Monday, 23 November 2015

California wildlife: 'Godzilla el Nino' sees turtles, tropical snakes and sharks visit west coast state

Climate change in combination with a monster el Niño this year is attracting some colourful interlopers to the state

It was early in the afternoon when Dan Maloon, a 34-year-old knife-sharpener from central California, saw what he thought was a white plastic bag floating in the San Joaquin River where he was fishing.

“It caught my attention because the current was flowing the other way,” he said. As the plastic bag drew closer, Mr Maloon began to make out a pair of flippers, propelling it through the water – which is when he realised that it wasn’t a bag at all, but a sea turtle. “That is something you just don’t see unless you are in Hawaii or watching Animal Planet,” he told the Modesto Bee.

The turtle was around 80 miles from the ocean, and more than 1,000 miles from its traditional habitat halfway down the Mexican west coast. Yet that unexpected encounter a week ago was just one of a spate of recent sightings of unlikely creatures in California waters, drawn north by high ocean temperatures.

Last month, a highly venomous, yellow-bellied sea snake was spotted by a surfer on a beach in Ventura County, north of Los Angeles. The snake, aka Pelamis platura, has never been known to venture so far from the Tropics, and is only the second of its species ever found in California. It was added to the collection at LA county’s Natural History Museum (NHM).

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