West Coast
Monterey Bay Aquarium

Flight of the jellyfish, eel and barnacle along the California coast

BODEGA BAY, Calif. — Marine biologist Jacqueline Sones was strolling along a beach near this Northern California fishing village one foggy summer morning when she spotted an unfamiliar jellyfish bobbing in the surf.

Her curiosity turned to shock, however, when she opened a field guide and identified the creature with a white bowl-shaped bell, vivid stripes and long tentacles.

“I’d discovered something unprecedented,” Sones recalled Monday. “It was a purple-striped jellyfish.”

While the impressively hued Chrysaora colorata is no stranger to Southern California, or Monterey Bay for that matter, it had never been recorded venturing this far north, according to the researcher.

And that translucent visitor was just the first of dozens of nonnative species that started popping up here between 2014 and 2016, when an unusually intense and lengthy marine heat wave hugged California’s coast. Other marine immigrants included snails, dolphins, birds, crabs, fish, sea turtles and multicolored slugs that typically inhabited warmer waters off the Baja California Peninsula.

Sones, a research coordinator at the University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, and Eric Sanford, a professor of evolution and ecology at the lab, documented a total of 67 rare warm-water species.

Of those, 37 had never been documented this far north. Among those species never before seen here were Venus’ girdle ctenophores, or comb jellies; striated sea butterflies; rabbit dorid nudibranchs; pink-striped barnacles; scarlet sea cucumbers; Pacific sea eels; bottlenose dolphins; and spiny lobsters.

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers at UC Davis, the Farallon Institute and the Marine Science Institute at UC Santa Barbara suggest that the migrant species were drawn north by rising sea surface temperatures and changing currents during the marine heat wave — also known as the warm-water blob.

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