the ball rolling just days into 2019.

Australia in the news again for all the wrong reasons

Millions of fish died in western NSW as drought conditions continued to grip the state during the beginning of January 2019. The fish-kill was blamed on a sharp cool change which hit the region following a period of very hot weather. Worse was to come a few days later, thousands of birds died at one of Western Australia's most important inland wetlands, the cause of deaths remains a mystery, however, the dead birds appeared in poor conditions with low body weights”. Just a week later, Record high temperatures devastated bat colonies across South Australia's state capital, Adelaide killing thousands of flying foxes who were dropping from trees dead, due to the extreme temperature. Extreme heat which had hit the southern state in January, when the mercury hit a decade-high of 46.6 deg C, (116 deg F) in the capital was the reason the flying foxes had died. Deaths of wild horses discovered near Santa Teresa were blamed on the extreme heat. The mass die-off occurred at a dry waterhole in central Australia, another 50 horses had to be culled because of poor health. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of dead fish were found floating in the Murray-Darling Basin. Port Augusta was the hottest place in South Australia when the temperature hit 49.5C, (122 deg F) which was thought to be the reason the fish died. The disaster was not over, in the first week of February 2019, authorities began to realise the extent of the record-breaking floods Queensland had received when more than a year's rain fell in just seven days. According to Reuters, livestock losses were estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. “We’ve had a year and a half of rainfall in about seven days,” cattle grazier Michael Bulley told Reuters by phone from Bindooran Station west of Julia Creek in Queensland’s outback. Bulley said he flew over his three properties by helicopter and saw water stretching for miles in each direction. He estimated up to 60 per cent of the cattle he had fed through the drought had been killed by the flooding. “It’s devastated the country...there’s stock dead everywhere,” he said. “Not just cattle, it’s sheep, kangaroos, wild pigs, they’ve all died and suffered from it.”

Killer red tide hits Florida
Another report in January 2019, claimed the Florida red tide outbreak which began in 2017 had killed more sea turtles than any previous single red tide event on record, manatee deaths were not far behind. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, (FWC) attributed 589 sea turtles and 213 manatee deaths to this episode of red tide, which began in late 2017. The red tide outbreak had also killed 127 bottlenose dolphins as of the beginning of 2019, leading the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to declare an unusual mortality event. Combined manatee deaths from red tide, human actions, cold stress and other causes was at 824, according to the preliminary FWC report. Apart from the manatee, sea turtles and bottlenose dolphins deaths, it is thought billions of fish and countless birdlife had also died. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission came up with an official number of deaths during that period, they claimed the red tide had killed 267 tons of marine life, however, I covered the entirety of the red tide outbreak and believe me, 267 tons is a very conservative estimate.

In the first week of February 2019, scientists were trying to find out why some 20,000 guillemots had died suddenly along the Dutch coast. The birds were all emaciated. Mardik Leopold, a seabird expert from Wageningen University in Holland, said the figure of 20,000 dead guillemots was based on educated guesswork and many thousands more would have died out at sea. Mr Leopold blamed the deaths on starvation, a theme which arises many many times with sea birds recently, as you will read in this book.

No more Salmon in Scotland

It used to be the best salmon fishing in the world but according to the Scotsman, global warming was being blamed for Scotland's worst salmon season ever. Some beats on famous rivers like the Spey and the Nith recorded not a single salmon caught during the entire season. Just two salmon were caught on the River Fyne in Argyll this year, where once more than 700 were caught each season. Roger Brook, director of the Argyll Fisheries Trust, said: "Salmon is in decline everywhere but they are declining more on the west coast of Scotland and they're declining more the further down the west coast you go."It's dreadful now in Argyll. I don't know whether it's too late now to put it right.” He said.

More Salmon problems

Record warm summers in the Pacific Northwest are adding to the threats facing salmon there. The Weather Channel reported: The salmon population is already in drastic decline due to overfishing, habitat loss and pollution.
Now higher temperatures in rivers and streams are killing adult salmon before they can reproduce. Dwindling winter snowpack is also shrinking rivers and streams. Fish Hatchery workers report seeing more perish in the stream beds before they can spawn. The federal government has issued a disaster declaration for Alaska's pink salmon fishery and several other salmon and crab fisheries along the West Coast. Gov. Bill Walker requested the declaration after the 2017 pink salmon harvests in Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik and lower Cook Inlet came in far below forecast, the Alaska Journal of Commerce reported. The disaster declaration granted by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker gave Kodiak and the other Alaska fisheries the ability to seek disaster relief assistance from Congress because of the unexpected large decreases in salmon returns.

