Record-breaking heatwave killed a billion sea animals off Canada's coast
- The heat may have killed a billion mussels and other sea animals off the coast of Canada
- Christopher Harley researches the impact of climate change on the ecosystem of rocky beaches
- He saw many dead mussels burst up and decaying in their shells at Kitsalano Beach
Last week's severe heat wave in British Columbia has been blamed for killing at least a billion mussels, clams, and other marine creatures that reside on Western Canada's beaches.
On Sunday, Christopher Harley, a professor at the University of British Columbia's zoology department, saw many dead mussels burst up and decaying in their shells at Kitsalano Beach, a few streets from his Vancouver house, according to CNN.
Harley researches the impact of climate change on the ecosystem of rocky beaches where clams, mussels, and sea stars dwell, so he was curious how the intertidal invertebrates fared during the region's record heat wave on June 26-28.
"I could smell that beach before I got to it, because there was already a lot of dead animals from the previous day, which was not the hottest of three," he told CNN. "I started having a look around just on my local beach and thought, 'Oh, this, this can't be good.'"
Harley and one of his pupils headed to Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver the next day, a place he had visited for over 12 years.
"It was a catastrophe over there," he told CNN. "There's a really extensive mussel bed that coats the shore and most of those animals had died."
Mussels cling to rocks and other surfaces at low tide and are used to being exposed to air and sunshine, but they can't sustain temperatures above 100 degrees for long, according to Harley.
On June 26, 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, 99.5 degrees Fahrenheit, and 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit were recorded in downtown Vancouver.
On the beach, it was much hotter. With the use of a FLIR thermal imaging camera, Harley and his student discovered surface temperatures of above 125 degrees.
The creatures can't make it till the tide comes back in at this time of year since low tide occurs during the warmest portion of the day in the area, he added.
The heat wave in British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest of the United States was described by climate experts as "unprecedented," and they warned that climate change will make such occurrences more regular and powerful.
"We saw heat records over the weekend only to be broken again the next day," Kristina Dahl, a senior climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told CNN, "particularly for a part of the country where this type of heat does not happen very often."
The heat may have killed a billion mussels and other sea animals in the Salish Sea, which encompasses the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, according to Harley, but he cautioned that this was only an estimate.
He stated that 50 to 100 mussels may thrive in a space the size of your hand's palm and that several thousand could fit in an area the size of a kitchen stovetop.
"There are 4,000-some miles of shoreline in the Salish Sea, so when you start to scale up from what we're seeing locally to what we're expecting, based on what we know where mussels live, you get to some very big numbers very quickly," he told CNN. "Then you start adding in all the other species, some of which are even more abundant."