OLYMPIA - With the return of the El Nino weather phenomenon to the Pacific Northwest, fisheries managers at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are on the lookout for unusual marine life that may be straying well north of its usual habitat.
Anglers and wildlife watchers who see unusual fish, shellfish or other marine life should record as much information as possible, including the location, date and time of the encounter.
"It is important to collect data on unusual fish and wildlife as part of our overall effort to learn more about the effects an El Nino episode has on Washington's native species," said Wayne Palsson, WDFW fisheries biologist.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center is forecasting that a moderate El Nino will affect the Pacific Ocean this year. El Nino brings warm water from the equatorial Pacific Ocean into the north Pacific Ocean.
As a result, normal upwelling of colder, nutrient-rich water is interrupted, creating disruptions in the food chain. Warmwater fish and wildlife species are often found well north of their usual habitats, including Washington state waters, during El Nino episodes.
"We are experiencing a mild El Nino pattern now, and it's not certain what warmwater species may come into Washington state waters, if any," Palsson said.
In past El Nino episodes, anglers fishing off the Washington coast encountered such fish as mackerel, marlin, giant sunfish and dorado, also called mahimahi. Palsson said a 104-pound striped marlin was caught about 40 miles off Westport during the last significant El Nino episode, in 1997-98.
If a fish is caught, anglers should also include information about the depth at which the fish was caught, the size of the fish, and the temperature of the water, if possible. Palsson said a photograph of the fish very useful, especially those that show the entire animal and any distinguishing features.
Beachcombers and fishers who find an especially uncommon specimen are asked to freeze it for possible inclusion the University of Washington's scientific fish collection. Unusual records, photographs or specimens can be sent to Palsson at the WDFW Mill Creek office, 16018 Mill Creek Blvd., Mill Creek, WA., 98012-1296, the Montesano office, 48 Devonshire Rd., Montesano, WA., 98563-9618, or to WDFW's main office in Olympia, 600 Capitol Way N., Olympia, WA., 98501-1091.
More information on El Nino can be found at: http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/analysis_monitoring/lanina/ on the Internet.