We are still only into the middle of February 2019, when thousands of cuttlefish mysteriously washed ashore in Chile's Bahia Inglesa, a coastal area that is one of the country's main tourist hotspots. Locals said such an incident has not happened before, and environmental authorities are investigating and have warned locals not to eat the fish amidst pollution fears. There were huge concerns that the dead fish could damage the region's fishing industry, a major driver of the local economy. The deaths remain, as ever, a mystery.

Just 62 days into 2019 and already 600 dolphins had washed up dead, with many more dolphins dead at the bottom of the ocean or washed out to sea rather than ending up on the beaches. While dead dolphins wash up on beaches in France each year scientists say the situation is alarming with the figure being much higher than any previous year at the same period.
According to The Local fr, the dolphins are washing up on the stretch of Atlantic coast running from southern Brittany to the Spanish border with large numbers of carcasses found in the departments of Vendée and the Charentes Maritimes. Most of the dead dolphins found bear injury marks which researchers say are caused by big fishing boats and the large fishing nets they use. "Among the carcasses found, 93 per cent show signs that they have been captured by fishing vessels and their equipment such as mutilations, amputations and fractured jaws," according to the French environmental charity France Nature Environment (FNE).
From January 2016 to mid-February 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recorded 88 humpback whale strandings with New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts at the top of the list. Those numbers are more than double the number that of whales stranded between 2013 and 2016. This increase prompted NOAA to declare an “unusual mortality event” in April 2017 for humpbacks from Maine to Florida. Nearly two years later, the declaration still stands. But if we step back and look at the bigger picture we can see the problem is on both sides of the Atlantic and not just with humpback whales. On the 3rd of March, it was revealed already 600 dolphins had washed up dead in 2019, with many more dolphins dead at the bottom of the ocean or had washed out to sea rather than ending up on the beaches. Cornwall Live reported at the end of January that experts had recorded 30 dead dolphins and porpoises which had been washed up on Cornwall’s coastline, England in January alone. Wildlife experts are raising their concerns after eight marine mammals washed up along the Dorset coast, England during three weeks. At the end of February, the Irish Examiner reported seven dolphins and a sperm whale had been found dead in one week along the Cork coastline. In January Publico reported six dead whales off the coast of Galicia Southern Spain had died in less than a month.

In March, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission claimed an unknown virus may be to blame for hundreds of turtles dying in the St. Johns River. According to a spokesperson for the commission, scientists at the University of Florida have identified a novel virus in 18 dead turtles discovered along the river. They said the virus seems to be a common link in the samples. Since last March, FWC claimed more about 300 fresh-water softshell and cooter turtles have been reported dead or sick in the massive river. Experts agreed it didn’t appear to be the toxic algae is contributing to the deaths, nor do any other types of animals seem to be affected.

Into April, the Aegean Sea witnessed a "very unusual" spike in dolphin deaths over two weeks, claimed a Greek marine conservation group. The Archipelagos Institute said while it's still unclear what caused the deaths, the spike followed Turkey's largest-ever navy drills in the region, on Feb. 27-March 8, the "Blue Homeland" exercises which made constant use of sonar and practised with live ammunition. Fifteen dead dolphins had washed up on the eastern island of Samos and other parts of Greece's Aegean coastline since late February, the group said. Its head of research, Anastassia Miliou, told The Associated Press that 15 is a worryingly high number compared to "one or two" in the same period last year. The deafening noise of sonar, used by warships to detect enemy submarines, can injure dolphins and whales, driving them to surface too fast or to beach themselves - with sometimes fatal consequences - as they try to escape the underwater din.

Pig disaster unfolds

In May another disaster was unfolding, Vietnam had culled more than 1.2 million farmed pigs infected with African swine fever. the government claimed as the virus continued to spread rapidly in the Southeast Asian country. Pork accounts for three-quarters of total meat consumption in Vietnam, a country of 95 million people where most of its 30 million farm-raised pigs are consumed domestically. The disease, which is harmless to humans but incurable in pigs, has also spread quickly across neighbouring China.

In May, Florida’s worst nightmare had returned, the unprecedented horror of 2018 for Florida's beaches when toxic algae killed thousands of tons of marine life and had returned. Red tide was back in Manatee County shores. Red tide hit Manatee County hard last year. Starting in early August 2018, it dumped hundreds of tons of dead fish and other marine animals on local beaches and in canals and other waterways. It clouded the Gulf of Mexico and polluted the air, and hurt hotels and other tourist-related businesses.

Back across the pond and shocking footage showed hundreds of dead sharks washed up on a beach in Wales leaving locals baffled. Many of the sharks were found to have their fins missing - sparking fears they may have been cut off before the fish were tossed back into the sea. A spokesman for the Marine Conservation Society said the fish appeared to be smooth-hounds, also known as dogfish, a type of shark common in British waters."It was mostly smooth-hounds down Burry Port, but heavily pregnant ones with pups hanging out of them. I'm sure what we saw was a small percentage of what was thrown back.

More salmon problems
More salmon problems, a sudden surge in algae killed at least eight million salmon in one week in May across Norwegian fish farms, the state-owned Norwegian Seafood Council has said. An enormous algal bloom, due to the recent warm weather, had spread rapidly around Norway's northern coast, sticking to fishes' gills and suffocating them. Wild fish can swim away from the lethal clouds of aquatic organisms, but farmed fish are trapped. The algae are continuing to spread, the Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries said. The organisation said on Tuesday that more than 10,000 tonnes of farmed salmon had been killed. Preliminary numbers point to eight million dead fish, corresponding to 40,000 tonnes of salmon that won't reach markets," Seafood Council analyst Paul Aandahl said. Norway is the world's largest exporter of salmon and the effect of the millions of deaths will likely see half the expected growth in salmon volumes wiped out this year as a result, while prices are likely to rise.

What comes out the ocean reflects its bio-health, May was a disaster for the West Coast of North America. A shark die-off in San Francisco Bay was being blamed on a parasite in the water. So far up to May, about 100 leopard sharks had washed up onto beaches around the area. Many more will have died out at sea. Up to May, 93 dead dolphins had washed up along the Gulf of Mexico coast with many more thought to have died out at sea. A fifth grey whale was found dead on British Columbia's coast in what one research biologist says could be a trend towards of record-setting deaths. John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective based in Olympia, Wash., said that 23 grey whales have been found dead this year in his state, and the dead greys are all found along the same migratory route. Those deaths brought the total number of carcasses found along the migration route from California to Alaska up to 70, according to figures from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA. Hundreds of Common Murres, an ocean-going bird native to the Pacific Coast from the Channel Islands to the tip of the Aleutians in Alaska, have been reported washing up dead or dying on beaches along a 10-mile stretch of coastline in Mendocino County between Noyo Bay and Seaside Beach. Many more were dying out at sea.
Back down to San Fransisco and at least 53 dead or dying gray whales washed up on West Coast beaches in the spring of 2019, a death rate that’s only been seen once before. The great mammals are starving to death and scientists have theories as to why but so far no full explanation. The number of deaths is likely to be much higher because it’s estimated that only 10% of dead whales end up on shore, said John Calambokidis, a research biologist with the non-profit Cascadia Research in Olympia, Washington, who studies whale populations on the West Coast. That could mean as many as 530 whales have died, which is a large number for a population that is estimated to be just over 20,000.

Into the Gulf of Mexico, Galveston, Texas, the number of sea turtle strandings along the Texas coastline reached the highest number ever recorded in one month during April and May 2019, the height of sea turtle nesting season. A total of 159 stranded sea turtles were recorded in April—the highest number of strandings in one month since monitoring began in 1980. Strandings are continuing at a rapid pace, and the latest data shows 186 turtles stranded in Texas through May.


In June Bill Laughing-Bear a researcher who often shares his work on my blog came across a dead gray whale up there in Alaska, Bill was alarmed by the number of gray whales dying off the coast of Alaska, Bill wrote to me with his report. “On the second of June, I (Bill) had to make a road trip which took me along Turnagain Arm and rounding a bend on the Seward Highway in Alaska, just right before a bridge on one of the tributaries, I noticed on my right, a gray whale lying dead on top of the silt.” “ I had heard that many gray whales had recently died and people had asked me if radiation was a possible cause?” “ The authorities had said, absolutely NOT!” “I decided to test the dead whale for radiation with my Quarta, Radex, model RD 1503, made to test gamma radiation in homes, offices, food products, construction materials, soil, etc.” “Regrettably, I could only, without getting my boots wet, take a scan of the whales tail.” “As I had suspected, the whale read positive for radiation.” 
“The radiation levels were higher than many of the salmon and halibut levels I had tested which had spiked 27% since my testing began in 2012, a year after the Fukushima disaster.” “I pondered since I am not a marine biologist,“would the readings be higher up toward the stomach area of the whale?” “ Unfortunately I could not go into the water that far to test it.” “However, I can positively state that this gray whale was radioactive and although I do not know if that was the cause of its death, I am highly suspicious radiation was a factor.

A study showed an increase in levels of Fukushima-related contamination off the shores of Alaska, regular readers of The Big Wobble will know Bill Laughing-Bear has been keeping an eye on fish in Alaskan waters and has warned us all of rising radioactive contamination for years now. Recently other warnings and reports have been published as the slow drip-drip of information is slowly released. A study by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa revealed almost 50% of fish consumed on the islands of Hawai’i were contaminated with caesium 134 the radioactive finger-print of Fukushima. The report also showed that migrating organisms can transport the Fukushima-signature (caesium 134) over significant distances as they showed detectable 134Cs (6.3±1.5 Bq/kg) in Pacific bluefin tuna caught off the California coast only a year after the incident. Another study found caesium 134 in longfin tuna (Albacore) along the western coast of the US just one year after the Fukushima disaster.

More radiation enters the food chain!

Also in June, high levels of radiation in giant clams led one expert to ask “in what way was Runit [Dome] a cleanup?” (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times). High levels of radiation had been monitored in giant clams close to the Central Pacific site where the United States entombed waste from nuclear testing almost four decades ago, raising concerns the contamination was spreading from the dump site’s tainted groundwater into the ocean and the food chain. The findings from the Marshall Islands suggest that radiation is either leaking from the waste site — which U.S. officials reject — or that authorities did not adequately clean up radiation left behind from past weapons testing, as locals living in the Marshall Islands claims. According to a photograph taken of Hamilton’s presentation slides, the 377-foot-wide crater in Enewetak Atoll contains groundwater samples with radiation levels 1,000 to 6,000 times higher than those found in the open ocean.

Alarmed by the high number of gray whales that have been washing up dead on West Coast beaches in spring 2019, the federal government declared the troubling trend a wildlife emergency. So far this year, (up to June) at least 70 gray whales have been found dead and stranded along the coasts of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska according to NOAA, however, the numbers that wash up represent a fraction of the total and a vast majority go unreported. No official agency has ever blamed the number of die-offs along the West Coast of North America on radiation as far as I am aware.

More than 260 dolphins were found stranded along the northern Gulf of Mexico since February 1st, up to June 2019. According to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, (NOAA), that's three times the usual amount. The increase had prompted NOAA Fisheries to declare yet another Unusual Mortality Event.

Oyster fishermen claimed 100 per cent of what they dredge up is dead along waters near the Biloxi marsh, which is not only a serious hit to their livelihoods but could have lasting impacts for years to come. This year (2019) was supposed to be the most lucrative for them until the oysters started dying. The fishermen blame this swirling blue-green algae blooms which are intensifying in the area. The blue-green algae bloom killed off all the oysters they were planning to harvest, including the young oysters that would be ready years from now. "Twenty-five square miles of blue-green algae in this area, and everybody's oyster farm in this area they're 100 per cent completely dead," claimed a local fisherman. A spokesperson with the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says as the oysters die, and the continuing floods, the crisis is just beginning for those in the oyster industry.

A report in the Guardian claimed in June 2019, that thousands of dead mussels, their shells gaping and scorched and their meats thoroughly cooked were found along a 150 mile stretch of northern Californian coastline. According to the Guardian, the record-breaking June heatwave caused the largest die-off of mussels in at least 15 years at Bodega Head, a small headland on the northern California bay, with a similar mass mussel deaths at various beaches across roughly 150 miles of coastline. The mussel beds, where the rock-bound molluscs live could have been experiencing temperatures above 100 deg F at low tide, literally roasting in their shells.

Into July, dozens of dead beached whales were spotted by sightseers during a helicopter flight over western Iceland. The dead pilot whales were photographed during the trip over a beach at Longufjorur. It's unclear how the mammals became beached. The region where they were spotted is secluded, inaccessible by car and has very few visitors. The helicopter pilot told the BBC, “We landed and counted about 60 but there must have been more because fins we're sticking out from under the sand.”

More dead Salmon

In August, a disturbing report from Stephanie Quinn Davidson, the Director of the Yukon Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, claimed, from the Koyukuk River to the Kuskokwim, to Norton Sound, to Bristol Bay's Igushik River, unusually warm temperatures across Alaska this summer, (2019) had led to die-offs of unspawned chum, sockeye, and pink salmon. Warm waters also this summer had acted as a "thermal block" - essentially a wall of heat, salmon can’t swim past, delaying upriver migration. The total run was more than 1.4 million chum, she said, with some arriving before the warm weather event. Juneau-based research scientist for the University of Montana Chris Sergeant co-wrote a paper on warm, crowded, low waters' effect on salmon. In essence, warm, low water plus large populations of salmon can lead salmon to suffocate. When it was sunny out, it just heats that river faster." Though Sands doesn't have estimates of the actual number of fish that died, based on the set netter catch rate he said between 200,000 and 300,000 were in the river during the warm water event that killed the salmon there. A small amount of fish - he estimates between 500 and 700 - made it up to the spawning grounds during the thermal block, but most of the escapement goal was met from fish that swam upriver afterwards. The die-offs "are happening around the state and seems to have coincided with that week of really warm, warm temperatures," Quinn-Davidson said.

In September, Alaska was in the news again, 2019 was Alaska’s hottest summer on record. In May 2019, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS) began receiving reports of dead and dying seabirds from the northern Bering and Chukchi seas, including near Bering Land Bridge National Preserve. From late June to early August, thousands of Short-tailed Shearwaters were reported dead and washing up on beaches in the Bristol Bay region, or observed weak and attempting to feed on salmon gillnets in inland waters. By mid-August, the shearwater die-off had extended north, in smaller numbers but widespread locations, into the northern Bering and Chukchi seas along the coasts of Alaska and the Chukotka Peninsula of Russia. Puffins, murres, and auklets were also being reported. Many more thousands of birds had probably died out at sea.

October brought Australia back into the spotlight, another mass fish kill event had been spotted in western NSW, nine months after millions of fish had died on the nearby banks of the Darling River. New aerial footage appeared to show hundreds of thousands of dead fish at Lake Pamamaroo in the Menindee Lakes System, near Broken Hill. Darry Clifton, from the Darling River Action Group, said he was not surprised by another apparent fish kill. "There are thousands upon thousands from what I can see around the edge of that water area," he told the ABC. states manage extreme fish death events, maintaining a database to register fish kills and providing water to mitigate the emergency. 

Authorities were still working to find out why millions of dead and dying mussels were found washed ashore at Cheynes Beach, near Albany on Western Australia's south coast in October. Millions of small green mussels had washed up on a WA south-coast beach with authorities warning people to be careful of harmful bacteria from the die-off. There were also several other species on the shore, including starfish.

In November, Australia was suddenly and unexpectedly linked to the Alaskan sea bird die-off when thousands of short-tailed shearwaters migrating from Alaska had been washing up on Sydney's iconic beaches, with who knows how many more dying out at sea in what could be confirmation of incredible fish shortages in the Pacific Ocean. The corpses had been spotted at several shorelines including Bondi, Manly and Cronulla. The birds were migrating back to southern Australia to breed after spending the summer in Alaska. But, according to experts, a higher number than usual are dying on the way due to a lack of food. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the birds had died of starvation. Numerous shearwaters also washed up on Russia's Chukotka Peninsula as well.

As the wildfires begin to hit Australia, one of the main concerns is the just how many animals and insects lost their life in the fires, a horrific report claimed beekeepers were traumatised after hearing animals screaming in pain after bushfires, the beekeepers were so horrified they needed counselling. The Australian Koala Foundation (AKF) believes Koalas may be functionally extinct in the entire landscape of Australia and the raging bushfires must have claimed even more of the vulnerable Koalas. In the last 20 years, the Koalas population has declined by more than 40%, about 80,000 in total.

At the beginning of December, extremely low cod numbers lead feds to close the Gulf of Alaska fishery for the first time. In an unprecedented response to historically low numbers of Pacific cod, the federal cod fishery in the Gulf of Alaska was closing for the 2020 season. It’s a decision that came as little surprise, but it’s the first time the fishery was closed due to concerns of low stock. A stock assessment this fall put Gulf cod populations at a historic low, with “next to no” new eggs, according to NOAA research biologist Steve Barbeaux, who authored the report. Up until the emergence of a marine heatwave known as “the blob” in 2014, Gulf cod was doing well. But the heatwave caused ocean temperatures to rise 4-5 degrees. Young cod started dying off, scientists said. “A lot of the impact on the population was due to that first heatwave that we haven’t recovered from,” Barbeaux said during an interview last month. Following the first heatwave, cod numbers crashed by more than half, from 113,830 metric tons in 2014 to 46,080 (a loss of almost 68,000) metric tons in 2017. The decline was steady from there. 

Salmon again!

Last month, The Big Wobble reported more misery for Alaskan pink salmon fisheries. Prince William Sound Science Center field season was marked by a low flow and high pre-spawn mortality. This year, virtually no rain led to extremely low flows and field crews observed unprecedented pre-spawning die-offs and unusually late migration into the streams. According to the Prince William Sound Science Center, the fish finally started, what was for many, an ill-fated journey into the streams after some rain in early September. The rain stopped and the rivers dried up again. Soon thousands of fish were restricted to tide pools without enough water to return to the bays. They all suffocated. “During the first 10 days of September, our dead fish count in one of our streams rose from virtually none to nearly 30,000 dead pink salmon, all dying before spawning”. “Our field crews estimated 10,000 died over a single night. We have never documented anything like that in the past.”

Chinook mortality has lead to a North Coast fall salmon angling closure. Tillamook: A recent die-off of fall of Chinook salmon in the Wilson River has prompted fishery managers to close the entire North Coast in Oregon to all salmon angling, effective December 13 – 31 (2019). The closure includes all North Coast basins from the Nestucca River to the Necanicum River. Monitoring of North Coast basins, in response to the recent die-off, observed in the Wilson River and by reports from the public of similar mortality events in other rivers, revealed substantial deaths of fall Chinook salmon. Additional pre-spawn mortalities have been observed in the Wilson River since last week’s closure as well. The mortality is attributed to the spread of cryptobia, a naturally occurring parasite which only affects certain fish species reported the News Of Lincoln County

Pig Apocalypse

One of the biggest stories in 2019 was the African Swine Fever Virus sweeping the planet. A report in November 2019 revealed there was not enough pork in the world’ to deal with China’s demand for the meat after hundreds of millions of pigs, 40% of the total had died or have been culled from the African swine fever. Pork prices around the world began soaring. A report by the Guardian claimed, since August 2018, when China notified the World Organisation for Animal Health that ASF (swine fever) was in the country, the disease has spread with extraordinary speed. Some 40% of Chinese pigs – hundreds of millions of animals – had now been lost, and the result has been a chronic shortage of pork and rocketing prices. The Chinese government has been forced to dig into its gigantic emergency reserves of frozen meat. “The producer price has risen 125% since July,” said Rupert Claxton of international food consultancy Girafood. The disease is thought to unstoppable and just a question of time before it arrives in the West.

I feel have to update the reader on the unprecedented Australian bushfires, which started way back on September the 7th 2019. As of today, it has been reported by the Times that almost 500 million animals have died in the fires, 500 million is the population of the European Union, in just 4 months, 500 million creatures have perished due to the fires. Some of the “mega-fires” are thought to be unstoppable, they can only be stopped with heavy rainfall, meaningful rain is expected at the end of January 2020. 

Written and researched by Gary Walton

Happy New Year To All The Readers